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Career As A Book Publisher

Who is a book publisher?

Book publishers are responsible for overseeing the selection, production, marketing and distribution processes involved with new works of writing. Although book publishers can work for one of the many publishing firms throughout the country, there are several non-traditional avenues one can take to become a book publisher: authors can now self-publish, and individuals with a knack for finding marketable material can open up their own book publishing company. What's more, with the emergence of the Web, e-books and websites are becoming popular book-publishing alternatives.

What does a book publisher do?

Book publishers take responsibility for all aspects of book publication. Their aim is to attract good authors and publish books that achieve commercial success. Depending on the size of the publishing company, the book publisher may carry out all aspects of publication, or may delegate part of the work to editors, designers and marketing specialists.

Types of book publishers

Consumer, trade or general publishing

Publishers of what are variously known as consumer, trade or general publishing books produce novels, biography, cookery books and so on - books that we read for pleasure in our leisure time. These are primarily sold in bookshops (either physical or online), at airports or stations, and at supermarkets. We may also download books like these from online retailers, or direct from a publisher's website. Many authors of trade, general or consumer books have an agent (or literary agent) who represents their business interests, helps them to develop a career, and negotiates on their behalf of publishers and others who wish to make use of their clients' work. Some agents now also publish e-books (electronic books) for their clients. Some major international trade publishers are the Penguin Random House, and (in the UK) Hachette, HarperCollins and Pan Macmillan. The biggest trade publishers in the US are Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette. These companies represent most of the imprints we are familiar with, apart from a few medium-sized independents such as Faber & Faber, Canongate, Chronicle Books and Workman Books. There are also a number of small presses, and digital start-ups, popping up regularly e.g. Made in Me - a creative design studio for children's entertainment, including digital books and apps, and Unbound - a participatory publishing model, based on crowdfunding.

Educational and ELT publishing

Educational publishers produce textbooks, supplementary reading materials, teachers' notes, exercises, digital teaching materials, tests and a wealth of other teaching and assessment aids. The content of educational publishing is geared to the needs of the curriculum, educational structure, and linguistic and cultural norms of a particular national or state government.

Educational publishers often publish ELT (English Language Teaching) and EFL (English as a Foreign Language) publications as many of the same skills are required to develop materials. Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, McGraw-Hill and Macmillan are some of the major companies in this sector.

STM, academic, scholarly and reference publishers

Some of the biggest international publishers are those that disseminate research conducted by people working in universities and research centres throughout the world. These publishers now publish primarily in digital form, although some work is still printed. Major STM (scientific, technical and medical) publishers include Elsevier, Springer Nature, John Wiley & Sons and Taylor & Francis. There are several large university presses in this sector. The primary intended market for these companies are academic libraries, with the products being available through a subscription business model. This traditional model is undergoing a reform in the digital environment, in particular with the Open Access movement.


Although self-publishing has increased in visibility over the last few years, it is not a new phenomenon. Writers have been self-publishing since the advent of the written word, and famous authors, such as Beatrix Potter, Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe began their careers by self-publishing. Additionally, authors such as Virginia Woolf and Dave Eggers have started small presses - Hogarth Press and McSweeney's respectively - to publish their work and that of other writers. The stigma associated with self-publishing has, however, lessened in recent years. The advent of the internet, blogging services and POD (print-on-demand) technology, the proliferation of self-publishing platforms (such as and CreateSpace), the rise of crowdfunding platforms (such as IndieGoGo), the growth in e-book sales, and the success stories of a number of, high profile, self-published authors (such as Amanda Hocking) has meant that self-publishing is now firmly established as an important part of contemporary publishing. It is difficult to gauge the exact impact of self-publishing on the traditional publishing industry - the majority of self-publishing is through e-books - because Amazon do not disclose their sales data. However, Author Earnings, which analyses Amazon's bestseller lists, estimates that self-published e-book sales rose from $510 million in 2014 to $600 million in 2015. In 2017, Author Earnings found that indie authors secured at least 20 per cent to the 35 per cent of e-book sales across five major English-language markets (United States, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). Additionally, Amazon launched a literary prize - The Kindle Storyteller Prize - for self-published e-books, which further integrates self-publishing into the publishing mainstream.

Work place of a publisher

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.


· 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 organizational skills to juggle and complete different projects.

Technology skills needed for a publisher

Skills Required for Business

The technological revolution extends well past the development and introduction of eBooks. For publishers to survive in today’s business landscape they will need to adopt new lines of revenue, additional tracking, and much deeper data analysis. Publishing has often been an industry in which many books do not earn out their advances, and in which publishers make their profits on a few blockbusters. Through increased competition and reduced-price points, such a model will not be able to exist.

Publishers can reduce their misses and increase their hits by becoming increasingly data driven. Business analysts will need to learn how to map Google trends with sales of genre-specific books. Publishers will need to create daily pulse reports to identify press and social media trends and capitalize on them before it is too late.

Spreadsheet mastery is a must. Data sets will be large, and businesses large enough will want to have a database person on staff to help generate reports and analyze data. Competence with Google Analytics (or any other web-stats gathering software) is also a requirement for anyone in marketing, online or off. Simply being able to look at a basic traffic report is not enough either; these users will have to know how to create multistep goals, determine drop-off points, and create A/B split tests. The competitive landscape has reduced publishers’ abilities to leave money on the table, and they will need to do all in their power to optimize the purchase experience.

Landing page creation will be core to creating an online presence. While marketers may not need to write HTML and CSS themselves, they will need to be familiar with the tools that create them. Photoshop and layout/design skills are at the base of all these.

Publishers will need to learn to be masters of customer engagement. Through social media, cultivated communities, and customer service, publishers will need to build and use the tools to track customer satisfaction and customer engagement to determine how that leads to repeat purchases.

Skills Required for Digital Production

For most publishers, digital production is taking a finalized print file (in InDesign, Quark, or some word processing document) and turning it into an eBook that looks good on a bunch of different ereader devices. This works for now, but will not be enough in the future. As better and newer workflows emerge, creating these facsimile digital products will be straightforward, but for books that go beyond just text, a facsimile conversion will not be enough.

Digital Production Specialists will be required to know HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript. There will be quite a few development and design tools, but production specialists will do well learning how to use an IDE as well as the multitude of creation tools.

When it comes to CSS, Digital Production Specialists will be required to learn the nuances of responsive design, graceful degradation, and which platforms support which advanced features. Additionally, they will need to learn how to create content that is fully accessible and makes use of media overlays.

Interactive developers and designers will benefit from learning the common open source JavaScript frameworks like jQuery, prototype, mooTools, Backbone.js, and any other framework that pops up. These will reduce development time and increase reusability.

Changes to the Organization

One of the biggest and most difficult changes for a publisher is an organizational change. The roles required and organizational structures of most modern publishers will not suffice in this new landscape. Digital production can no longer be a small subdivision of the production staff. To create new and value-add digital products you need to create reusable frameworks, which requires a staff of technical people. Additionally, development of a digital book should begin well before the print book design has been finalized—especially in the case of a complex enhanced digital version.

Along with adding a digital team, the engagement and customer insight teams will need to grow. At many small and medium-sized publishers, the entire social media division is a single person. The role, and metrics, around social media, customer insight, and customer service will grow—especially if an organization begins to sell direct. These teams will need extended resources to grow and serve the market appropriately.

A Note About Software

There are software solutions out now that won’t be around in a few years. Inversely there is software not yet on the market today that will be a powerhouse in the years to come. Avoid specific software solutions when possible as you develop your core skills.

What Now?

Build a top-down strategy and then an education plan. The senior management needs to have a vision. Will interactivity be part of your product? How will social networking feed editorial? These big decisions need to be made first and foremost. Once the vision is clear, take an audit of existing skills. From there, the endpoint and skill gap will be clear.

Once you know what skills you need, you can either hire workers who already possess those skills or you can train your existing workforce so they acquire those skills (or any hybrid of the two). Learning is amplified when there is purpose, and what better purpose than working toward a vision?

Work activities of a publisher

Publishers set the editorial and commercial direction for companies that publish books, newspapers, magazines and digital content. They make decisions about the markets their companies will serve and the type of content they will offer their audience. Publishers work with teams of editors, designers, writers and freelance contributors who create the content and manage its production.


Book publishers set the criteria for the types of books they will commission. In a small publishing house, publishers may concentrate on general fiction or non-fiction. In larger companies, they may focus on more specific categories, such as business textbooks or science fiction. Magazine publishers develop publications that will appeal to both readers and advertisers. A fashion magazine publisher, for example, may decide to focus on high-end fashion aimed at wealthy readers who represent an attractive target market for advertisers of luxury goods.


By focusing on the right markets, publishers aim to maximize revenue. Magazine publishers obtain revenue from retail sales, subscriptions and advertising. Selling magazines by subscription provides a regular flow of guaranteed income, while revenue from advertising and retail sales may vary with each edition. Book publishers aim to build sales through bookstores and online retailers, libraries, schools and colleges, and book clubs. They may also sell publishing rights to foreign companies who translate books and market them in their own territories.

Editorial Policy

Publishers may deal directly with contributors or oversee editors who liaise with writers, authors, photographers and illustrators. They develop editorial policies that provide editors and contributors with guidance on the style and tone of content they require. A publisher of a sports magazine, for example, may decide to offer readers in-depth analysis of the sport, while a competitor may decide to focus content on popular sports personalities.

Commercial Terms

To pay contributors for their work, publishers negotiate contracts that set out the financial arrangement. Magazine publishers pay contributors a fee, either when they accept the work or when they publish it. Book publishers offer authors terms that might include an advance on royalties before publication, royalties at different rates depending on volume of sales, and a share of any additional publishing rights. Publishers also negotiate discounts and commercial terms with retailers and other outlets.


Publishers have overall responsibility for content development and production. They may manage teams of editors and designers who review contributions, edit manuscripts and prepare layouts for printed or digital production. Publishers ensure that the team meets production schedules and releases work to the market on time.

Cost Control

Cost control is an important responsibility for publishers. They must balance revenue with production, distribution and staff costs so that publications or books are profitable. They set budgets for different departments and monitor financial performance to identify opportunities for improving profit by increasing revenue or reducing costs



Independent publishers know the publishing industry. They’ve reviewed publishing models and understand price points and value propositions. They master online book marketing and the platforms necessary to gain attention for their work. Self-publishers have an intimate knowledge of the industry for which a piece of writing has been developed.


This goes hand-in-hand with preparation. Generally, successful people are willing to learn, make mistakes, and continue moving forward. They ask questions and add new skills that set them apart from the competition.


Successful independent publishers are often avid readers and writers themselves. They deeply understand the point of publishing and promoting work, and it is often for the benefit of the work itself. Publishers understand what a book means to a reader, how to meet a reader’s expectations, and how readers buy books. Most independent publishers read and write the materials they publish, so they can speak about their product on a personal and engaging level.


The publishing industry is in flux. The mark of a truly successful publisher is that he or she will get knocked down on a regular basis, but it doesn’t stop them. There are always new techniques and avenues to try when publishing. One forum may be attempted repeatedly, or a publisher may try a few different routes before gaining traction in the marketplace.


Successful individuals wake up every morning with a sense of purpose. They don’t languish in bed or procrastinate. These individuals take carpe diem literally and approach each day with a vigorous plan of action. Many will balance their day with communication, research, planning, and execution.


Passion is how successful individuals stay driven. Many successful independent publishers wouldn’t be in the business if they didn’t have passion for the written word. They care about what they do, and they understand the commitment needed to see results. They stay true to what they believe and won’t compromise if it leads to loss of quality.


Leaders in any field are assertive. Successful independent publishers understand when they need to take the reins and when to take a step back to reevaluate. Sometimes, they may be the only one who believes in a book’s merit, but that won’t stop them. Many famous writers were rejected before finally being published.


Rejection, failure, and mistakes are part of the publishing process. It means that a publisher won’t take the bad times to heart. He or she will understand that several different factors are involved in any given situation, and it won’t destroy the confidence needed to persevere.

Risk Management

Successful independent publishing means taking calculated risks. A publisher who understands when and how to take a risk will always be able to recover and grow with the results.


Positivity is contagious. Seeing the bigger picture and approaching each day with a positive attitude will impact those around a successful independent publisher. A publisher with a positive outlook will naturally encourage the same behavior in others, shortening the path to success.

Some of these behaviors and traits are innate, but everyone can focus on incorporating them one at a time. For most, a changed mindset will be enough to modify behavior and create movement toward a successful experience with independent publishing.

Frequently asked questions

How much money can I earn by publishing one book?

It totally depends on two things – the way you market it and the quality of your book. Let’s imagine that your book’s quality is average from readers’ perspective but you

manage to promote it well in the market it. What will happen is the sales of

your book will be high in the initial few days and then stall because of

reviews from readers on ecommerce websites.

Now imagine your book’s content is really interesting and you market it well, too. The sales of your book will be good for solid period of time. In the last scenario, if you

haven’t promoted your book well, the sales of your book will be below average

because people out there don’t know your book exists. Depending on the number

of copies your book sells in the market, you will be paid royalty accordingly.

Now this brings us to an important question on royalty. The percentage of royalty you receive will depend on your publisher. If your book was published by a traditional

publisher, you’ll receive a royalty percentage as mentioned in your contract. If it’s through a self-publisher that you’ve got your book published, chances are high that you may get a higher percentage of royalty, compared to a traditional publisher.

Who Hires Publishers?

Publishers are hired by large, medium, small and non-profit organizations that produce print media for any number of purposes, including education, entertainment, news, industry related information and others.

• Book publishing houses

• Magazines

• Newspapers

• Scholarly publications

• Textbook publications

• Trade publications

• Self-publishing

Careers Related to Publisher

Listed below are jobs that are similar in nature to that of a publisher, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.

Copy Editor

Literary Agent

Production Manager

Publishing Rights Manager

Sales Manager

Education Needed to Become a Publisher

The typical educational background needed to become a publisher is a Bachelor’s degree in a field such as English, management, journalism, communications or liberal arts

Although it is not typically a requirement of employment in a publishing company, a master’s degree in publishing, or one of the aforementioned fields, can be attractive to potential employers.

The educational requirements to become a publisher can also vary based on factors such as who the employer is, the size of the publication, the industry the publication operates within and many others.

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