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The word ‘publishing’ means to make information available to the public. This information can be spread through different media. It traditionally covered printed materials, such as books and newspapers, but with the advent of the internet, it extends to websites, blogs, video… anything that ends up in the digital data stream.
The expected future trend in publishing is that we will see a continued shift in emphasis from the traditional printed outlets towards the digital ones. Publishing is an industry that is currently changing rapidly.
Regarding book publishing, there are numerous careers, including commissioning editors, literary agents and copy editors.
Commissioning editors usually specialise in an area of publishing, such as children’s fiction or crime.
They read titles, choosing which they would like to commission. They negotiate contracts with literary agents and authors, and then plan and monitor the progress of those projects they have commissioned. They work with all the departments involved in the publishing and release of the book, from the designers and printers, to the marketing and publicity departments. Before commissioning a project, they must gain the support to do so from the senior members of staff that they work with across all departments in a publishing house.
Commissioning editors are familiar with the publishing industry, carrying out market research and looking at trends in publishing.
Literary agents look after the interests of authors, negotiating the best deals for books that publishing houses are interested in commissioning.
The majority of publishing houses don’t accept ‘unsolicited manuscripts’, or books sent directly by authors without the stamp of approval of a literary agent having taken the author onto their books.
New writers send their manuscripts to literary agents, hoping that they will be interested in signing them onto their roster to represent. Once an author has been taken on, a literary agent will work with them on their manuscript, reading it and editing it, offering suggestions on how it should be changed.
Once a book is ready for submission, a literary agent will identify the publishing houses that will be most interested in the book and will contact them. If a publishing house is interested in commissioning the book, the literary agent negotiates the contract and fees, and liaises with the publishing house on behalf of the author.
A copy editor looks for errors in written materials, making sure there are no spelling mistakes, grammatical errors or awkward structuring of sentences. They essentially tighten up copy and give it a final polish.
They can work across various media, including books, and are usually self-employed.
There are also other departments that are involved in publishing, such as marketing and publicity teams.
How to get into book publishing
As with any popular media industry, book publishing requires you to start at the bottom and work your way up. Starter careers in publishing are those of editorial assistants and copy editors.
Qualifications and experience
A large proportion of people working in book publishing are English graduates, although there are people with degrees in other subjects. Gaining a Masters degree in Publishing can also be beneficial.
Work experience in the industry is key, as it will give you insight into what a career in the industry actually entails, and will provide you with contacts in a competitive sector.
The average salary in publishing is £35,000, but pay is notoriously low in the industry. An editorial assistant is usually paid in the region of £19,000, while a commissioning editor can earn from £25,000 to £30,000. Pay in publishing can reach £45,000, but competition for these higher paid positions is fierce.