Making Transitions in your Publishing Career

Changing the direction of your career in publishing may be a challenge but if you are determined, prepared, and take a realistic approach, it should not be impossible. Helen Speedy from Atwood Tate has some insightful suggestions:

Moving Sectors

Publishing is a broad industry.  Whilst in principal all publishers are in the business of preparing and issuing print (and increasingly digital) material for public distribution or sale, different market forces and target customers necessitate varying working practices.

Moving within a sector can be tricky, for example a production controller who has only worked on mono titles for a trade fiction publisher may find it harder to secure a role with a company producing high-quality illustrated non-fiction.  You may have gained excellent experience in one area of publishing but an employer from a different sector may require other skills particular to the publishing process in their specialist area.

Changing role

Due to the competitive nature of the industry, when starting out, many are willing to take any role within any sector of publishing to get that first foot in the door.  At the outset you may not have had a preference for or known the reality of a particular role.

If you make a change early enough in your career, a relatively easy side-step will be possible.  Later in your career, it is a harder move to make.

A transition from, say, marketing to rights or production to editorial will not be straightforward.  In such cases, you must be open to compromise in terms of salary and responsibility in order to make the move.  If you are not happy in your current role, are there some positions that fit your experience more closely than others.  If you are finding your role in international sales takes you away from home more often than you would wish, perhaps consider a move to a role within UK sales.  Focus on positions within your sector but be prepared to make an initial side-step rather than a step-up.

Taking a Step in the Right Direction

The key to making any transition is to be prepared to take small steps towards your final goal.  If you are an editor working on scientific text books for the academic market, it is unlikely you will easily make the leap to an editorial position at a similar level in trade fiction.  However, if you are prepared to consider things carefully, you may find a way of moving sectors without having to start over.  Perhaps you work in academic publishing and would like to move into trade publishing.  Do any of the titles you currently work on sell into the trade market?  If so, which trade publishers’ books are they sharing shelf-space with?  Find out more about these companies.  Can you find a way of gaining experience within a new sector where your specialist subject knowledge might be valued? Your goal may be to change sector and subject area but you may not be able to fulfil both ambitions in one move.

Due to restrictions on time or training resources, employers are not always in a position to take a risk on an employee whose prior experience is not a close fit for a role. If you are considering transferring sectors, you must first identify the obstacles, i.e. both the real and perceived differences between your role in your current division and the same position in the area to which you would like to move.  Try to imagine the point of view of your prospective employers.  Remember to note areas of cross-over in your key skills and strengths that will be of value in the desired role.

Examine your situation carefully and before you embark upon what might be a time consuming and emotional process, take time to isolate the reasons that you are dissatisfied with your current position.  Will everything really be solved by a change of sector or role?  Is it the company culture that frustrates you?  Perhaps you would be happier in a similar role with a smaller independent company or staying in the same sector but moving to a larger more corporate environment might suit you better.

If you are serious about taking your publishing career in a new direction, then be realistic and manage your own expectations.  Think creatively about how to approach your goal.  Be open to a short term contract as a possible stepping stone.  Focus on one element at a time and take a proactive approach.  If you are hoping to move internally then ensure HR and the relevant department is aware of your interest in opportunities.  Find out what skills they may be lacking and what they consider valuable.  Network as much as possible and seek advice from someone who has experience within the new area or role.

HelenHelen Speedy is a Publishing Recruitment Consultant at Atwood Tate. She has previously worked in rights sales and as a literary agent’s assistant. You can contact her at: and find her on Linked In.

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