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Kate Icely

DISPATCHES 5: How to Get a Job in Publishing

Close up of a red rose lying across an open page of an old book with German text.


Close up of a red rose lying across an open page of an old book with German text.

Always, ALWAYS, be prepared to talk about what you’re reading.

Despite the auspicious title of this article, I can’t actually tell you how to get a job in publishing.

Fewer and fewer jobs are opening up in this industry every day, and young people are having to get pretty creative to snag the few entry-level positions left. I’ve heard some wild success stories, from turning a blog into a social media marketing position, to being offered a job via Twitter and then working on spec for weeks before signing a contract. There’s no right way to get a job, and even though I was hired by the newly formed McClelland & Stewart Doubleday Canada Publishing Group two months ago (as those of you who have been following will already know), my route won’t work for everyone. I’m still surprised it worked for me.

While I might not be able to tell you how to get a job, I can offer some of the useful tips that helped me to get where I am.

  1. Get an internship. What they say is true: it’s about who you know. You may have wicked-cool editorial skills, but if no one knows you, you’re not getting hired. The best way for anyone to get to know you is through an internship. An internship is an immediate in: you work with editors, you go to meetings, and you get invitations to events. But how do you get an internship?
  2. Enrol in a publishing program. Almost all of the publishing programs I’ve come across boast an internship program. Some schools post internship notices and others help put you directly into a position. Ryerson, for example, sends its students postings from the top publishing firms in Toronto. You don’t have to finish the certificate program to get the notices either; you start getting them as soon as you begin your first class. Schools with reputable publishing programs are Ryerson University, Humber College, Centennial College, and Simon Fraser University.
  3. Once you get an internship, don’t mess up. (See tips on how to survive your internship here.)
  4. Go to all the events. Well, at least a large chunk of them. It’s not important to stay long and it’s not important to kill yourself trying to make it to all of them, but it is important to let your colleagues see that you are dedicated to the company and supportive of your co-workers. Not to mention, getting time outside the work week to talk to fellow publishing-types is invaluable. Let them see how much fun you are!
  5. Get yourself noticed. This doesn’t mean you ought to buy a unicycle or learn how to do a handstand (though it couldn’t hurt…), but it does mean you shouldn’t let your internship pass you by without connecting meaningfully with your colleagues. Start a blog, ramp up your Twitter presence, or take on some other perhaps arts-related job on the side. To find out how blogging changed this publishing professional’s life, read this.
  6. Always, ALWAYS, be prepared to talk about what you’re reading. I’ve been asked what I’m reading at every publishing interview I’ve been to (and unfortunately, I never was ready for it). You can prepare as much as you like, but all that preparation is moot if you blank out on what’s on your bedside table. After all, a love of reading is the first and foremost prerequisite for a job in publishing!

If you have any tips to add about how to find work in publishing, please share them!

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About the author

Kate Icely

Kate Icely interned at both the Porcupine's Quill and Random House of Canada. Now she works as an editorial assistant at Penguin Random House Canada.

4 Comments on “DISPATCHES 5: How to Get a Job in Publishing”

  • Paul


    I definitely agree with picking up some experience – but only maybe a couple of weeks at most working for free or as a low paid intern. If you worked for two years as an intern – I’m assuming unpaid or low paid – then that’s a major reason why it’s so hard to find a job in publishing. The more people there are willing to work for free or almost free “for experience” the fewer good paid jobs there will be. Every person working for free is denying someone else a paid job.

    • Jessie


      Agree that the proliferation of intern labour is severely reducing the number of paid jobs in the industry (especially entry-level), but I’m not sure it’s fair to place blame on the interns. The people “denying someone else a paid job” are the companies that employ interns (usually illegally), not the interns themselves.

  • m


    An intern for 2 years? Yikes. How is that even possible? Was it full time and did you live at home with no bills to pay? Older students can’t work for low pay and for free for an extended period of time.

    read. read. read. and then read some more is my tip as well. And read all genres if you can. Or at least know of all the genres and the hot books that have just been released and the ones that are coming out. Knowledge is power.

    • Kate Icely


      I agree with your advice. Reading widely is helpful–and always make sure you get a sense of a publisher’s list when you go in for an interview. When the interviewers ask what you’re reading–make sure you’re reading one of their books!

      I interned at the indie press the Porcupine’s Quill ( for about a year and a half, where I worked regular hours and was paid by the hour. It was less of an internship in terms of hours and pay, but more of an internship in terms of having no experience and learning everything as I went! After that, I got a more “standard” internship in Toronto: three months, nine-to-five, honoriarium. Those ones are harder to keep for an extended period of time–and the fact that you need to get an internship to get a job in the arts industries is prohibitve for many. See Hazlitt’s interesting article on the subject here:

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