A guide to jobs in the publishing industry

Adelle King
Sarah Blythe
Team GradAustralia
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Over the past decade, much of the news concerning Australia’s publishing industry has struck a grim note: we’ve read that bookstores are closing and small publishers struggling because, thanks to the rise of eBooks and websites like Amazon, the domestic market is in freefall.

However, recently, positive signs have emerged that the publishing industry might be more resilient than first thought: in 2014, 2015, and 2017, domestic book sales grew (in value, if not volume), while smaller publishers punched up, with one even producing the winner of Australia’s most coveted literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award.

All of this is encouraging news if you’re considering a career in publishing, a field that, in many ways, has grown more exciting as a result of the challenges it now faces.

Trade or academic?

The publishing industry produces a range of books, journals, magazines, directories, calendars, greeting cards, and so on. (The publishing industry is sometimes taken to include newspaper organisations. For the sake of clarity, we will cover those separately in articles about media). Broadly speaking, publications fall into two categories. Trade publications are marketed directly to consumers (this category includes popular fiction and nonfiction). Academic publications are produced for particular industries, professions, and disciplines. The articles you would reference in a university essay, for example, are often published in specialist journals produced by academic publishers.

Jobs at trade publishing houses—some of the larger ones, like Penguin and HarperCollins, are household names—are much more popular, which also means that they’re far more competitive. They are also more commercial, with new books selected, more often than not, on the basis of quality and marketability.   

By contrast, academic publishing jobs are supported by niche audiences. As such, a career in academic publishing requires a degree of expertise in a particular subject, and a willingness to liaise with researchers across the world.

Jobs in the industry

Publishing industry jobs fall into five main categories.

Writing and editorial

Writers and editors are indispensable to the publishing industry because, without them, there’d be nothing to publish in the first place. Writers spend much of their time researching or writing, often under the guidance of an editor who assigns articles or provides feedback designed to improve readability and achieve artistic or commercial goals. There are several types of editor. Executive editors decide what will be published, and also oversee aesthetic decisions, such as cover designs. Associate and assistant editors assign stories to writers, edit the text, and help develop articles. Finally, copy editors read raw text and focus on correcting any issues of spelling, grammar, or style.

Production

A production team is responsible for taking the raw material of a publication—usually text that has passed through the editorial process—and preparing it for the market. The production team oversee the publishing schedule, endeavour to keep costs low, and take responsibility for layout, design, and printing.

Sales

Salespeople perform two essential functions in the publishing industry. First, they generate the advertising revenue that many smaller publications (as well as magazines and newspapers) rely upon for their very existence. Using market research data, advertising sales agents seek to promote the use of their publications to connect specific audiences with advertisers.  

Within the world of books, salespeople are responsible both for generating publicity (for example, by setting up author interviews and signings) and promoting products by visiting schools, bookstores, libraries, and so on. These salespeople also aim to maximise profits by investigating other revenue streams, such as audio books, paperback editions, e-books, and licenses to distribute books in other languages and countries.

Marketing

Publishing marketers aim to boost exposure for their products by cultivating relationships with reviewers, websites, and influential figures within the literary world (many of the gushing blurbs you see on the front of new novels were solicited by marketing staff). Marketers also promote publishing houses to new authors by attending industry events and making the case that their employer is well positioned to connect authors with an audience.