I worked in publishing for more than seven years, most recently as an academic marketing manager at Penguin Random House, and I can tell you that the book industry brings both exciting and challenging experiences. Plus, you get plenty of free books.
My path into publishing was a bit unusual. After interning at a small education professional development publisher, I sent cold letters to hundreds of small presses looking for a position as a marketing assistant. One day, the VP of business at a library and information science professional publisher emailed me back telling me that my timing was good because their marketing assistant had quit that morning. I worked in that role for a year and a half before moving onto a marketing role at one of Penguin’s imprints and then moving internally to the academic marketing department.
Are you looking to break into the publishing industry? Read on to find out about different book jobs and how to get started.
Getting your foot in the door can be a challenging step. As with many industries, finding your first opportunity requires a combination of effort, research, and networking. There’s no particular major or degree necessary for getting a job in publishing; people come from a variety of educational backgrounds.
Here are some common paths to landing your first publishing job.
Publishing programs, which usually run for several weeks in the summer, can allow future publishing professionals to learn about different aspects of the industry, hear from top leaders in the field, and network with industry members. Some programs cover just book publishing, while others teach attendees about magazine and digital publishing as well. Well-known publishing programs include:
All of the Big 5 publishing houses and many smaller publishers offer internships. As with any internship, once you land the role, make the most of it. Get to know your colleagues, go above and beyond what’s asked of you, and make an effort to learn about different aspects of the business. Even if your internship doesn’t lead to a full-time publishing job—which it certainly could—the connections you make and experience you gain will help you secure a role elsewhere.
Networking is a must for any industry. While it can be difficult to know where to start, especially if you don’t know people in the field, often, just getting outside of your comfort zone is the first step. I can’t tell you how many aspiring publishing professionals have reached out to me via LinkedIn asking for advice on how to get into the field.
If your school has an alumni directory, try reaching out to publishing professionals through that means. That way, you already have a connection. You can also contact people on LinkedIn and attend industry events. The Young to Publishing Group, run by the Association of American Publishers, is open to junior members of the field, but you can browse the website and email committee members to find out about events and news.
A word of caution: there is a such thing as being overly aggressive. People in publishing are often very busy, and if you persistently reach out after they’ve made it clear they don’t have the time, ask for recommendations from people who aren’t familiar with your work, or, even worse, ask for a job right out will only annoy them. Your best approach is to make it clear that you want to learn about the industry, not that you’re expecting them to find you a job. While that may be your ultimate goal, a professional with whom you network is more likely to remember and recommend you in the future if you were polite and engaged than if you came off as aggressive and presumptuous.
It’s a bit of a catch-22, but the more experience you have, the more likely you are to find a new role. If your goal is to work at on the Big 5 publishers, gaining experience at a smaller publisher can help you move onto a larger one. That’s what I did. Do keep in mind that you may have to start at a more junior level at a larger house even if you have experience, though.
Editorial isn’t the only job in publishing. Like many industries, making a book requires input and work from a wide array of professionals and skill sets. Here are some of the positions you’ll find in a publishing house:
Editors acquire titles for their imprints, smaller divisions of large publishing houses that generally specialize in particular genres or types of books, usually from literary agents who represent the books’ authors. They play an enormous role in shaping the book itself, as well as act as a liaison between the author and other departments in their houses.
Managing editors keep the book on track, acting as a liaison among several departments, including editorial and production. They oversee the project from the beginning stages to completion. The managing editorial department also includes production editors, whose duties may include proofreading and copyediting.
In publishing, marketers are responsible for promotional and advertising efforts, helping sales and publicity with their efforts. They may create materials for sales to use when they pitch books to bookstores, distributors, and wholesalers, as well as drive efforts to promote the titles to the general public through channels such as social media and consumer ad campaigns.
Depending on the size of the publisher, there may be many marketing departments in one house. For example, each imprint often has its own marketing team, and a house may also have teams dedicated to particular functions, such as academic, which markets titles specifically for teachers and professors to teach in their courses.
Many of the larger houses have separate advertising and promotions professionals who are responsible for the design of materials created by the marketing teams, such as ad campaigns or images for social media.
When you read reviews of books on blogs or in magazines and newspapers, watch interviews with authors on TV, or hear the authors on podcasts, it’s usually because of a publicist’s efforts. Working with marketing, book publicists generate media for authors and their books across a variety of outlets.
In book publishing, salespeople are responsible for selling to their accounts, which usually include bookstores, wholesalers, and other distributors. Their jobs are to encourage their accounts to take high quantities of titles and highlight specific books through their own promotional efforts, such as displays. Publishing houses often employ both in-house and field sales reps to sell across different territories.
As with marketing, there may be several types of sales departments in a large publishing house, including international sales, gift sales (selling to specialty stores such as Urban Outfitters), and others.
Someone who works with subsidiary rights (“sub rights”) sells rights to adapt or publish the book or parts of the book to outside parties. For example, she might sell translation rights for the book to be published in a different language or first serial rights for the book to be excerpted in a magazine or other outlet before it is published.
Production workers are involved in all aspects of producing the physical book, such as layout and printing. They work closely with managing editors and outside printers to prepare the book to be published.
Working closely with the author, editorial, and marketing, art designers create the covers for titles. In larger houses, a designer may be responsible for designing books in a specific imprint or set of imprints.
Trade publishing encompasses the type of books you generally associate with publishing—the kind, for example, that you’d find in a Barnes & Noble. Trade includes a variety of genres, including fiction, nonfiction, cookbooks, and more. It also encompasses genre fiction, which describes popular fiction categories such as mystery, science fiction, and romance.
Prominent trade publishers include the “Big 5”—Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette—as well as mid-sized publishers such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Bloomsbury, and Workman.
Most of these publishers publish both adult and children’s titles, and some publishers specialize exclusively in young adult and children’s books, such as Scholastic.
Academic publishers create textbooks and other academic titles for students in k-12, college, and graduate school. Prominent academic publishers include Pearson, Macmillan Learning, McGraw-Hill, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley. Many colleges and universities have individual presses that publish academic titles.
Professional publishers publish books for professionals looking to expand their knowledge and develop in their fields. Many academic publishers, such as most of the companies mentioned above, also publish professional development books in particular fields. Many professional associations, such as the American Library Association, operate professional presses for books in the field.
Usually very small and putting out only a few titles per year, boutique publishers specialize in a very particular genre of books, such as architecture or religion.
Vanity presses, otherwise known as subsidy publishers, require authors to pay a fee for the company to publish their book. Examples include Dorrance Publishing, Tate Publishing, and Xlibris.
Authors may also self-publish through other platforms and means, such as Amazon’s CreateSpace.
Publishing involves personnel and businesses outside of the publishers themselves. For example, literary agents, who may operate out of large or small agencies, acquire titles to pitch to editors, representing the author’s interests. There are other, more specialized functions in the publishing industry as well.
Entry-level salaries are notoriously at the lower end in publishing, with most large publishing houses offering entry-level workers around $35,000 annually. Salaries can be lower for smaller publishers.
After entry-level, salaries can vary widely by position, experience, company, and other factors. Many professionals seek out jobs at competitors to receive promotions and salary increases.
Part of Publishers Marketplace, which aggregates news and other information for publishing professionals, Publishers Lunch is a job board that includes positions throughout the industry and at different levels.
This trade magazine for publishing professionals also has job listings, which you can search by keyword or view as a complete list.
MediaBistro collects job listings from a wide range of media outlets and for a variety of positions, including book publishing.
Many publishers, especially big houses, post job listings on their websites. You can usually apply for the positions directly through the website. Be careful of applying to too many different positions at the same company simultaneously, however, because you don’t want to appear as though you haven’t given your publishing area much thought.
It may take a good deal of work to get your foot in the door in the publishing industry, but making the effort could be well worth it. Remember to keep an open mind, exploring the different opportunities and roles within publishing without being married to a single position; you may discover that you’re better suited to a different area. Plus, even if your first job doesn’t turn out to be exactly what you wanted, you can also look for new opportunities internally once you’re working at a publishing company. (It’s worth noting that many publishers require you to work in your position for a certain period of time such as a year before applying for a different role internally.)
Explore different houses and types of publishing, and talk to as many people in the industry as you can. Publishing professionals follow many different paths, and you’ll find yours.