12 March 2013

Publishers handle written content for a heritage organisation. This can include books, journals, papers, magazines and websites.

Many museums and heritage organisations have their own range of literature or journals.
Many museums and heritage organisations have their own range of literature or journals.

What do publishers do?

Publishing is a broad field of work. A publisher produces books or other written material. There are many steps to this process.

Many museums and heritage organisations have their own range of literature or journals. These cover a wide range of subjects, including history, art, archaeology, genealogy and sports – anything you might find in a museum. The field also includes academic papers in these subjects. Publishers also handle written content for magazines and websites.

What is the job like?


The first step is selecting work to be published. This means deciding what kind of material you are looking for, then searching through potential manuscripts and picking the ones you think are right. Then you contact the writer or their agents and work out a contract for the publication. This process is called commissioning and can be done by a commissioning editor.

This is usually a senior role. They travel to book fairs and conferences to seek out new authors and monitor market trends, and often work outside standard office hours.

Preparing work for publication

Once the work is selected, it needs to be edited to fix any problems and polish the text. The editor who helps with this stage may also be called a development editor.

Publishing positions often aren’t advertised publically: contact employers directly and ask what may be available.

Once the text is ready, it is proofread to correct any final errors. This step is done by a copy editor. Freelance work is quite common at this step. 

Various design decisions are made, such as the cover for a book and what format it will be printed in.

Printing and marketing

Then it is sent to the printers, who create the actual book. Delivery of the finished product needs to be arranged. Finally, the work needs to be marketed and sold. A senior editor might assist with these decisions, but they’re also separate jobs in their own rights.

Most people specialise in a particular part of this process, but in a smaller heritage organisation you might cover several sections. The job titles can also vary.

All of the work requires a meticulous eye for detail. There is a lot of menial work, reading through submissions for example, especially if you are just beginning in the field. Close to the deadline of a publication, you might need to work extra hours to make sure everything is ready to go. Good word processing skills and time management skills are also important.

Most publishing work in the UK is situated in or around London.

How do I become a publisher?

The most common way in is to start work as an assistant. Assistant editors help with administration tasks, acting as a personal assistant to an editor as they learn the job. Editorial secretary and copy editor positions are also good stepping stones. Publishing positions often aren’t advertised publically, so you should contact employers directly and ask what may be available.

Work experience in a connected workplace, such as a museum bookshop, library or publishing house, is very important. Volunteer work is particularly highly regarded in the heritage sector, as money is in short supply.

Contact organisations you’d like to work in and ask about opportunities. Most large publishers have a heritage department, and many museums publish their own books, websites or magazines.

English Heritage Publishing and the British Museum Press are two well-known examples of heritage sector publishers, but there are many others.

What qualifications and training do I need?

Most assistant editor positions are graduate jobs, and it’s common for applicants to have a degree or BTEC HND in a subject such as:

  • humanities
  • arts
  • business, social or economic studies
  • journalism
  • communications
  • media studies.

Publishing is a highly competitive field. An MA in Publishing such as those offered by can help set you apart, but isn’t essential.

There are many training courses to improve your skills once working in the field, such as those offered by The Publishing Training Centre, the London School of Publishing or the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). All three of these also offer entry level training. SfEP is particularly good for copy editing skills.

The Bookseller, a trade magazine, prints a list of available courses every three months.

Because there are many different courses, it’s important to find the right one for you. It’s worth asking for advice from a professional organisation, such as The Publishers Association, before choosing one.

How much can I earn?

An average salary for a publisher is around £26,000. The heritage sector is generally considered poorly paid, however, and you could expect a lower salary.

As a starting position, editorial assistants could expect to earn somewhere between £15,000 and £23,000 a year, but this will vary greatly from place to place.

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