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Booking a Career in Publishing: Resources and Tips for a Book Job

There’s more to publishing than getting fiction and nonfiction work to the public. At its core, publishing can help propel new ideas, information, and perspectives via the written word — concepts that can fuel imagination and spark essential conversations. While publishing’s heart beats steadily, its face has evolved alongside the internet and the proliferation of digital publication. Online publishing has made it more important than ever for those in publishing roles to have strong computer skills in addition to good communication skills, critical thinking skills, and attention to detail.

An editor reviews a manuscript with a writer.

While technology has changed the publishing landscape, the industry’s fundamental concept and ultimate purpose remain the same. Professionals in the eclectic range of publishing jobs play a fundamental part in promoting authors’ messages and viewpoints through good storytelling, whether the stories are based on fact or rooted in imagination. An undergraduate degree program in communication, such as Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Communication, can help aspiring publishing professionals understand the different career paths that the industry can offer. Continue reading to explore these various roles and learn how to pursue them.

What Is Publishing?

Publishing is the distribution of written content to the public, in print or digitally. Because of the wide variety of published content, it’s important to break down the concept by type. Each type holds a different purpose that typically correlates to a specific target audience. The most visible publishing type, trade publishing, concentrates on distributing fiction and nonfiction works that target a broader public readership. This could include young adult (YA) fiction, thrillers, and romance novels, as well as biographies, cookbooks, and history books.

Another key publishing type concentrates on textbooks and academic books. These works are written to share information in a classroom setting. The information can be laid out in a way that can be easily integrated in a course syllabus, such as a science textbook that presents questions for students at the end of each chapter. This category may also handle the publication of findings from research studies in various fields, such as medicine or sociology.

A third publishing type, professional publishing, is not too dissimilar to academic publishing. However, it differentiates itself by producing content aimed for professional fields in need of reference materials that confirm data and accepted standards in a given industry. These materials can pertain to law, medicine, or accountancy, for example.

Some publishing types focus on regional topics or subject material that appeals to a limited market. This branch can be referred to by a wide range of titles, including independent, regional, and boutique publishing.

Other publishing types concern non-book formats, such as magazines or newspapers. These formats typically have unique responsibilities, such as frequent deadlines.

The above publishing types are commonly associated with traditional publishing formats. As the internet continues to flourish, however, industry officials predict an increased proliferation of digital content. What makes online publishing unique is that it can encompass a host of publishing types that are traditionally kept separate, such as trade books, textbooks, and regional works. Additionally, the internet’s relative ease of use and accessibility allow people to more easily circumvent traditional publishing altogether and self-publish their materials.

In turn, it has become increasingly necessary for those seeking a career in publishing to fully grasp the internet’s impact on the field. Developing this understanding can enable them to optimally work with digital and traditional publishing types, which could allow them to grow as industry leaders.

A Look at Key Careers in Publishing

There are numerous professional pathways available to individuals interested in pursuing a career in publishing. While each career path plays a key role in getting information and written works to the masses, each one also has specific duties that are unique to a certain aspect of the publishing process.

One of the most visible roles is copy editor. Copy editors review content culled from various traditional and digital formats, ensuring it is accurate and error-free. They can also work with the writer or other editors to resolve factual inaccuracies or spelling and grammatical errors. Additionally, they can collaborate with art designers, web editors, and photo editors on a project to make sure it’s cohesive and ready to be published. Magazine or newspaper copy editors often work within the parameters of tight deadlines, making critical thinking, organization, and communication skills, along with an ability to multitask, essential for success. PayScale lists the median annual salary for the position at around $46,500 as of January 2020.

Another key position in the publishing field is book editor. Book editors bring in manuscripts to review, collaborate with authors to develop content, and work with writers, editorial assistants, graphic artists, and marketing personnel to ensure the timely delivery of a project. They must also nurture strong relationships with authors, as this can help them develop collaborative strategies that could result in determining the best market or demographic to target. It’s therefore important for book editors to have strong interpersonal competencies, along with attention to detail and writing skills. Gaining experience through entry-level positions in a publishing house or editing work for a newspaper or magazine can be essential in pursuing a book editor role. According to PayScale, the median annual salary for book editors is approximately $45,500 as of January 2020.

Production editors typically oversee a specific publication’s content creation. Executing this primary task includes working with writers, editors, layout designers, and creative departments to produce a cohesive product that aligns with the publication’s voice. Production editors may need to oversee a publication’s online content, which may require individuals to have foundational computer and coding skills in addition to solid communication and interpersonal competencies. These skills can be nurtured professionally through an entry-level position such as web content editor. The median annual salary for this position is roughly $47,300, per PayScale data from January 2020.

Not all vital roles in the publishing industry involve editing. Marketing directors, for instance, are key players because they’re responsible for marketing and promoting materials. They create effective marketing campaigns that optimize awareness while fitting within an organization’s budget. Because of the influx of web-based concepts such as social media, it can be important for marketing directors to incorporate savvy digital marketing strategies into their campaigns. They typically must have strong problem-solving, organizational, creative, and computer skills. PayScale lists the median annual salary for marketing directors at approximately $86,700 as of January 2020.

Entry-Level Publishing Jobs: Getting Your Foot in the Door 

Like most industries, publishing has a positional hierarchy in place. Professionals don’t commonly attain positions such as copy editor or book editor immediately. Rather, they usually need to acquire a few years of experience to cultivate the skills and competencies needed for high-level publishing roles and gain a fundamental understanding of the various processes that are overseen by advanced publishing professions.

After earning an undergraduate degree such as Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Communication, graduates can pursue entry-level publishing jobs. These positions can be a vital part of the publishing process, as they can often execute the directives provided by those in senior roles. If these directives are not carried out properly, publishing the desired content could be hindered, if not derailed.

One of the essential entry-level publishing professions is editorial assistant. The duties typically associated with this role involve helping supervising editors to review unsolicited manuscripts, edit greenlit manuscripts and articles prior to publication, and fact-check information to ensure accuracy. Collectively, these duties are necessary to produce published material that is polished, factual, and optimized for its target market. Editorial assistants may also be called upon to handle various administrative functions, such as manuscript filing and email correspondence, depending on the organization’s size. Those in the role must possess strong writing skills, a keen attention to detail, and organizational skills to succeed. PayScale lists the median annual salary associated with editorial assistants at around $35,600 as of January 2020.

Pursuing a role as a junior copywriter could also be a stepping stone toward a publishing career. While the role’s duties may vary depending on the company, its core responsibilities involve working with clients to bring concepts from the idea stage to a polished project — a process that can also be applied in a non-publishing business setting, such as advertising. Junior copywriters may work with other professionals, such as art directors or creative directors, to execute this process. They must have solid writing and communication skills, and be detail-oriented and creative. PayScale lists the median annual salary for the position at around $42,300 as of January 2020.

Web content editor, another entry-level job, has continued to grow amid the various forms of web-based publishing and communication platforms. Those in this role typically create original online content that aligns with a company’s vision and standards. These standards could include quality and voice, as well as formatting. Web content editors also commonly work with in-house and freelance writers to help deliver content. Those interested in pursuing the profession should be detail-oriented, possess strong writing and computer skills, and be team players. The median annual salary for web content editors is roughly $46,300, per January 2020 PayScale data.

How to Become a Book Editor: Pursuing a Lofty Goal

Book editors play a pivotal role in getting information and stories out to the masses. Their core function is to read solicited and unsolicited manuscripts and determine if there is a market for them.. Yet there is more to the position than sifting through books to find gems. They also must be able to work with writers and publishing staff to produce works in a timely manner. Additionally, they may be called upon to help established authors grow their careers. This may be the impetus of a strong relationship that could last throughout the careers of both the writer and the book editor, even if the latter eventually moves to a different publishing house. So how does one become a book editor?

Strong reading and writing skills are fundamental competencies for a book editor. At the same time, the profession’s relationship-driven nature demands that those in the role also have solid interpersonal skills. Book editors typically work on multiple projects at once, making time management, organization, and attention to detail essential. Decision-making competencies are also important, as book editors must determine if a work aligns with their company’s vision. Additionally, because of the impact online and digital media has had on the publishing world, it may be vital for book editors to have a firm understanding on how digital media works in the context of publishing.

Book editors usually have a bachelor’s degree in communication, English, or journalism. Their skills, particularly those related to digital media, can also be essential for other roles inside and outside of the book publishing field. Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Communication is designed to provide students with the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills that can propel them toward becoming a book editor. The curriculum’s core courses, such as those on professional and organizational communication and communication research methods, can help students understand the principles of business communication that underscore the publishing profession. Courses offered in the curriculum’s strategic communication concentration, such as those on the principles of strategic communication and strategic communication research and strategy, can enrich students’ knowledge of the best practice models to effectively handle various situations that may crop up in a print or online publishing environment.

The program also incorporates an internship opportunity to allow students to gain real-world experience that could help land an entry-level position in the publishing field on their path toward becoming a book editor.

Publishing House Internships: A Key Part of the Career Path

Book editors, copy editors, and professionals in similar roles oversee content that expresses the vision of a company or publishing house, which requires skills and knowledge gained through years of work in the business. As such, it’s critical for individuals to pursue avenues in which they can gain experience, such as an internship with a reputable publishing house.

Prior to pursuing a publishing house internship, individuals must decide what kind of skills they want to develop. While internships exist to help individuals develop foundational skills on a deeper level, some can help people hone a specific competency. For instance, someone who wants to prepare for a career in digital publishing may want to seek an internship that helps them gain knowledge in publishing software or programs. As such, students may want to pursue multiple internships to develop different skills. This is possible, as some internship programs can last as little as a week or two. It should be noted that some undergraduate degree programs, such as Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Communication, offer internship opportunities as part of the curriculum.

It’s also important for individuals to understand the difference between paid and unpaid internships. A paid internship allows individuals to earn a wage, salary, or stipend. The employer is under no obligation to hire the intern after the internship is over, although a post-internship job offer is possible. An unpaid internship, on the other hand, allows an individual to cultivate skills and gain experience in a setting that may not otherwise be available. These internships can be offered in conjunction with a school curriculum, and the conditions surrounding the internships are regulated by the U.S. Department of Labor. Regulations, such as accommodation of an intern’s academic commitments and internship duration, are designed to protect the intern from exploitation.

Both paid and unpaid internships can offer numerous benefits, such as the ability to gain work experience and a glimpse into the profession from a real-world perspective, which could make it possible for individuals to see if a publishing career is something they want to pursue. Internships also help individuals gain confidence in utilizing key skills and competencies in a controlled, scrutinized setting. Finally, they can strengthen a resume, particularly if the internship comes from a revered name in the industry.

How to Start a Publishing Company

For aspiring entrepreneurs, securing a job in the publishing field may not be the ultimate endgame. Starting a publishing company allows individuals to help disseminate information and viewpoints on their own terms while simultaneously enabling others to have a platform to express their views. This concept can especially be alluring in the online age, as the internet has made self-publishing a conceivably more efficient process. Yet, as is the case with starting any business, one must clear a few hurdles.

The first step is to figure out what type of content to publish. Those who start their own publishing companies can penetrate the market in a way that appeals to them personally. While this may result in concentrating on a genre such as sci-fi or historical fiction, it’s important to see gaps in existing markets that new publishing companies could fill. This would allow them to stand out in a market that may otherwise be saturated with like-minded publishing houses.

In addition to determining what the startup company should publish, entrepreneurs should also be prepared to handle the business side of operating a publishing company, such as taking the legal steps necessary to become a business. For example, will the business be an S corporation, sole proprietorship, or another structural type? They also must determine the primary state of operation, which can be crucial due to startup costs and taxation purposes. Once the publishing house is ready for business, it’s important to develop and launch a comprehensive marketing strategy to let the public — and potential talent — know the business is operational.

Because of the internet’s proliferation, starting a publishing company for purposes of online or self-published content is a viable option. This can be especially alluring to writers who are wary about going through traditional publishing houses to get their work published. While self-publishing may give writers more control over their work, it has its own potential challenges. For instance, self-publishing places the onus of getting a piece ready to market solely on an individual, as opposed to having other people involved in the process. This means being in charge of not only editing and formatting but also marketing the work to the masses. Therefore, self-publishing may require the cultivation of additional skills, such as developing competence in utilizing Photoshop, Illustrator, or other design software.

Helping to Grow Ideas 

Publishing is a vehicle to put forth ideas and information that can stimulate conversation, progress, and small- and large-scale growth. This reach is arguably wider than ever because of digital media. If you’re interested in a publishing career, developing a blend of traditional and digital publishing skills can prepare you for a role in the industry.

Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Communication can help students gain the comprehensive knowledge and skills needed to make a difference in both traditional and online publishing roles. The program’s curriculum can also help prepare individuals to develop a strategic approach to publishing, which can allow them to emerge from a competitive field as an industry leader. Learn how Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Communication can help you pursue a satisfying career in a dynamic industry.

Sources

AdWeek, “So You Want to Be a Copywriter at an Ad Agency. Now What?”

Book Industry Study Group, “Future of Publishing: Challenges and Opportunities for Publishers”

Book Machine, “So You Want to Work in Publishing? How to Get the Most Out of Your Internship”

BookRiot, “How to Become a Book Editor: A Guide for Breaking into the Profession”

Business Wire, Digital Content Market 2019-2023

Entrepreneur, “5 Tips for Starting Your Own Online Publishing Company”

Forbes, “Here’s How Digital Self-Publishing Has Changed Over the Last 3 Years”

Houston Chronicle, “Book Editor Training”

Houston Chronicle, “Editorial Assistant Duties”

Houston Chronicle, “Types of Publishing Companies”

Maryville University, Online Bachelor of Arts in Communication

PayScale, Average Book Editor Salary

PayScale, Average Copy Editor Salary

PayScale, Average Editorial Assistant Salary

PayScale, Average Junior Copywriter Salary

PayScale, Average Marketing Director Salary

PayScale, Average Production Editor Salary

PayScale, Average Web Content Editor

Publishers Weekly, “10 Rules for Book Editors”

Publishers Weekly, “Wondering Where Publishing Is Headed? Ask Its Future Leaders”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Editors

U.S. Department of Labor, Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act

Writer’s Digest Shop, “How to Publish a Book: An Overview of Traditional & Self-Publishing”