“Take your writing assignments seriously. Being able to clearly and effectively communicate, from emails to lengthy documents, is a very valuable skill to have."
Carol Rohrabaugh '59
By Jaimie Figueroa Kelly '09; Revised by Aaron Stewart '09
Were you perhaps one of those kids in high school that everyone would turn to if they wanted help wording their papers? Do you love to read? If you could answer ‘yes’ for either of those questions, a career in publishing may be just the job you’re looking for. Not only is it great for people who have excellent proofreading skills but, like many other English-related jobs out there, there are many different fields where publishing can come in handy. Books, newspapers and magazines are published from thousands of different sources.
If you happen to love reading, here’s an interesting little tidbit: according to Marjorie Eberts and Margaret Gisler, 75% of your time spent in book publishing will be devoted to reading (37). Many of the larger book publishing agencies you may have heard of, such as Penguin or Scholastic, are located in Chicago and New York; however, many smaller publishing houses and independent publishers are located throughout the United States (55). In most cases, you will probably enter into book publishing as an assistant editor (64). Other positions range from copyeditors and proofreaders to designers and illustrators (34-53). Whatever you have an interest in when it comes to publishing books, it’s likely you can find something that fits your skills.
Read an interview with Carol Rohrabaugh '59.
Now, if working for magazine publishers sounds like it’s more your style, there are a few differences. As Robert Carter and S. William Pattis say in their book, Opportunities in Publishing Careers, no one is sure just how many magazines are published at any one time in the United States, but most will tell you it’s around 22,000 different subscriptions, plus or minus 2,000 (90). If you think that sounds like a lot—it is! Another plus is, if you look in the “Freelance Writing” section of our website, there are a number of magazines that specialize in certain hobbies or interests, so if you happen to like, say, video games or science fiction, you could apply to a publisher that fits that interest. The highest number of magazine publications is made up of professional, technical and trade topics (Carter and Pattis 90). Most companies start a new employee as an editorial assistant, but many other jobs are available to you after a while, including editor-in-chief, senior editor and letters department manager (Eberts and Grisler 63-66). Besides that, you can also find jobs in advertising, circulation, production, and clerical work. (Find info on Newspaper Publishing)
When talking about skills, I mentioned one of the most important ones above—proofreading. Have you ever read a newspaper article and became annoyed when you found a “typo” that a third-grade child could have spotted? Well, that’s what editors in the publishing field are trained to catch. Helping an author or a journalist correct those mistakes before their work goes out to the public will help them immensely in sales—that’s why a publisher’s job is so important.
Also, there’s no sense in publishing if you don’t like to read. Book publishers usually receive the longest manuscripts to mull over, but magazine and newspaper publishers typically get an enormous amount of mail that they have to trudge through everyday. If you’re one of those kids that get annoyed when the teacher assigns something longer than 100 pages to read, this is definitely not the field for you. Get used to reading manuscripts until they float around in your dreams.
Other very useful skills include patience and stamina. Patience is particularly handy when you receive manuscripts that are not up to par. You’ll receive submissions with many, many spelling and grammar errors and, even when they are good on that end, you’ll receive still others that are just plain boring to read. Work through them. Try to think of it from the viewpoint of the person who submitted the work—they can’t correct their mistakes if they don’t know there are any. Also, stamina is a no-brainer. As I said before, you’ll have nightmares about manuscripts. That’s just part of the job—be prepared to read and correct them at all hours of the day. It’s tough work, but if it’s something that you love to do, it can be very rewarding.
Qualifications and Training
As was mentioned before, you have to be great at spelling and grammar. You can’t expect to do well in publishing if you can’t completely understand what it is you’re publishing in the first place. Get some books to help with those areas—no matter how good you are, it can never hurt to brush up on or add to those skills. Plus, there are so many how-to books out there for the taking that you’re guaranteed to find out something that you didn’t know before.
Keep in mind that the publishing field has a broad market and a large number of employees. It won’t be too hard to find a job if you work on those skills above. One of the best ways to break into the book publishing field is through an internship or entry-level position, with the best candidates for the job obviously being English majors. Again, if your interest is in magazine or newspaper publishing, there are other skills that may come in handy. You are encouraged to take photography, journalism, communications, law, political science, history, and economics, in addition to several writing classes (Carter and Pattis 103). Law is key for any publishing job, as it may help you understand your clients’ copyright policies. No one is telling you to go out and memorize every case regarding copyright violations—just brush up on the laws so that you can cover your tracks better when you make a mistake (notice I said “when”—everyone makes mistakes).
Publishing at Heidelberg
Heidelberg University offers many great programs for a future publisher. Obviously, anything in the English field is worth the time and effort. We have a large amount of courses on literature for you to choose from, ranging from British Literature to Shakespeare, even special courses focusing on mystery novels or the fantasy genre. In terms of writing, our Creative Writing course is excellent for honing your skills, as well as special topics of their own, from Advanced Poetry to Fiction.
Also, we have many Communications courses that could be helpful. Learning how to talk comfortably in front of others is another step to doing the same in your writing—give it a shot. If you’re particularly interested in magazine publishing, taking “Graphic Design” in the Art department is excellent for teaching photography. Also, the English department has an excellent class on web-page design and advertising called “Computer-Mediated Communication,” which can help you with designing layouts and advertising.
We also have a few extra-curricular activities that can help tremendously. Join our school newspaper, The Kilikilik, to learn more about journalism and editing. Also, our English department puts out a literary magazine every year called The Morpheus that can also give you the opportunity to get first-hand experience on layout and editing, though the job positions are usually reserved for those majoring in English-Writing. Finally, it could never hurt to get involved with our school yearbook, The Aurora, which will also give you layout and publishing experience if the previous two groups don’t sound like something you would want to get into.
- Carter, Robert A., and S. William Pattis. Opportunities in Publishing Careers. Chicago: VGM Career Books, 2001.
- Eberts, Marjorie, and Margaret Gisler. Careers for Book Worms & Other Literary Types. 3rd ed. Chicago: VGM Career Books, 2003.
Many books on the publishing industry are available through Beeghly Library at Heidelberg University. The titles under “works cited” are a good place to start, but others worth looking at are Careers in Publishing, Opportunities in Book Publishing Careers, Opportunities in Magazine Publishing Careers, and Opportunities in Desktop Publishing Careers, all of which are available through our library. For those interested in the publishing industry, The Printing Industry by Victor Strauss is also a good place to start. More information about publishing, or any other career you might be interested in, can be found in the Occupational Outlook Handbook at http://www.bls.gov/OCO/.