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The secret world of publishing

Emily Wells (BA English Literature and Creative Writing, 2013) has a job many booklovers would envy: she gets to read for a living. As Senior Editor for a division of world publishing giant Hachette, her week is spent dissecting what makes a story sell and succeed on the market.

“I spend one day a week in the London office in meetings about what we’re publishing this month, reviewing marketing plans, feeding back interesting things in the news, and lots of admin! Schedules, cover designs, working with print teams, research, and attending events and conferences.

“The rest of the week is focused time - editing manuscripts for flow and language. Me and the books – that’s my favourite part.”

Emily’s guide to the world of publishing


This is corporate publishing – think Elsevier and Springer. You publish works from academics and sell them to libraries and institutions. If you ever put an academic paper onto your essay and Dissertation, it was probably published by this group. Typically, it’s the most lucrative. 

Commercial and trade 

This is the biggest segment of the industry – think about all the books you pick up in Waterstones and order from Amazon. This is editorial publishing (the cool side) and books you read for fun. 


Textbooks, revision guides for schools, anything with an educational focus – think of all those revision guides you ever used. This is where I’ve spent most of my career. 

Emily’s dreams didn’t start with publishing. She came to Warwick wanting to be a writer and, although she realised this wasn’t the right fit for her, she learned a lot about herself – from a love of 19th century literature to a new-found confidence.

“When I came to Warwick. I was very shy. Living in halls, making friends on my course, and being forced out of my comfort zone during seminars helped me become more socially confident. I was religious when I was younger. Joining Warwick’s Christian Union, I attended lots of events over the three years and made friends with a group of girls I’m still close with ten years on.”

Emily graduated with a first-class degree and a new focus.

“My experience at Warwick taught me that, actually, I’m not a natural writer. And that’s okay! I enjoyed the English Literature component, but I never produced any content I truly loved.”

A short period of teaching experience in second year hadn’t set her heart on fire either, so she decided to take her career in a completely different direction. She enrolled on a Digital Publishing postgraduate course at Oxford Brookes, which came with work experience.

Emily’s first step into the world of publishing was at Taylor & Francis – an academic publisher.

“Looking back, I’m glad I started my career where I did. I had a good team and, most importantly, a great manager who believed in me. After two years I moved to Hodder Education – part of Hachette – and stayed for almost six years. There was more hands-on editing and reading and it was less corporate, which suited me to a tee.” 

About year ago, Emily went for a role specialising in theology that came up at another of Hachette’s divisions, John Murray Press, where she’s been working as a Senior Editor ever since.  

“Publishing is tough, especially the ‘cool’ side of publishing, which is where most people gun for.” 

Close up of Emily

Emily’s top tips to finding a route into publishing:

  • An obvious one - read lots of books! You really need to know what makes a good book, and finding what good looks like is the best way. 
  • Publishing is even more competitive now than it was five years ago, so keep up with the trends and know the big and up-and-coming names. 
  • Think about the slightly less glamorous roles that may not be the dream but will get your foot in the door. Taking a marketing role at a company that specialises in editorial publishing is a sideways entry. 
  • Because it is so competitive and often London-based, publishing can be a priviledged industry. So, more and more companies are offering work experience programmes and schemes to help underrepresented groups gain access. 
  • Any work experience – The Boar at Warwick, starting a blog – will help you build a portfolio and showcase your editing and writing skills. 
  • Look for companies that have regional offices around the UK if you don’t want to base yourself in London. This is happening more frequently as companies want to diversify.