What’s your major?

During my brief stint as an editorial assistant, I received a ton of really random calls. My theory is that the company’s operators just went to the first editorial assistant listed alphabetically in the staff directory with general editorial queries. My absolute favorite call I ever received came from a girl, maybe twelve or thirteen at the most, who flat-out asked, “Do you need to know French to work at your job?”

“No. Why do you ask?” was the obvious response.

“My parents said that if I want to be an editor I have to learn French.” And then she asked me to repeat the answer, this time on speaker so her parents could hear me.

First of all, I love that she called an actual publishing house to prove her folks wrong. That is a girl after my own heart! It’s a nice way to launch into something that seems to be a lot of soon-to-be grads’s minds: What do you need to major in to work in publishing? 

I double majored in English and History in college, but the truth is… I could have majored in just about anything and still found a job in publishing. English is the most popular major/minor for publishing employees, but short survey of coworkers and friends turned up majors in marketing, communications, biology, psychology, history, education, and, yes, even French!

The one thing I can’t stress enough is that there’s no one route into publishing–no major is the key to finding a job. I’ve mentioned this here before, but the industry is what you’d call an apprenticeship industry. While having a degree in communications might help in trying to snag a publicity gig, the hiring manager is likely to be far more focused on what work experience you’re bringing with you–that is, what skill set you have to offer your potential team and the company as a whole. This can be anything from general office/administrative experience (let’s be honest, this comprises 75% of most assistant jobs in the industry) to working in your college’s public relations department to spending a summer interning at a major corporation. While it certainly helps to have some background knowledge of the industry, no one will expect that you, fresh out of school, will know what “point of sales” means or what GLB stands for–these things will, in time, be taught to you as part of your training.

More than anything, hiring managers want to see that you can read critically and write well (hence why you often have to submit a sample press release or editorial letter after interviewing), that you have some experience working in a corporate environment or as part of a team, and that you’re enthusiastic about publishing and the books the company publishes. And who knows? An “oddball” major like Folklore and Mythology, or even Neuroscience could make you stand out and provide fodder for an interesting interview conversation!

7 Responses to What’s your major?

  1. LeAnn Apr 18 2014 at 9:05 am #

    I would love to be part of a publishing company but can’t pick up and move to the big cities. How many publishing companies offer virtual/freelance positions in say PR, social media marketing, proofreading, etc.? I’m a soon to be graduate with a degree in public relations.

    • Alex Apr 21 2014 at 10:19 am #

      Hmmmm… not a ton. I know that some of the smaller companies hire out for publicists, but you’re not going to find much by way of social media or proofreading. Certain sales reps work out in the field and live in Texas, Nashville, Maryland, etc.

  2. Emmy Neal Apr 18 2014 at 10:15 am #

    Haha! Great post! It came at the PERFECT time! I’m graduating in 3 weeks and have been scouring the job boards. I’m hoping for a publicity assistant or marketing assistant job–preferably in ya or genre fic. Thanks for the post! It’s making me feel better about my “oddball” majors 😉

    • Alex Apr 21 2014 at 10:19 am #

      Congratulations and good luck on the job hunt!!

  3. thejordache Apr 18 2014 at 4:32 pm #

    I’m living proof that your major isn’t everything when it comes to getting a publishing job. I proudly hold a BFA in Musical Theatre and I’m a book editor.

  4. Vicki Leigh Apr 18 2014 at 11:17 pm #

    I too am an editor, and I majored in Education! 🙂

  5. JoSVolpe Apr 22 2014 at 6:50 am #

    I have a B.S. in Human Development and I’m an agent. People are usually shocked I didn’t major in English. I read a TON my whole life, but nope–no major. It wasn’t necessary.

    Great post!

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