There are a wide range of opportunities in book publishing. Some departments you may find include: Editorial, Finance, Contracts, Publicity, Art & Design, Production, Information Technology, Marketing/Advertising/Promotions, Subsidiary Rights and Permissions, Sales, Internet Development, Distribution. A rapidly growing trend in the publishing arena is electronic, audio, and new media formats. For those who are technologically savvy, opportunities abound in this growing segment of the industry.
Generally speaking publishers tend to fall into one of two categories, large publishing houses or small independent presses. The large publishing houses have a number of imprints that fall under their umbrella (ex: Doubleday is an imprint of Random House). Regardless of size, publishing houses may focus on one segment or be divided into multiple divisions that each specialize in a particular segment.
Five primary segments of book publishing:
- Fiction: Literature, Romance, Science Fiction, Mystery, Crime, etc.
- Non-Fiction: Cookbooks, Self-Help, Biography, Travel, etc.
- Educational: Textbooks – Elementary, Secondary, Post-Secondary
- Professional & Scholarly: Legal, Technical, Scientific, Medical, etc.
- Children’s & Young Adult
It is important to recognize the range of possibilities encompassed in the five segments and to identify which segment(s) your interests and skills best lend themselves to. This will help you as you look for publishing houses or independent presses to target in your job or internship search. Though working in any segment of the industry will provide you with valuable experience, you may find your work more enjoyable if you are in a segment that genuinely interests you.
In addition to working in a publishing house, there are a number of complimentary career options that those interested in publishing may want to consider, including literary agencies, literary journals, book reviews, and for those with language fluency, literary translation. Literary agents, sometimes referred to as author’s representatives, connect talented authors with editors at the appropriate publishing houses, assuring that promising works do not get buried in a pile of unsolicited manuscripts. Literary agents provide authors with honest feedback on the marketability of their work, provide editorial guidance to assure the work is ready to be submitted to a publishing house for initial review, connect the author to the appropriate publishing house representatives, and assist with contract negotiation.
In addition to publishing houses and literary agencies, literary journals are another area to consider. Literary journals typically publish short stories, poetry, essays, literary criticism, book reviews, and author profiles. Working at a literary journal can give you insight into the editorial process and experience working with authors, many of whom are well established in their careers. For those of you who love reading and critiquing books, book review may be an option to consider. Though it can be difficult to initially break into this area, you can start by voluntarily reviewing books for websites and for local newsweeklies in order to build up samples of your work. Once you’ve developed a portfolio of sample reviews, you can use to this to approach larger publications and book review websites, including Publishers Weekly, for freelance assignments.
For those with language fluency, literary translation or working with books in translation is another possible career option. An advanced degree in translation/literary translation and/or an advanced language degree is often a prerequisite to become a translator, though with an undergraduate degree you may be able to work with organizations that promote and support books in translation, such as Words Without Borders, Germany Book News, and PEN American Center, as well as imprints and publishers that work with books in translation, such as Amazon Crossing.
Things to Consider
Interning in a publishing house is recommended for anyone considering a career in the book publishing industry. Most publishing houses and small independent presses have summer internship opportunities. Larger publishing houses may offer paid internships; opportunities in smaller and independent presses may be paid or unpaid. The center of the publishing industry is New York City, though if you want to spend your summer elsewhere, there are opportunities throughout the U.S., often times with independent publishing houses, university presses, literary agencies or literary journals. Smaller publishing houses and independent presses are great places to try out the publishing industry and get experience, as you may have the chance to get involved with and gain exposure to a wider range of functions during your internship, and see the process of publishing a book in its entirety.
Start by searching for opportunities at publishing houses, literary agencies, or journals that genuinely interest you. Who is publishing authors and pieces that you genuinely enjoy reading? Proactively seek out opportunities; as with many other industries, openings are not always advertised. Contact the publication directly to determine if opportunities exist; if nothing is available at the time, try and get an informational interview to learn more about the publishing house, press, agency or publication and make a connection, as you never know where that connection may lead in the future.