To Degree or Not to Degree… That is the Question
Publishing is an increasingly difficult industry to enter, and hopefuls can often feel disheartened by the sheer number of applicants going for the same role. This feeling can be even more apparent when the majority have degrees in English Literature, or in the Humanities. We also know that there’s an effort to move away from this, as some major publishing houses have even removed the degree requirement in their application process. We want to promote all hopefuls’ voices and experiences, whether they have a ‘stereotypical’ publishing degree or not.
For Issue 4, we spoke with Ciara Rosney and Sam Bowerman — Ciara is hoping to break into publishing without a degree, whilst Sam studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at University. Both aspire to enter a career in Editorial.
Both stated that their desire to work with books stems from when they were children. As Ciara got older, she found herself wondering how she would improve books she didn’t particularly enjoy or spent time correcting errors she spotted. “That’s when I thought about whether I could be that person making sure every book was as perfect as it could be. I wanted to do that, and so I discovered book publishing.”
Sam states that, at first, it was the effect that books had on him that drew him to the industry. Now, he emphasises the connection to language as well as a broader appreciation for the host of powers a book can have that appeals to him. “Working with words feels like a calling, certainly more than anything else ever has.”
Despite not having a ‘stereotypical’ publishing degree, both have gained transferable skills. Sam says that his degree meant writing regular essays, which improved his grammar. He was also Head of Creative for his University’s television station, which involved proofreading and editing scripts, running workshops and producing content. “I have a wealth of experience communicating with all kinds of people, and I’m sure that experience will come in handy when it comes to corresponding with agents, authors and so on.”
Ciara has relied on her job to gain transferable skills — she can now confidently and professionally engage with a range of clients and remain organised, which she knows will be necessary when working with multiple authors and agents. “I have also improved my copy editing, copywriting and social media skills through work opportunities and my bookstagram.”
When asked whether they felt at a disadvantage compared with those who have completed an English/Humanities degree, Ciara answered, “Without a doubt. A lot of industries rely so heavily on a potential candidate having a degree, but I’ve found it even more so within publishing.” Whilst Ciara believes this pressure has relaxed slightly, with more companies looking at experience first, she still feels at a slight disadvantage.
Sam reiterates this sentiment, stating that he often feels intimidated by the number of applicants who seem to have a Humanities degree. “I see plenty of other hopefuls with traditionally more relevant qualifications and it’s hard not to be a little dismayed at times.”
Whilst transferable skills are key in landing your first role in publishing, we also wanted to know how these two hopefuls have gained more specific skills required for entry-level roles. Over lockdown, Sam has started a collaborative blog to keep up his writing skills, and has also been editing for a journal, allowing him to keep his language skills sharp.
Ciara managed to gain in-house experience at Penguin Random House before lockdown, which provided her with a great deal of knowledge and new skills. She was then advised to start a book blog and Instagram page, where she now reviews books and talks about upcoming releases. She believes her Instagram “shows potential employees my creative side, my style of writing, and how I stay updated on the latest industry news.” In order to gain editorial skills, Ciara is now a volunteer editor at Ta Voix publishing, and has also started the Proofreading and Editing diploma course through the Centre of Excellence.
Ciara’s biggest piece of advice to those in a similar position is not to compare yourself to others — if you put in the hard work, you’ll eventually be where you want. She also emphasises the importance of social media: “Follow book bloggers, readers, those working for your dream publishing company” to get the latest information on job opportunities.
Sam advises to keep your passion! It’s natural to go through ups and downs, especially with the current climate, but he believes that persistence and passion can go a long way.
“I keep telling myself good things take time, and if it’s what I really want then I have got to be willing to put in the time and effort.”
We hope that this article has shown that no matter your background or qualifications, there’s always a way to land a role in publishing. A huge thank you to Ciara and Sam for taking part, and be sure to check out their social media:
Sam’s Twitter: @sam_bowerman
Ciara’s Instagram: @whatciarareads