GUEST BLOG: publishing Q&A

UoY Careers Balloon illy The English Department Advisory Board Visit in March provided students the opportunity to question Anthony Forbes Watson (Managing Director if Pan Macmillan) about the world of publishing. Here’s a summary of the key points he had to make.

Current state of publishing industry

  • Publishing remains a vocational career in which strong communication skills are key (to the extent that AFW removed all the walls in the office 4 years ago)
  • This is particularly true of general publishing, in which books are marketed on the basis that people will want to have them, as opposed to educational, technical and medical publishing, in which the books are marketed to people who have to have them
  • Since 1995 (when fixed prices were removed from books), the rise of discount booksellers has made the market more competitive, less academic
  • Since the digital revolution, social media has changed approaches to text and to communication; Macmillan sales represented by e-books has risen from 0-40% in only 4 years
  • Data capture is becoming more important – at the moment, for instance, new mothers are a very influential market.

Who works in publishing

  • Publishing is good for developing friendships and shared interests
  • It tends to be a good working environment for women (e.g. in terms of maternity policies)
  • Publishers are looking for articulate and engaged people
  • Publishing increasingly begins with the audience, rather than the text – who are the readers and what do they want?
  • Profit is a by-product: publishing is about broadcasting authors and books. 

Case study: editorship

To be an effective editor, you need to be able to

  • look beyond your own taste
  • be interested in other people’s opinions
  • Buy for your own generation
  • take a risk on the strength of your own taste (investment)
  • reduce risk where possible
  • create an author brand if possible
  • evaluate and communicate
  • build relationships. 


1. The degree proves your:

  • intellectual ability
  • application
  • interest in literature
  • ability to work with a wide range of texts and look at how a book’s narrative appeals to its audience.

2. Though the degree will get you to the starting line, to get further than this you then need to demonstrate:

  • communication skills
  • energy
  • enthusiasm
  • unique perspective
  • a relaxed and natural demeanour
  • tolerance for all kinds of author.
  • Think about why you want to work for this organization; do your preparation, ask the right questions about the business (remember it is a business)
  • It’s reassuring, particularly since the recession years, to see someone who appears personally organised
  • It takes practice – you may find it’s best not to go to your best prospect first!