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Book publishing careers

Careers in design, marketing, sales, contracts and rights and production can all be developed in the publishing world.

Types of graduate jobs

Editors are usually involved in every aspect of publishing a book from coming up with an idea, commissioning an author to write it, liaising with other departments to come up with design and marketing ideas, and even writing the copy on the book jacket. They may work closely with the sales team.

Designers are responsible for how a book looks and feels. Some publishing companies have in-house design teams, but many now use freelance designers. Working closely with the production department, designers usually work on every aspect of a book, from the cover design to the size and typeface. Depending on the publisher, there may be specialist roles for picture researchers and text designers.

Production departments take the manuscript and design elements and transform them into a finished book. Production teams take on project management roles and can get involved with anything from ordering paper to getting quotes and negotiating prices on typesetting, printing and binding. Shops will be expecting the book at a certain time, so it’s crucial that the production runs to schedule.

Contracts departments are responsible for drawing up contracts. People working in this department will make sure that the contract documents are correct and in keeping with the original agreement with the author. Later, they will liaise with rights departments to ensure that the correct royalties are paid.

Rights departments are responsible for selling these rights to people who are interested in buying them – for instance, an Asian company might want to translate a book into Japanese and sell it in that market. The publishing house generally owns certain rights, which can be sold including translation, serialisation, film/TV rights and merchandising rights.

Marketing and publicity departments are responsible for generating interest in a title. Marketing teams plan a campaign and produce promotional material. The publicity team will concentrate on getting press coverage and setting up promotional events. For instance, they might arrange book launches or set up author signings.

Sales staff persuade booksellers to stock a publisher’s titles – both new titles and those on the backlist. Working in sales may also involve visiting schools or universities to discuss forthcoming publications and find out whether there are any gaps in the market.

Distribution departments operate at some publishers, although some use a third party. A large warehouse may have up to 20,000 titles and must send books across the world. There are many challenges involved in stocking and distributing books: some have a quick turn over, while others sell slowly, but in regular quantities. Sophisticated stock management systems have been developed in order to deal with this efficiently.

Support staff include everything from finance to IT and HR. The skills required to work in these areas in a publishing company are much the same as those in other companies – but you’ll be at an advantage if you can show an interest in, and an understanding of, the publishing process.

Choosing an employer

If you’re keen to get a job in the book world, the first step is to understand the different types of publishing companies that you could work for.

Trade publishers produce books (and, increasingly, electronic products such as e-books) that are sold to the general public. The books that you pick up on the high-street or through an online retailer tend to be produced by trade publishers. Novels are the most high-profile, but ‘trade non-fiction’ titles like cookbooks, biographies and so on are also popular.

Academic and educational publishers produce specialist titles for libraries, academic institutions and specialist bookshops. Although trade publishing is better known and receives significantly more media exposure, educational and academic publishing can also offer exciting career possibilities. The types of books published include textbooks, guidebooks, academic reference books, monographs and many more.

Scientific, technical and medical publishers (often referred to as STM or professional publishing) produce titles for people working professionally in specialist fields. The content is technical, so related expertise can be useful. The market for online STM information has grown rapidly over the past decade, making this one of the most technologically advanced areas of publishing.

Find out more about the different types of book publishers.

Does size matter?

It’s worth considering what you want to get out of your first job. Starting out at a smaller publishing house can be a great way to get to know many different aspects of the business. Alternatively, a larger publishing house might let you focus on a particular area. Have a think about how your ideal career would pan out.

Find out more about the different types of job and work experience vacancies in publishing.