Educational Publishing: from the outside in

Blog Posts 2022 1

It might seem a bit of a stretch when checking proof corrections on a rainy Friday, but publishing as an industry is often glamorised. It’s thought to be difficult to break into, and is somewhat opaque when viewed from the outside. But how different is it to other professions, and what can we learn from those who have come into publishing via other industries or alternative routes?  

We spoke to seven educational publishing professionals, including three of our colleagues at Oriel Square, about their experiences moving into educational publishing roles from backgrounds as varied as radio, teaching and Geoscience. Here’s what we learned: 

1. Working in editorial is about more than just a love of reading. 

There’s a certain cliche around this. Yes, we’re all passionate about the written word, but other skills, including market knowledge, commercial awareness and project management are incredibly important. 

As OUP’s Vivek Govil points out: ‘publishing is part of the corporate sector as well’. Mairi Hamilton, Commissioning Editor at Oriel Square, found a previous role in the fraud department of a bank directly relevant to this: ‘That was where I learnt a lot about working under pressure, following procedure and problem-solving.  As much as we’d like to think that editorial is about making unspecified magic happen, the reality involves a lot more process and conflict management.’ 

2. There are things that make us unique. 

We’re not denying that the magic exists though, and there’s an awful lot that makes publishing, and particularly educational publishing, unique. Before becoming the CEO of Pearson India, Vivek held roles in hospitality and consumer products: ‘When you have good people working in your company they are always passionate about what they are doing. Hoteliers are passionate about delivering a high quality service. But when you are actually responsible for shaping children’s understanding of the world ahead, it takes this to a different level. You are more careful of trading off quality vs cost, you care deeply about ensuring every word and concept is sequenced appropriately. Many companies are mission driven, but when your mission is education it really draws people who are passionate about making a real difference.’ 

Some of what makes our industry unique might also prove to be frustrating at first. Entering publishing after roles as a radio host and teacher, freelancer Vic Kostrzewski noticed a definite change of rhythm in terms of the time it takes to move from idea to output. ‘It takes a long while to make a good idea happen in publishing. When you teach, if you’re lucky, a thought you get with your morning coffee becomes a lesson plan after lunch, and a good lesson by the time the evening’s over. Try this with ideas for books or courses, and you’re talking years.’ 

However, as another Oriel Square Commissioning Editor, Claire Dobson, points out, ‘projects in publishing tend to have more milestones, even if the projects are big’, which helps us to stay motivated.

3. Experience from other industries can be incredibly beneficial. 

Claire moved into her first editorial role at OUP following a PhD in Geosciences. She found that, ‘you need the same attention to detail, the same ability to project manage or juggle several processes at the same time, and the same motivation to get the project to the highest quality you can.’  She also found that her PhD helped her communication skills, especially when doing presentations.

Eylan Ezekiel found his teaching experience to be a huge help in his publishing career: ‘I often think my role as a publisher is to be like a teacher,’ says Eylan. ‘Both require helping people to “play nice” together to achieve something in a fixed period of time.’ 

4. Diversity of experience matters, and we’ve still got a long way to go.

Claire points out that ‘diversity always brings a range of perspectives, which is vital for any company to learn and succeed. It’s important to demonstrate openness to new ideas and approaches, and to encourage innovation in the team.’ Vivek makes a similar point, though he adds that ‘anyone coming into publishing needs to understand what makes it special, and learn the nuances of the business before assuming that they can immediately apply learning from elsewhere.’

However, there are still obstacles that can prevent the right people from moving into a publishing career. ‘I can’t imagine that people starting in publishing these days are enjoying the thought of making their starter salaries work for them in London,’ Vic notes.

Eylan tells us that ‘diversity would require change – and publishing is a very hierarchical and undemocratic industry. Until we admit that, we are not going to see the change that we need.’

5. We have a massive incentive to bring more people into publishing from non-traditional routes, and some publishers are taking the steps needed to make that happen.

As Vic notes, there are publishers ‘doing more than the bare minimum to get things right(ish) by publishing their salary ranges on job adverts, and offering the chance to work in satellite offices across the nations.’ 

Dedicated apprenticeships and mentoring programmes are also on the rise. We spoke to Charlotte Leung, who recently completed the Level 3 Publishing Assistant Apprenticeship at DK. ‘Not having had publishing experience of any kind before, I was really struggling to break into the industry. Even with entry-level positions, publishers were looking for applicants with a little more prior experience. When I found the apprenticeship it seemed like the ideal way to get a foot in the door while getting a broad education in the industry.’ 

Imaan Munir, who was recently promoted to an Assistant Editor role at Oriel Square, found that after many ‘thank you for your interest’ emails, it was being connected with a mentor via the Spare Zoom project that enabled her to navigate the process of applying for publishing roles. Her mentor, who had decades of publishing experience, introduced her to different possible career paths and provided practical help with CVs and cover letters. 

At Oriel Square, we are committed to using a blind recruitment process in order to make the publishing industry more accessible. Rather than requesting a CV, we ask candidates to answer questions that relate to the specific skills needed to do the job well. These answers are then judged without any accompanying personal information. This has been a successful process as part of the journey towards  improving our diversity. 

With thanks to:

  • Eylan Ezekiel: Product Manager and the founder of Ezekiels Consultancy.
  • Claire Dobson: Commissioning Editor at Oriel Square, specialising in science education.
  • Vivek Govil: Managing Director, UK Education, Oxford University Press.
  • Charlotte Leung: a graduate who has recently finished the Level 3 Publishing Assistant Apprenticeship at DK.
  • Imaan Munir: Assistant Editor at Oriel Square.
  • Vic Kostrzewski: Learning Designer, Editor and Translator currently based in South Wales.
  • Mairi Hamilton: Commissioning Editor at Oriel Square, specialising  in ELT.

Maegan Dobson Sippy: Maegan is an Editorial Project Leader at Oriel Square. With a background working in visual publishing in India, she specialises in international curricula. 

Kristina Wearing: Kristina is an Editorial Project Leader at Oriel Square. She previously worked as a teacher and an editor specialising in ELT materials.

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