The publishing industry continues to grow and evolve, providing a wealth of career opportunities for a range of professionals, from editors to book designers.
Global publishing is now a $119 billion market, according to IBISWorld, with over 16,000 businesses operating in the industry. U.S. book publishers saw a 6.9% year-over-year revenue increase in 2019, as reported by the Association of American Publishers. Meanwhile, the internet and digital publishing tools have made books more accessible to readers across the globe and revolutionized how many companies operate.
Publishing is going strong and experiencing rapid change, making it an attractive career field for future professionals of many backgrounds and interests.
The publishing industry landscape
If you’re an aspiring publishing professional, you should understand the different types of publishing and research the leading industry players before deciding which area you’d like to work in.
Trade publishers produce books for a general audience of readers, including novels, biographies, and children’s books. The top five trade publishing companies are:
Academic publishers produce books for schools and universities, such as textbooks. Leading academic publishing companies include:
- Cambridge University Press
- Oxford University Press
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Palgrave Macmillan
Independent publishers, or small presses, are not affiliated with large corporations. As such, they may have more creative freedom in producing and marketing books, commonly publishing material for niche genres and specific communities.
Examples of independent publishing companies include:
- Bellevue Literary Press
- City Lights Publishers
- Coffee House Press
- Enchanted Lion Books
- Graywolf Press
Self-publishing platforms allow authors almost complete control over the publishing process, from price to art direction to distribution. This option has become increasingly popular, as evidenced by the 40% increase in self-published books from 2017 to 2018.
Top self-publishing platforms include:
Careers in the publishing industry
The publishing process is complex, spanning many different fields and careers. Here’s a breakdown of the steps — and job roles — involved in taking a book from being written to sold.
Acquisition occurs when a publishing company buys the rights to a book from an author, literary agent, or editor. Books are often acquired based on samples or proposals, as well as their projected ability to drive sales.
Career: Literary Agent
Literary agents represent writers, acting as intermediaries between authors and publishing companies. They often review manuscripts and pitch them to publishers on their clients’ behalf. They also help clients negotiate contracts and deals with favorable terms, such as larger advances. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), agents of independent artists, writers, and performers earned a median salary of $71,380 in 2019.
Editing involves making structural changes and major revisions to a book as needed. It entails adjusting elements such as narrative, pacing, length, tone, and characterization to make the book more readable and salable.
Career: Book Editor
Book editors fulfill these responsibilities, preparing manuscripts for publication. They may work in-house with publishing companies or as freelance consultants, such as for independent publishers and self-published authors. According to July 2020 data from PayScale, book editors earn a median annual salary of around $46,000.
Copy editing goes beyond structural editing to find and correct small errors in the text, such as spelling and punctuation issues. It may also involve fact-checking statistics and information.
Proofreaders carefully go through the latest version of a manuscript, correcting any typographical and grammatical issues before confirming it’s ready for design and layout. According to the BLS, proofreaders earned a median salary of $38,510 in 2019.
Designing involves creating cover art and choosing images and illustrations to be included in the book. It may also entail preparing the book layout, such as spacing and margins, for printing or online publishing according to the publishing company’s style guidelines.
Career: Book Designer
Book designers may specialize in certain areas, such as cover design, print design, or e-book design. According to July 2020 data from PayScale, book designers earn a median annual salary of around $31,000.
Book production is the process of binding and printing a new publication. Publishing companies often print a small number of advance copies of a book to be checked by the editor and sent to reviewers before it hits shelves. Once the advance edition receives approval, the book can be printed for sale and distribution.
Career: Book Publisher
Book publishers manage each stage of the production process, ensuring that the manuscript is on schedule for its publication date. According to July 2020 data from PayScale, book publishers earn a median annual salary of around $50,000.
Distribution and sales
A publishing company or self-publishing author distributes copies of a book to retailers, wholesalers, and libraries. They may also send digital copies to online marketplaces for e-book sales. Publishing companies can also help authors negotiate sales for international distribution, as well as movie or TV rights.
Career: Book Buyer
Book buyers or purchasing managers work with bookstores and distributors to find publications for them to sell. These professionals use factors such as customer demographics, retailer locations, and costs to choose the best products for each seller. According to the BLS, purchasing managers and buyers earned a median salary of $69,600 in 2019.
Marketing involves promoting new books for sale. Publishing companies and authors might work with bookstores, catalogs, book conferences and fairs, and media outlets to advertise their publications. Today, authors are also encouraged to conduct online outreach through channels such as social media, blogs, newsletters, and podcasts.
Publicists work with authors and publishing companies to build campaigns for new books about to hit the market. Their responsibilities can include sourcing customer reviews and scheduling interviews, readings, and signings. According to July 2020 data from PayScale, publicists earn a median annual salary of around $49,000.
How to get a job in the publishing industry
If you’re interested in building a career in the publishing industry, use these actionable tips to get started.
Earn a degree in a related field
Find a bachelor’s degree program in your desired career field, such as publishing, marketing, or communications. The program should provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to begin building a portfolio and pursuing opportunities to gain experience in your preferred job role.
Gain experience with an internship
Complement your education with hands-on, real-world experience. The top five trade publishing companies offer internships, as do many small and independent publishers. As self-publishing continues to thrive, you can also find opportunities to work with independent authors and online publishing platforms to learn about the publishing process.
Network in person and online
Network with current publishing professionals, as well as peers trying to enter the industry. Communicate with these connections through virtual or in-person meetups to stay abreast of internship opportunities, helpful tips, and new trends affecting your field.
Use these valuable resources to begin networking and taking the next steps in your publishing career:
- Association of American Publishers (AAP). This association supports publishers on matters of law and policy, and it advocates for creative expression in the industry.
- American Booksellers Association (ABA). Founded in 1900, this nonprofit supports independent bookstores with educational programming, business services, and local advocacy efforts.
- Association of University Presses (AUP). This association provides educational, networking, and research opportunities for 155 academic presses.
- Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA). The EFA connects editors, writers, publishers, and proofreaders and provides them with educational resources for excelling in their careers.
- Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA). This association aims to provide independent publishers with access to the tools, education, and knowledge they need to succeed in a competitive industry.
- Publishing Professionals Network (PPN). This nonprofit organization provides educational resources to anyone interested in building a career in book publishing.
- Young to Publishing Group (YPG). This group, part of the AAP, gives entry-level publishing employees a community of peers to connect with and learn from.
Trends for the future of publishing
The publishing industry is ever-changing as consumer interests evolve, publishing companies merge, and new technologies revolutionize the publishing process.
The following major trends are currently shaping the future of publishing:
The growth of audiobooks
Audiobooks are booming, even overtaking e-books in sales. According to the Association of American Publishers, downloadable audio sales increased 22% from 2018 to 2019, driving $577 million in sales. Like streaming music and podcasts, which are also growing in popularity, audiobooks can be accessed easily across devices and listened to on the go.
The increase in independent bookstores
As bookstore chains such as Barnes & Noble and Borders continue to close, independent bookstores are popping up to fill the gap and offer in-person retail experiences for book buyers. These mom-and-pop shops can forge more personal connections with consumers and provide more curated experiences. Publishers should embrace opportunities to build relationships with independent bookstores to learn about their buyers and get books on their shelves.
The self-publishing boom
Self-publishing will continue to grow as authors seek to bypass go-between publishing companies and sell their work on their own terms. This will likely drive an increased need for freelance publishing professionals, such as editors, designers, and marketers, who can work with self-published authors on a contract basis. However, industry insiders predict that the top five publishing companies will start using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform to release books on their backlists and generate revenue.
New strategies and tools for digital marketing
Today’s book publishers and authors can go beyond just launching ads and hosting book signings to promote their new works. They can use the internet to build websites, blogs, and social media campaigns, reaching audiences across the world without breaking the bank. Specifically, marketers and self-published authors can consider these growing channels to spread the work about their books:
- Viewership has increased 99% since 2019, with platforms such as Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook driving the most engagement. Authors can use livestreams to host real-time book readings, Q&As, and contests.
- Over half the U.S. population has listened to podcasts and audiobooks, and that number is likely to grow. Authors can launch their own podcasts, join podcasts as guests or interviewees, or place ads in relevant podcasts, such as those of book reviewers.
- Email newsletters. Statista projects 3 billion people will be email users by 2023 — up from 3.9 billion in 2019. Authors can use this channel to distribute electronic newsletters with exclusive content, book previews, and special offers for loyal readers.
Build a career in the publishing industry
There’s no one way to build a career in the publishing industry. Students and professionals interested in publishing can choose from a range of fields, from editing and design to marketing and book buying. Just be sure to build your knowledge and experience in your chosen area and stay on top of new trends. As technologies and audience interests evolve, the publishing industry will continue to change and, as a result, offer exciting career opportunities.
The outline lists Book Packager, but we couldn’t find salary information for that field, so we replaced it with Publisher.
The outline calls for Book Seller, which is the person-to-person retail end (and which usually doesn’t require a BA); we replaced it with Book Buyer, which is more connected to publishers.