Publishers take pieces of media content such as literature or music from creative producers and make them accessible to a wider target audience by presenting them in formats such as print and CD.
Being a publisher involves a range of activities. Common tasks would include:
- Receiving and reviewing content from artistes
- Reading manuscripts
- Keeping aware of consumer trends using market research
- Commissioning new projects
- Negotiating fees, contracts and rights
- Liaising with artistes and their agents
- Editing and giving feedback on submissions
- Completing publication costing estimates
- Completing profitability estimates
- Publishing content in different media
- Liaising with marketing departments
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Publishing pays much less than other jobs such as law or banking but about the same as many other media jobs, all of which are facing difficult times due to changes in market conditions, the availability of content and the problems of maintaining traditional revenue schemes. Salary for starting positions can be as low as £12,000 to £14,000 and it is often necessary to put in at least two years’ hard work before the pay improves significantly. In addition, there is a lot of competition for a small number of positions and it is often necessary to do unpaid work experience or internships to get a foot in the door. Having said that, there is money at the other end of the business, if the right content can be found, and working in a successful publishing house can be lucrative in the long run.
Publishers have the job of delivering appealing content to their target audience and this means sifting through lots of unsuitable submissions from authors, musicians, agents and so on in order to find the few pieces of viable material.
Once viable material is found, the next job is to negotiate fees, contracts, translation rights and so on with creatives or agents, and once this is done the actual publication process can begin. To maximize revenue, costings and sales projections must be completed and then often the details of a suitable marketing campaign must be decided.
Finally, the work can be published in a given media and distributed to wholesalers or individual stockists if appropriate. Sales generate revenue and, if all goes to plan, profit for the publishing company.
Not many publishers do formal degrees in publishing, but almost all do arts or humanities degrees, often English or drama. What is more important is a love of the media and knowledge of the subject area, since science graduates, for example, can easily move into scientific publishing because they have the specialist knowledge. Publishing work can also involve lots of time spent on technical, computer-based projects and this makes IT expertise a real asset.
Being a publisher requires a range of skills, including:
- An excellent degree of literacy and strong writing skills
- A good eye for appealing content
- Familiarity with computer programmes, especially Quark, Excel and Word
- A good words-per-minute typing rate
- The ability to present well
- Strong business instinct
- Sufficient organisational skills to juggle and complete different projects
Most publishers work in an office environment so there are few physical hazards, although long hours spent in front of the computer may cause problems with eyesight or posture, and the work can be stressful and the working experience a high-pressure one.
Experience in publishing is usually a pre-requisite, if only to show commitment to and understanding of the industry. This means that it is usually difficult to get jobs without some kind of internship or work experience, and even these are difficult to secure without industry contacts. Work experience is often unpaid and has to be funded independently and in private time, but it is a good way to get a foot in the door and should be treated as an extended interview, since making a good impression will often result in the offer of paid work some time down the line, if not immediately after finishing.
There are a number of major publishing houses for literary work which have been running for many years. Some of the largest include:
These companies offer a wide range of books on a whole host of subjects, but there are many smaller publishing houses which deal with more specific areas of publication.
Most publishers start out as assistant or junior editors in a specific area of publishing (children’s fiction for example). The next step is to become an editor or commissioning editor and to specialise in more specific areas of interest. One of the exciting aspects of progressing in the industry means being able to suggest book or publication projects, based on areas of personal or market interest.
Of course, one of the biggest splits in literary publishing is between fiction and non-fiction and it is important for applicants to decide in which field they wish to work as soon as possible. Beyond editing, there are various management roles and it is also possible to move into other parts of the industry, such as marketing. Finally, perhaps the ultimate goal is take charge of a publishing house or found a new one independently.
Also known as…
- Publishing editor
What’s it really like?
Alice Nightingale, 27, is an assistant editor working in London. She tells us what it’s really like.
How long have you been working as a publisher?
For about four years now, since not long after I finished university. My first degree, as an undergraduate, was in anthropology, and after that I decided to do an MA in publishing, which is not essential but gives you a good grounding in the structure of the industry.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
My day to day work is varied, depending on what is on the go at any one time, but in general I project manage a list of about 30 non-fiction titles a year. This is made up of around 15 new projects and 15 paperback editions of established titles.
In terms of the people I work with, I always have close contact with various authors and agents, and I commission freelance copy editors, proofreaders, typesetters and designers to complete different tasks within the wider project of publishing a book. I also have a large pool of freelancers from which I employ people as required.
The job can involve lots of different organisational elements, such as organising photo shoots and giving presentations or briefs on book jackets, and I am also closely involved in the whole design and layout of my books. This also involves writing back cover copy and often using computer programmes such as Quark to arrange the designs. Other jobs include putting together plate sections, liaising with photo libraries and reprographics houses. I mostly work on commercial non-fiction: celebrity biographies, narrative and lifestyle books, as well as quote books and music publications.
Finally, I have now begun to commission books for publication myself, so I am building up relationships with agents and co-edition publishers, as well as seeking out new talent and coming up with ideas for new books and analysing trends which I chase down.
What do you like about the job?
The work is fun, pleasantly busy and keeps you on your toes. Most of the work is done in an office but there are lots of exciting and varied things to be getting on with, and it is really fantastic seeing the whole book through the process from start to finish. I also enjoy working with the creative contributors, the authors and freelancers and so on, and it gives a great sense of satisfaction when everything has come together in the finished product. Also, being able to suggest projects means that you get to see your own ideas turned into books on the shelves, and there is an endless variety of content to be explored.
What do you dislike about the job?
Compared to other jobs it is really not very well paid, unfortunately. It can also be very stressful working to deadlines and having multiple projects on the go at once, but it is ultimately rewarding.
Any advice for people wanting to get into publishing?
I would definitely say do work experience, even if it is only one day a week and unpaid. Also, try out different departments to see what suits you best. Keep an open mind and do not assume you know exactly what you want to do before you begin, as there may be various marketing, publicity, sales, editorial and production posts, amongst others, that will suit you specifically. Also, I think it is important to be confident but not cocky when you go for interviews, and to have a clear sense of the title list of the publisher that you are interviewing with so that you know what sort of market they work in and how that fits in with you – do your research in other words.