Movin’ On Up In Publishing

By Stacy Melanie Jerger (@ApoideaEdits)


On Monday evening I went to a Young To Publishing Group Bay Area HR Panel in San Francisco. It was an amazing panel with Julie Bennett, editorial director at Ten Speed Press, Stacey Lewis, publicity and marketing director at City Lights Publishers, and Todd Presley, executive director of human resources for Chronicle Books, with a great moderator Ben Casnocha, successful author and entrepreneur.

The panel focused on how to enter and work in the publishing field from an in-house perspective. I took several pages of notes that I’m thrilled to share with you here.

Ways to Break In

Publishing will always attract book people, but there’s a lot more to the business, many functioning departments that regular businesses have like marketing, human resources, sales, management, etc.

When applying...

  • Have a connection within
  • Try an internship
  • Submit cold resume and hope for the best

Sure, having a connection would be awesome. But for those who don’t (myself included), we have to work on other pathways and on catching someone’s attention. The publishing world is a very tight-knit community. Sometimes it feels like a cool club in school you never got accepted into.

If you want to intern...

  • A recommendation from somebody
  • Submit cold resume

Internships don’t usually lead to a job right after, but you have the opportunity to meet people working in the industry, which could lead to a recommendation. The panel’s advice was go to company events, talk to employers while you’re an intern.

Someone in the audience shared her experience with interning. She loved it and learned a lot, but she also did at least two internships before she was able to secure a full-time job in house.

Good intern qualities: good personality, knowledgeable, curious.

Sending a cover letter and resume...

  • Explain what you want
  • Tell why you want to work for this publishing company
  • Know who you’re talking to

 Todd was honest about this aspect, saying that most cover letters only get about 15 to 30 seconds to grab an employer’s attention. So make your intro count.

If You Have a Diverse Career Background

This can be advantageous if a publishing company has a specific need of one of your skills, even if your overall experience isn’t a perfect fit for the position. 

For instance, Stacey mentioned that at City Lights they hired an assistant who didn’t have a strong editorial background, but the person had strong social media skills, and City Lights saw a need for that.

Since publishing companies operate with many different departments, employers also look at how your experience can benefit the position you’re applying for. For example, a lot of sales is involved in editing. Other experience helps, too. If you have marketing or business knowledge combined with your editorial skills, play to those strengths.

Interview Process – What Employers Look For

  • Have a story to tell
  • Know about the company and show interest in the company
  • Have familiarity with product (this doesn’t mean you own a few of their books on your shelf). Learn what kinds of books they publish and who the targeted audience is, etc.

Excelling Within a Company

Getting that promotion...

  • See a plan for yourself and where you want your career to go
  • Personal recommendations are still helpful
  • Are you fitting in well so far?

Logistically, find out when the company is budgeting, and ask for that promotion before it’s set. Perhaps mid-year is a good time, but not during an annual review. Chances are, the budget is already set by the time you have your annual review and your promotion was not factored into the year’s budget.

When you’re thinking about bringing up the subject of a promotion, try to phrase the topic in a way where you want to expand your job responsibilities.

Apprenticeship is a large part of rising from entry level, but if you don’t have someone like that, don’t be afraid to take charge of your career.

Average Publishing Salaries in the SF Bay Area

Full-time entry level: low $30,000 Mid-level: depends on the department, but could be between $50,000 - $60,000 Senior level: near $80,000 - $100,000

Keep in mind these numbers depend on the department and job position. If you’re on a traditional path (English degree, internship, entry-level editorial), moving up the ranks could take around 8 to 15 years. And remember, there’s always less room at the top.


  • Be adaptable
  • Consider your lifestyle

Julie mentioned that Bay Area publishing companies are more relaxed than New York. In New York, there’s more opportunity for someone to hop around and move within different companies to rise up. Whereas in the Bay Area, employees often stick to a company for a long time and move up within. So consider what kind of lifestyle you want and know what risks you’re capable of taking.

And that concludes the topics of discussion between the panel members. Hope you found this information helpful! Have you had a similar experience breaking into the publishing world? Did you take a different route? Still trying? Don’t lose hope... the publishing world is continually changing and we’re all learning how to fit in.