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Robert Vega, Director FAC 18 / 2304 Whitis Ave. Stop G6200 78712-1508 • 512-471-7900

Editing & Publishing

Publishing is a popular field for post-academics to transition into since it revolves around books, writers, and readers.

How do I get into the publishing industry?

Flexibility is an important quality for anyone considering publishing. In trade publishing, this could mean having flexible standards about what constitutes a “good” book but also what kinds of books you specialize in.

For academic and textbook publishing, being open to specializing in books outside your area of expertise will increase your chances of getting a one of these positions. Publishers, academic or otherwise, do not necessarily expect editors to have an academic background in the subject matter of the books they deal with. Other skills, like research or communication, are more important, depending on the position.

There are three main kinds of book publishing open to post-academics:
trade publishing,
academic publishing, and
textbook publishing.

All three include
acquisitions, and
sales jobs.

To give you an idea of the makeup of a trade publisher, about 15% of people are editors, 25% are in marketing, and the other 60% are in sales, administration, and distribution.[1] Starting as an editorial assistant is the entry-level job for the editing trajectory, and often can be for moving into the other areas as well.

What is the future of the publishing industry?

Even though publishing is undergoing some upheavals due to industry shrinkage, mergers, and new reading technologies, skills fostered in graduate school are essential in many areas of this field, so its competitiveness should not discourage you from attempting this career move if you think you would be successful in it. Jobs are typically posted on company websites, general career sites, and publishing trade sites (see web resources below).

Sectors Within Publishing

Trade Publishing

How is working with books in publishing different from working with books as an academic?

For those in trade publishing, the commercial viability of the book as a product (or “unit”) is the foremost concern. Due to the shrinking market for books, a greater percentage of books published need to possess mass-market appeal. In other words, there is no room in publishing for editors to be literary snobs. English majors are often concerned with whether a book is good; publishers ask whether a book is good for a particular market.[2] In particular, they are concerned with
•    Book production--details such as the materials used and what kind of cover art would help sell the book
•    Sales--books as “units,” as in “units sold”
•    Marketing--knowledge of different markets (especially as in “mass-market paperback”) and how to sell books through brick-and-mortar bookstores, mass merchant retailers (like Wal-Mart and Target), and of course online booksellers
•    Profit--need to offset the often unprofitable literary novels with sales of cookbooks, celebrity biographies, romance novels, and self-help guides

Action Steps for Trade Publishing

  • Talk to people who work in bookstores, especially the buyers
  • Attend book fairs, including the very large BookExpo
  • Read periodicals and trade publications about the industry 
  • Read about self-publishing or the process of getting a manuscript published
  • Attend a publishing seminar [3]
  • Join the UT Non-Academic Alumni Network on LinkedIn to contact current publishing professionals
  • Search for “a day in the life Book Marketing Manager” and “a day in the life of a book editor" on Vault’s Career Insider on LACS's BTT Gateway  
  • Visit the LACS library in FAC 18 to read more

Academic Publishing   

Because they sell books to a very small academic audience, academic publishers don’t have to face the same kinds of concerns with mass marketing that trade publishers do, but dwindling library budgets and the open access movement are having an impact on how academic books are acquired, marketed and sold. One potential advantage to working for an academic publisher is geographical—academic publishers are affiliated with large universities, so your living options are broader than the New York world around which trade publishing revolves.

Textbook Publishing

Working in textbook publishing is another way to maintain contact with university life and make use of your teaching experience since you will no doubt have used a textbook of some kind as an instructor, and may have even met with textbook publishing representatives yourself. In addition to being able to communicate effectively with faculty and staff, writing skills are important when writing campus reports about who you talked to and what you learned.

A sample campus report is often part of the job interview process for textbook publishers, and enterprising applicants could even write up one of these to have in hand when interviewing. This would require talking to professors in departments other than your own about how they make their textbooks decisions, plus a textbook manager at a local academic bookstore, then writing a two-page report about your findings.

As in other branches of publishing, opportunities in the textbook industry will come from ebook publishing and other outlets involving new technologies.[4]

Action Steps for Academic and Textbook Publishing

•    Apply for an internship at an academic publisher
•    Acquire some formal editing experience that you can put on your resume
•    Write a sample campus report to prepare for a textbook publishing interview
•    Read One Book/Five Ways: The Publishing Procedures of Five University Presses
•    Join the UT Non-Academic Alumni Network on LinkedIn to contact current publishing professionals
•    Visit the LACS library in FAC 18 to read more

Careers in Publishing


Editorial assistants read solicited and unsolicited manuscripts and report to their superiors about which ones have the potential to be successful. Publishers may publish 50 books for every 2,000 manuscripts that are read. Editorial assistants are often paid very little, so publishers often hire young people who are willing to work very hard for very little money. “Publishers know the allure of publishing, and the starting salaries seem to be more like honorariums."[5] There is a lot of turnover for editorial assistants, but less at higher levels, so it can be relatively easy to break into editing but more difficult to move up. However, for those with advanced degrees, you can move up very quickly due to your higher maturity level and desire to accept more responsibility.

In addition to the obvious reading, writing, and editing skills, other necessary skills for editors include
•    teamwork,
•    attention to detail,
•    project management, and
•    multitasking.

To learn about the steps from accepting a manuscript to getting the book published, see Bly.[6]

Acquisitions Editing

Acquisitions editors are responsible for finding out where there is a need for a particular kind of book and finding authors to write them. In academic and textbook publishing, this involves networking with professors at academic conferences. Then the acquisitions editor acts as a project manager to see that the book manuscript meets production deadlines and will reach its target audience. In academic publishing, the acquisitions editor will also be concerned with the book’s peer review process.


Marketing in book publishing requires understanding and predicting who will buy what books. To be successful at this in book publishing, you should spend time with diverse groups of people and notice what they are reading or buying, tune in to popular radio or TV shows, be well-informed about current events, keep an eye on cultural trends, and notice what types of books tend to be sold in which types of stores.[7]


Book sales representatives often don’t have a strong sales background. Instead they are often slightly bookish English majors who have the potential to be extraverted and feel comfortable talking to people about books.[8] Sales reps need to be able to familiarize themselves with the publishers’ lists of books and call to mind which titles would make a good fit for a particular market or need. For post-academics, the ability to talk comfortably with faculty is an important skill for academic or textbook sales. Teaching skills are valuable for making presentations to potential buyers, whether they be bookstore purchasing managers, academics, or a committee of faculty members considering adopting a textbook for their program.

Travel is required, sometimes extensively, but there are perks for frequent travelers like having a company car and a travel expense account. Annual bonuses based on meeting sales goals or even simply demonstrating growth are common. Advancement opportunities include managing regional sales representatives or moving up to corporate headquarters, often in located in New York.

Web Resources

UT Press Fellowship
Association of American Publishers
Association of American University Presses
Independent Book Publishers Marketing Association
National Association of Independent Publishers
Small Publisher, Artists and Writers Network
Go to, search for “a day in the life of a book editor.”
Kimball, Shana. “From Scratch: Creating a Career in Scholarly Publishing.” #alt-academy: Alternative Academic Careers. 7 May 2011. Web. 25 June 2012.
Cader Books - subscribe to “Publisher’s Lunch,” an e-newsletter about the publishing industry
Writer’s Market - an online service about publishers for writers. $5.99/month to access the site. Also available in hard copy in PCL and LACS library.


1. Robert Bly, Careers for Writers & Others Who Have a Way with Words, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2003), 24

2. Timothy Lemire, I’m an English Major: Now What? (Cincinnati, OH: Writers Digest Books, 2006), 116

3. Lemire, I'm an English Major, 120-121

4. See also Lemire 130-137 for a Q&A with two publishing professionals—both in textbook divisions.

5. Bly, Careers, 43

6. Careers, 38

7. Alison Baverstock, How to Get a Job in Publishing (London: A&C Black, 2008), 35-36

8. Chris Lytle, The Accidental Salesperson: How to Take Control of Your Sales Career and Earn the Respect and Income You Deserve (New York, NY: AMACOM, 2000).

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