Many booklovers ask how to get a job in publishing or want to know what they need to do to begin an editing career path. The simple answer is that having an affection for the written word is a great start. Beyond that, however, starting a publishing career takes a lot of hard work, requires an undergraduate degree (at a minimum), and will most likely necessitate a few sacrifices along the way. If you’re interested in working at a publishing company, read on to learn more about how you can secure the types of publishing jobs you seek.
Most entry-level positions in the publishing industry require a bachelor’s degree. However, that’s not the only reason to pursue higher education. As an undergraduate, you have the opportunity to try a number of different things and be exposed to a variety of subjects that could help you decide if you’re best suited for an editing career path or if your talents would be better used in another publishing job such as sales or marketing.
Working at a publishing company may seem like an obvious choice for an English major, but individuals with degrees in mathematics, science, or other concentrations are also in demand by employers who publish books in those areas.
Beyond your baccalaureate studies, you may choose to get a master’s degree or certificate related to publishing. This is not a prerequisite for most roles, but it will further enhance your credentials and may make a significant difference if you are unable to find an internship in your area (more on this in the next section).
Many executives with lengthy careers in publishing started as lowly interns. It’s the best way to get an in-depth understanding of what working at a publishing company is really like. In many instances, an internship at a top publishing house will do more for your job prospects than a bachelor’s degree.
If you’re lucky enough to get a prized internship at a high-profile publisher, take full advantage of the opportunity. Work hard, volunteer for as many assignments as possible (even if they don’t seem interesting), and make connections with managers and supervisors you meet. These contacts will be immensely helpful once you begin looking for full-time publishing jobs.
If you don’t go to school in New York, Boston, or San Francisco (where most publishers are located), you have a few options: 1. Relocate to follow your dream, 2. Find a smaller, boutique publishing house closer to you and inquire about internship opportunities (which may be few and far between), or 3. Forgo an internship altogether and rely on your educational background to get your foot in the door.
One critical thing to know about working at a publishing company is that the industry is split between two areas of focus: trade (popular and/or literary fiction and non-fiction) and academic (research-based works—the type used for term papers and theses). Ideally, you should have an idea of which kind of publishing interests you most before you finish your bachelor’s degree or pursue an internship.
Trade publishing is the more glamorous of the two paths you may take in your publishing career. It’s often what people think of when they hear the term “publishing house,” which means it’s also the more competitive professional option. Although it can be difficult to break into, if you are a voracious reader, business-savvy, interested in marketing/promotions, and love the process of putting together a piece of great literature, trade publishing may be for you.
Academic publishing is similar to the trade side in that editors and publishers work very closely with authors to create well-written (and hopefully successful) books. The difference lies in the types of projects that are produced. Whereas trade publishers often work with high-profile authors and celebrities, academic editors are often paired with researchers, doctors, professors, and the like who are more interested in contributing to the advancement of their field than climbing the ranks of the bestsellers’ list. This route may be less flashy, but it can be more intellectually stimulating.
Most young professionals who are interested in publishing want to follow an editing career path. However, not everyone gets to work directly with authors, discussing the latest literary trends over Scotch and helping to create the next modern classic. Believe it or not, there are a number of other opportunities within the publishing world to consider.
Production editors handle a lot of the extremely important behind-the-scenes work. They manage the publication schedule, contribute to design and layout creation, and ensure that each project is edited, proofread, and printed on time.
Once a book has been completed, a salesperson is needed to sell it. If you have a passion for books and a knack for sales, this may be your niche within the publishing industry.
Closely related to sales would be marketing and public relations, but the difference is that marketers and publicists are more interested in promoting the agency as a whole rather than a single genre, title, or author’s catalogue. Any of these options would enable you to make a living in publishing. Picking a specialty depends on determining where your talents fit best.
Two additional roles that operate within the industry but not exactly in the publishing house itself are literary agents and scouts. Literary agents represent authors and help them negotiate fair compensation for their work as well as manage the rights to their book projects. Literary scouts often serve as consultants to publishing agencies, keeping an eye out for up-and-coming talent and recommending titles and projects for publication.
As you launch your publishing career, one thing that will be vital is your ability to make contacts within the industry. Publishing is a close-knit field. The more people you know, the more options you will have. As a young professional, you must take every opportunity to get out there and schmooze with senior leadership as well as your peers. You never know where or when your big break will appear, so make every effort to introduce yourself, build your network, and cultivate a healthy group of references to vouch for you when your dream position becomes available.
Just as you should embrace every chance to connect with others in the publishing industry, you also need to be ready for any opportunity that may come your way. That means potentially picking up everything and moving across the country for the right job or traveling extensively to promote an author’s latest work. If you’re truly serious about making a publishing career for yourself, you may need to make a few sacrifices along the way and quickly adapt to changing circumstances in order to climb the corporate ladder.
Careers in publishing are difficult to come by. It’s one of the more competitive industries out there, and the rise in digital media has reduced the number of publishing jobs available. However, it’s still a great professional path to take, especially for bookworms, so if you’re passionate about writing and dedicated to pursuing your dream or working at a publishing company, follow the advice above and find out where your talent can take you.
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