Books have the power to transport us to another time and place, and to imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes. They are both a reflection of the world and a search for meaning within it.
If you’re passionate about the power of books, you might be exploring potential careers in publishing, such as that of a book publisher. What exactly does a book publisher do, and what is the process for how to become a book publisher? This career guide offers a glimpse into the publishing industry for high school and college students who are thinking about their future.
Steps in Becoming a Book Publisher
If you’re still in high school and you have your sights set on careers in publishing, have a chat with your guidance counselor about your career goals. You may be able to add some more relevant courses to your schedule, such as additional literature courses on top of your regular English classes. Try to take an Advanced Placement (AP) English course, if possible.
It’s also a good idea to look for relevant extracurricular activities. For example, join the book club at your school (or start a book club), or volunteer to work on or act in the annual school play. Working on the school newspaper can be another valuable experience for you, and it will look great on your college applications.
You’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in English or a related subject, and it’s a good idea to earn a master’s degree in English, as well. While you’re in school, it’s important to work at one or more internships, ideally at publishing companies, newspapers or other related businesses. The job of book publisher is a senior-level one, so you’ll need to acquire plenty of entry-level and mid-level experience before you can pursue that job title.
The curriculum for your bachelor and graduate degrees in English will require plenty of class reading assignments. Although you may be spending hours each week reading for your classes, it’s still crucial to spend as much time as possible reading your own selections. Focus on reading books featured on The New York Times Best Sellers lists, as well as the types of books you’d like to work on once you break into the publishing field.
Earn Your Undergraduate Degree
All book publishers are expected to have at least a bachelor’s degree. There is no universal degree requirement, but most people who aspire to work in the publishing industry choose a degree in English or professional writing. You might even want to choose an English degree that could lead to teacher licensure, as this can provide another career option if you decide to work in education down the road.
During your four years as an English student, you can expect to study topics such as the following:
- Young adult literature and its themes of self-identity, culture and values
- Plays from ancient times to modern history, with a look at ancient Greek playwrights and European writers such as Shakespeare
- Themes, genres, literary techniques and historic trends in American and British modern literature
- Multicultural diversity in literature
- Organizational communication skills, with an emphasis on written communication
Because professional experience is crucial for breaking into and climbing the ladder of the publishing industry, it’s strongly recommended that you look for relevant internships and part-time positions while still in college. Publishing houses tend to be clustered in New York City (NYC). In fact, jobs within the publishing industry are six times more plentiful in NYC than throughout the rest of the country.1
Because many of the country’s major book publishers are located in NYC, you might want to consider temporarily relocating there for a summer internship (or to another major hub of publishing, such as Boston). The experience and professional connections you’ll gain can prove invaluable for starting your career. If this isn’t possible, however, take a look around your local community to see if internships might be available at local newspapers, small publishing houses or even marketing firms.
Earn a Master’s Degree in English
It’s not strictly necessary to earn a master’s degree in English in order to land your first job in publishing. However, earning higher credentials may help you pursue advanced positions within this competitive field. Furthermore, a master's degree is sometimes required to work within certain publishing niches, such as science and technology.
You may want to earn your master’s degree in English soon after graduating with your bachelor’s degree, or you might want to enter the workforce first and earn your degree on the side. Program lengths are variable, but most master’s students can expect to graduate in about two to three years. Online courses may be available to help you fit your classes around your work schedule, if applicable.
The specific curriculum will vary from one master’s program to the next, but you can generally expect to study topics such as the following:
- Classical and modern theories of rhetoric, and contemporary theories of writing, with a look at the relationship between the practical and theoretical aspects of the discipline
- Writing as a social and technological act, with a consideration of new media
- Research-based instructional practices in higher education, examining adult learning theory, online teaching, personalized learning and other learning models
- Techniques and theoretical approaches to teaching literature
If you’ve decided to earn your master’s degree on a full-time basis, you should pursue internship opportunities while you’re in school. This applies even if you have already completed one or more internship programs as an undergrad. The importance of having practical experience on your publishing resume cannot be overstated — not to mention the professional connections you’ll gain from your time as an intern.
Acquire Entry-Level Experience in the Field
The publishing field is quite competitive, but there are a few steps you can take to accelerate your career. Expect to spend time in an entry-level position before gradually working your way up to pursuing the position of book publisher. First, take a look at some of the common entry-level jobs in the industry.
- Editorial assistant – You might work as an assistant to an acquisitions editor or other type of editor in a publishing house. Expect to do plenty of administrative work, including correspondence with authors.
- Manufacturing assistant – An assistant in the manufacturing department of a publishing house might liaise with print vendors, manage book manufacturing data and handle other administrative tasks.
- Publicity assistant – As an assistant to the publicist, you’ll handle administrative tasks, such as updating authors’ schedules, communicating with authors and agents, compiling media lists and perhaps drafting media pitches.
After having worked in a job such as editorial assistant for a while, you might move up to a slightly higher position, such as that of assistant editor. This may sound quite similar to the job of editorial assistant, but an assistant editor will typically be given more hands-on work with the manuscripts themselves (e.g., fact-checking, research, index compilation and copy editing). Then, you can work on climbing to a more senior role, such as by becoming an editor, before pursuing the role of book publisher.
Start Pursuing a Career in Publishing at GCU
When you’re ready to pursue careers in publishing, it’s time to explore the many liberal arts programs available at Grand Canyon University. In addition to our undergraduate programs, GCU offers the Master of Arts in English with an Emphasis in Education degree, which builds strong competencies in writing theories and applications.
1Retrieved from New York City, Labor Market Information Service, Employment in New York City Publishing in August 2022.
Approved by the English Department Chair for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences on Sept. 29, 2022.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.