Career: Book Publishing Professional
Book publishing is an extraordinarily large business, and those who (successfully) enter
the profession have no illusions that what they do is merely artistic in nature. “You’ve got to
keep things on schedule. You’ve got to make them pay for themselves, or you’re out of business,”
said one publishing professional, adding that “publishing” is a term that can encompass
many positions within a publishing house. The most high-profile job is that of editor
(see entry on “Editor” in this book), who works with authors to produce a quality product.
Many other positions are available for those interested in the industry, including managing
editors, who control production flow; publicity managers;
promotions specialists; subsidiary rights managers;
production managers; and salespeople. These
occupations are critical to the successful functioning of a publishing house. Those who want
to pursue a career in this industry should examine their own skills in light of the variety of
opportunities available for ambitious and creative individuals who find the prospect of working
with books exciting.
Managing editors are the traffic controllers of the publishing industry. They track production
schedules and budgets, allocate personnel, and control the flow of material between
departments. A large publishing house can have hundreds of projects running simultaneously,
and the managing editor needs to be attentive to detail and be able to anticipate problems
before they occur. Publicity, promotions, and sales positions reward creative and outgoing
personalities. Successful professionals in this industry utilize their interpersonal skills to
drum up consumer interest and encourage sales by bookstores. Salespeople spend significant
amounts of time on the road meeting with bookstore buyers and managers. Subsidiary rights
departments are usually divided into two arms: domestic and international. Subrights people
negotiate international publishing deals with foreign houses or contract for copyrighted
work to appear in another medium. The most lucrative rights for works of fiction, movie
rights, are usually negotiated only by senior personnel experienced in negotiating with production
companies. It requires putting in long hours to rise from assistant and administrative
positions to positions of responsibility. For all but the highest up, salaries remain relatively
low in this profession.
People in the publishing industry were quick to note that contacts are crucial. Those who
want to advance pursue new opportunities zealously, and any advantage one can gain over
other candidates is key. Few described the profession as cutthroat, however; instead, many
praised their associates and coworkers. Publishing is a financially tough life, but it’s ideal for
those who are dedicated to books and who want to spend their days with like-minded people.
Publishing has no formal educational requirements, but most professionals have college
degrees in fields such as English, literature, or journalism. Degrees that indicate specialized
knowledge, such as chemistry or biology, can be useful to those who wish to go into textbook
publishing or academic publishing positions. Many return to school for master’s degrees in
English, writing, or literature; but additional credentials are not necessary to rise in the field.
Employers have a paucity of positions available for a large number of candidates, so aspiring
book-publishing professionals should be persistent and willing to take anything to get a foot
in the door. Editorial or publishing experience in college literary magazines, newspapers, or
journals is advantageous for applicants. Those people who wish to advance in this profession
should understand that work may occasionally take up all of their free time.
Book publishers have experience putting together projects in book production, promotion,
or sales. Many move into advertising positions, magazine publishing jobs, project management,
and writing. Some return to graduate school for law or business and make the transition
to financial careers.