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A Day in the Life of a Book Publishing Professional

Book publishing is an extraordinarily large business, and those who (successfully) enter the profession have no illusions that what they do is merely artistic in nature. “You’ve got to keep things on schedule. You’ve got to make them pay for themselves, or you’re out of business,” said one publishing professional, adding that “publishing” is a term that can encompass many positions within a publishing house. The most high-profile job is that of editor (see entry on “Editor” in this book), who works with authors to produce a quality product. Many other positions are available for those interested in the industry, including managing editors, who control production flow; publicity managers; promotions specialists; subsidiary rights managers; production managers; and salespeople. These occupations are critical to the successful functioning of a publishing house. Those who want to pursue a career in this industry should examine their own skills in light of the variety of opportunities available for ambitious and creative individuals who find the prospect of working with books exciting. Managing editors are the traffic controllers of the publishing industry. They track production schedules and budgets, allocate personnel, and control the flow of material between departments. A large publishing house can have hundreds of projects running simultaneously, and the managing editor needs to be attentive to detail and be able to anticipate problems before they occur. Publicity, promotions, and sales positions reward creative and outgoing personalities. Successful professionals in this industry utilize their interpersonal skills to drum up consumer interest and encourage sales by bookstores. Salespeople spend significant amounts of time on the road meeting with bookstore buyers and managers. Subsidiary rights departments are usually divided into two arms: domestic and international. Subrights people negotiate international publishing deals with foreign houses or contract for copyrighted work to appear in another medium. The most lucrative rights for works of fiction, movie rights, are usually negotiated only by senior personnel experienced in negotiating with production companies. It requires putting in long hours to rise from assistant and administrative positions to positions of responsibility. For all but the highest up, salaries remain relatively low in this profession. People in the publishing industry were quick to note that contacts are crucial. Those who want to advance pursue new opportunities zealously, and any advantage one can gain over other candidates is key. Few described the profession as cutthroat, however; instead, many praised their associates and coworkers. Publishing is a financially tough life, but it’s ideal for those who are dedicated to books and who want to spend their days with like-minded people.

Paying Your Dues

Publishing has no formal educational requirements, but most professionals have college degrees in fields such as English, literature, or journalism. Degrees that indicate specialized knowledge, such as chemistry or biology, can be useful to those who wish to go into textbook publishing or academic publishing positions. Many return to school for master’s degrees in English, writing, or literature; but additional credentials are not necessary to rise in the field. Employers have a paucity of positions available for a large number of candidates, so aspiring book-publishing professionals should be persistent and willing to take anything to get a foot in the door. Editorial or publishing experience in college literary magazines, newspapers, or journals is advantageous for applicants. Those people who wish to advance in this profession should understand that work may occasionally take up all of their free time.

Present and Future

Publishing as an industry widened its horizons with the invention of movable type by Johannes Gutenberg and his publication of The Biblein the mid-1400s. Paper milling and printing technologies advanced, and small publishing houses in many countries were established. The most recent advance in the industry is the development of desktop publishing, which allows publishers with limited capital to produce quality works. Publishing is stable in some respects and moving downward in others. Sales positions, promotions, and publicity seem to be areas of future growth opportunities for those just entering the industry. The globalization of product should also lead to a greater demand for subsidiary rights personnel. Publishing houses, however, are receiving a record number of applications for limited positions. Also, publishing is an industry very responsive to the bottom line: Houses are not afraid to fire personnel they cannot afford.

Quality of Life


These first two years are marked by menial tasks, limited responsibility, long hours, and “slave wages,” as one respondent put it. Many change jobs several times during these first few years, jockeying for the positions most likely to lead to advancement. Many publishing professionals have close relationships with colleagues that prove important in later years.


Many professionals have changed publishing houses and made the decision of whether to work for a small or a large house (a difference in both attitude and type of work). The hours have levelled off, and responsibilities have increased. Those involved in sales are on the road for significant periods of time, making contact with book dealers in a variety of regional markets. Promotions and publicity personnel are running projects of reasonable size but find that they must be creative in using their small budgets wisely. Contact with writers is common at this point, particularly for those in editorial and promotions positions.


Ten-year veterans have made significant choices concerning where they want to work, which department, and at what level of responsibility. Those people who wish to become senior managing editors or chiefs of promotion increase their schedules at this point to demonstrate their abilities. Those professionals who are comfortable at the levels they have attained try to improve their production methods and develop a life outside the profession. Satisfaction is high.