Job roles and types of employers in book publishing
Careers in design, production, rights, publicity and much more can all be developed in the book publishing world. We explain what each role involves and the main types of publishers that you can work for.
Eleven types of graduate jobs in book publishing
All sorts of different roles are involved in the process of publishing a book, some of which you might not have previously considered.
Editors are usually involved in every aspect of publishing a book: 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.
Designers are responsible for how a book looks and feels, ensuring maximum impact and readability. 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.
A degree in design will be helpful in generating a good portfolio that attracts the attention of potential employers; an interest in publishing and knowledge of IT packages now involved in design will also help.
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 between authors and publishers. 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 of authors and publishers need protecting: authors are reliant on their work for income and publishers invest large sums of money in the development, production and distribution of books. 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.
This role requires a detailed knowledge of copyright law in the relevant jurisdiction and this can be gained through working alongside more senior staff in a rights and contracts department, in a role such as that of an assistant.
Marketing departments are responsible for generating interest in a publication and ensuring its target audience knows it exists via advertising, promotion, and sending samples out to key contacts. Marketing teams plan a campaign and produce promotional material. They often attend conferences and book fairs to sell books and they also carry out market research to gauge demand for products.
Book publicists concentrate on getting press coverage of an author’s work and setting up promotional events. Traditional techniques include coverage in newspapers, television and radio, review of the work in literary reviews, and arranging book launches and book-signing events. The internet is now also being increasingly used as a tool. Typically those wanting to work in this field start off as assistants before moving on to coordinator and then director roles.
Sales staff persuade retailers such as bookshops and online platforms to stock a publisher’s titles – both new titles and those on the backlist. They are often assigned a specific sector or geographical area and they build up good relationships with these allotted retailers to persuade them that their publisher’s books should be bought. 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.
Excellent skills in communication and persuasion are essential; in addition, sales staff in publishing often deal with well-read buyers and it is essential that they show them that they too are highly literate and knowledgeable to make sales successfully. Work experience gained in either a publishing or sales environment is useful.
Print buyers procure the physical materials necessary to make a book and are therefore responsible for dealing with printers to ensure that books are produced at an acceptable cost. They need to acquire knowledge and contacts within the industry, and have good negotiating skills to strike the best deals. A degree may not be essential to work in this position but it may give you the edge when applying for jobs; relevant work experience will also help.
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 turnover, 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: the main types of book publishers
The book publishing industry can be roughly broken down into the following four areas, although there is a degree of overlap between some of them.
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. Fiction is the most high-profile, and accordingly is the most competitive area to find employment in, but ‘trade non-fiction’ titles such as cookbooks, biographies and so on are also popular.
Writers can be commissioned to compose non-fiction titles, although they are often written by interested parties at their own behest. The most successful works can sell millions of copies, making millionaires out of a few lucky authors. mostly less lucrative than fiction publishing, some non-fiction works generate large amounts of revenue: autobiographies and biographies regularly top book charts.
Academic publishers produce the textbooks used in schools, colleges, and by university undergraduates. There are relatively few, usually very large customers who may buy many thousands of books, such as local education authorities. Because school curriculums have been increasingly standardised, it is common to find that relatively few titles are used by many thousands of pupils.
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 works published include textbooks, guidebooks, academic reference books, journals and monographs.
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 specialist nature of this market meant that traditionally, books were produced in small runs, and as a result of the high fixed costs per unit, these books were expensive. New printing techniques are bringing changes, however, and publishers often print individual copies on demand.
Vanity publishing is where the author pays for the cost of book production, as opposed to conventional publishing, where it is the publisher that pays the author for the content. This type of publishing is common where the book is unlikely to sell many copies to recoup the costs of publication. The term is sometimes seen as derogatory, the assumption being that if a publisher is not willing to pay for the work it is somehow sub-standard; however, that is not always the case. For example, it could be that the publication is in a niche area such as poetry.