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Much of the romance of working in publishing involves the somewhat fanciful image of editor and author collaborating through draft after candle-lit, late-night draft until the very last verb is perfectly declined and every phrase summons a sublime choir.

While a bit of that may happen for a select few, most of the work of publishing is more prosaic. Editing looms large in our imagination, but publishing is as much about negotiations, contracts, production, marketing, sales, and distribution as it is about direct responsibility for the quality of prose, poetry, and artwork.

Nevertheless, publishing is in the midst of an exciting transition to digital production and virtual distribution, creating unprecedented challenges. One day, publishers might reflect that the Kindle and the Gutenberg press had equivalent impact upon the industry.

Jobs in the publishing industry fall into one of two broad categories: production and support. We’ll look at specific roles within each category.

Publishing Production Roles


Editorial posts are the most iconic and sought after jobs in all of publishing. They are also the most difficult to win. Openings are few; competition is heavy. Those who can break into the industry, however, find numerous opportunities for advancement and a variety of publishing sectors within which to focus, such as in academic, trade, technical and medical, or children’s books.

Entry level editors can look forward to a career of progressive responsibility, from assistant roles to senior and commissioning editors. At the senior level, acquisition or commissioning editors analyze market opportunities and solicit authors for viable projects, as well as manage the publishing programme for the back list.

Copy editors, desk editors, or production editors review texts on a subject and structural level as well as perform a degree of proofreading although, in larger houses, proofreading is a position unto itself, and requires intensive textual review skills. Copy editors prepare text for typesetting and check the printer’s proofs. Editorial assistants and production editors perform diverse administrative duties for their senior editors, and liaise among agents and authors, marketing and publicity, and the production and design departments.


Book design involves much more than creating covers. Designers work with the author and editors to create the look and feel of the finished product. Some houses retain their own design staff, and others hire freelancers. Specialist paths include typography, graphic design, and web producers.


The production department makes the actual books. Editors and designers pass their elements and instructions to the production team to convert the text and graphics into multiple copies ready for distribution. Production is manufacture. It includes ordering materials, typesetting, proofing, printing, and binding.


Smaller houses often rely on third party distributors, but the larger publishers in the UK have their own distribution networks and warehouses. Drivers, pickers, packers and inventory managers increasingly well-versed in information management ensure that booksellers and other customers are well-stocked.

Publishing Support Roles

Publishing houses, like many businesses, employ many people who are not directly involved in production, but without whom the production might be worthless.


In addition to sundry corporate responsibilities, a publisher’s legal team will memorialize a variety of publishing agreements. Small publishers often outsource much of their contract work, but larger houses have a full legal staff, including numerous paralegals. The work of the contracts department dovetails with that of the rights and permissions team.

Rights and Permissions

Contemporary publishing agreements cover an array of rights subsidiary to basic book or journal publishing rights. Publishers can sell derivative rights, such as film and television rights, merchandising rights to book characters, and electronic reproduction rights. Some permissions administrators protect business interests and copyrights by setting fees and granting third parties the right to use intellectual property; other permissions administrators secure rights to incorporate the work of others into their own company’s product.

Marketing and Publicity

Trade shows, reviews and blurbs, print advertising campaigns, author tours and book signings are now buttressed and perhaps surpassed in importance by product placement, blog development and social networking via Twitter and Facebook. The marketing department generates publicity to boost sales, but may also participate in market research, assisting the commissioning editors to identify new opportunities and assess the viability of initiating projects to address them.


Sales representatives work fulltime for large houses, but often as contractors for small publishers. Sales reps visit booksellers and schools, pitch new titles to wholesalers, attend book fairs, press for extra shelf space in book shops, and scout for new retail outlets. Sales personnel negotiate discounts, create reports, monitor inventory and provide sales statistics to Accounting.

Naturally, as the size of the publisher grows, so does its need for the additional support personnel common to most businesses, such as information technology, finance and accounting, human resources, logistics and customer service.

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