How to Break into the Publishing Industry without Any Experience

Breaking into publishing in a time of uncertainty: Everything you need to know

In the current climate, it can seem like jobs are scarce and opportunities are few and far between, even for graduates. This is especially true if you want to work in the publishing industry, which was already notoriously difficult to break into pre-Covid. However, all is not lost. There’s a way to get your foot in the publishing door and gain the vital experience that you need to land a job. In this guide, I’ll share a lesser-known career path—one that led me to start my own company—and my top tips on how to get into the publishing industry.

Bleak times

If you’ve been looking for jobs, you’d be forgiven for finding the current jobs market disheartening. I know this because I’ve been there. I graduated during the 2007/8 recession and quickly discovered a lack of prospects in publishing—or pretty much anywhere. It sounds simple (clichéd even), but take a leaf out of the Stoics’ book: accept the situation for what it is, control what you can control, and find your own solution. For me, this meant applying for any jobs I could find at the time, which were basic admin roles. I landed one, and the upside was it meant I gained practical workplace skills.

The path less taken

With nothing promising on the jobs horizon, I set up a “side hustle” i.e. part-time freelancing. I hustled weekends and evenings alongside a 9–5 job. Of course, no one really wants to work after a day of work, but it solves the classic “chicken and egg” situation that you can’t get a job without experience but you can’t get experience until you get a job. So, when the job scene picked up and I found an entry-level job in publishing (note: “entry-level” means you need at least some experience), my freelance work was a key to the publishing door. One that none of the other candidates had.

Getting on the road

Of course, this begs the question: how do you get started with freelancing? Thankfully, setting yourself up as a freelancer is pretty painless in the UK. You simply register as a sole trader with HMRC, keep a note of your earnings and expenses using a spreadsheet, then do a self-assessment tax return once a year (or if you’re not a fan of numbers, hire a freelance accountant to do it for you). Just remember to set aside a pot of money to pay your tax at the end of the year.

The age of freelancing

We’re living in the age of the freelancer, which means you can find freelance work in an abundance of places. There are huge freelance marketplaces such as PeoplePerHour, Upwork, and Fiverr. These are often the easiest places to start as clients are actively looking for freelancers there. You can also find small, niche freelancing sites for each industry. For example, Reedsy is the biggest marketplace for book professionals. You can also find freelance work through word of mouth, networking, social media, or “cold emailing” people. The trick is not disregarding any method to find potential clients.

Far from the freelance crowd

Understandably, there are a lot of freelancers competing for projects, so you need to stand out from the crowd. First, pick your freelance area. If you want to work in publishing, this is likely to be editing, proofreading, or writing. Then pick your niche. You should ideally specialise in the area of publishing you’d like to work in, be it fiction, nonfiction, poetry, magazines, or newspapers. You can, of course, be a generalist and take on any project, but it’s often in your favour to specialise in certain genres. That way, you come across as an expert, rather than a Jack or Jill of all trades.

The art of pitching

To win projects, you generally have to “pitch”. A pitch is a short application that demonstrates your skills and (importantly) your passion for the project. Many freelancers make the mistake of sending a generic pitch. Yes, you can start with a template application to save time, but you need to tailor it for each individual project. Another mistake is focusing only on your skills and experience; you also need to explain why the project interests you. No client wants to think you’re only in it for the money.

The perks of being an individual

It’s tempting to come across as super professional in your pitch and your freelance profile, but clients are buying into you as an individual, so don’t be afraid to add some personality. People buy from people they like, so show them what makes you different and what you’re like as a person. Sometimes, passion and personality win over skills and experience. When clients hire me, nine times out of ten—they say it’s because my values and mission in life shine through in my profile or pitch.

Goldilocks and the three prices

Your pitch comes with a price, but believe me, nobody really likes talking about costs. If you’re not sure what to charge, a simple method is to research your competitors on a freelance platform and set a competitive price somewhere in the middle. Don’t price your services too low as customers will question the quality or too high as clients won’t pay high rates for unproven entry-level workers. The middle ground is often just right until you’ve gained the experience/reviews to demand higher rates.

The secret of freelancing

Many new freelancers get stuck at the door, unable to land their first gig. The reason for this is simple: if you have no feedback or reviews, clients don’t know what they’re getting and won’t be willing to take a chance on you. The trick here is to build your feedback through the people you know, leveraging the “know, like, trust” factor. The people you already know are more likely to hire you than strangers are. So, tell your network about your freelance hustle and ask them to hire you through a freelance platform to build up your reviews. A handful of great reviews get the ball rolling.

Bright new world

Having some freelance experience in your pocket puts you in a better position in the world of work. It might be when the jobs market picks up and you start applying for employed roles in publishing. It might be the realisation that you love the freedom of freelancing and want to pursue it as a career. Or it might be turning your freelance work into your own small company, like I did. Either way, your freelance experience will open doors and create opportunities for your future career.

(Originally posted by University of Birmingham Careers Network on Medium.)