Inside Book Publishing (2023)

Publishing is a popular career choice and there is strong competition to enter the industry. Digital developments – from ebooks to apps and interactive fiction - have been prominent in the media, highlighting the exciting opportunities for new entrants unafraid of new technologies or fast-paced change. Companies have broadened out their view of what comprises a good candidate, to include digital literacy, an entrepreneurial mindset, and an appreciation of changes across other media and throughout society. There is also a greater variety of job roles to consider, as these merge across functional boundaries (e.g. production editor), take on a digital focus (e.g. digital product manager), or venture into multimedia (e.g. media research and commissioning).

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Although many junior jobs that are advertised state that previous publishing experience is necessary, entry to publishing is paradoxically mainly at the bottom. You should therefore snatch any kind of work in any area of publishing, whatever the size of firm. Publishers usually recruit only to fill vacancies which, at the entry level, often occur at no more than a month’s notice. Working on a placement, a short- term contract, or covering for a permanent employee’s maternity leave, can be a good opportunity. Once in, you will be learning, gaining personal impressions of various jobs by talking to people, and, what is more, be in a position to hear about future jobs. From that bridgehead, it is usually easier to obtain a second job than the first, by moving sideways or upwards within or outside the firm.

Do not fear that your first job will necessarily determine your subsequent career. It is best to complete at least a year in the first job, but two to three job changes in the first five years are not uncommon. At the outset, it is preferable to think firstly of the kinds of books you would be interested in publishing and hence the type of publishing company (sometimes it can be problematic to move across publishing sectors); and secondly of the kind of work for which you feel you might have a particular aptitude.

To increase your chances, good office skills and computer literacy (e.g. knowledge of Microsoft Office) are necessary for all jobs. Experience of administrative work and proofreading skills are desirable. Strong writing and analytical skills will be sought, which may have been exercised in a piece of research at university. The ability to use publishing software such as Adobe InDesign and experience of ePub file conversion are highly useful alongside familiarity with social media and online communities. An understanding of HTML is increasingly important (set up your own website on WordPress); and explore Google Analytics. If you are a bookseller and want to move into publishing, two to three years of bookselling is ample. For any newcomer to the industry, work experience at a publisher will help your CV stand out, and a temporary job with a publisher during the summer may lead to the elusive first full-time appointment. The ability to drive is also useful.

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Market research

You must carry out research on publishing in general and on your target publishers in particular, and especially you should research the books these firms publish. Read the trade press available in print or online – for example The Bookseller (UK), Publishers Weekly (US), Publishing Perspectives (international), BookBrunch (UK), Publishers Lunch (US); Book2Book (UK), Digital Book World (US); read book reviews and sign up for Goodreads; and visit libraries and bookshops to look at publishers’ books and to seek advice from librarians and booksellers. You can also follow publishers on Twitter and visit their Facebook pages. For specialist areas visit the appropriate library or bookshop. When visiting bookshops, during their quiet periods try to talk to the manager who deals directly with the central office or publishers’ reps. When you have narrowed down the field or have secured an interview, you must visit the publisher’s website and catalogue before any further approach is made.


Networking is a key publishing skill and once developed will stand you in good stead even when you are settled in the industry, when you may be searching out new prospects for your business. Contacts in publishing provide insight into particular firms, offering you advice, spreading knowledge of your abilities, and alerting you to impending vacancies. Sometimes these contacts are influential enough to secure you a preliminary discussion or interview, though rarely a job itself. Therefore, first tap your family and personal connections; if you draw a blank there, take the initiative. You can network by joining the Society of Young Publishers (SYP )in a variety of locations including London, Oxford and Scotland. It holds frequent meetings and an annual conference, at which senior publishers speak, and publishes the journal InPrint. Membership is not restricted to people employed in publishing. Women in Publishing (WiP) holds regular meetings in London. Membership is open to women of any age in publishing, unwaged and students. You may be able to attend meetings of the Independent Publishers Guild (IPG) in London and around the country (small and medium-sized publishers), or go to events of organizations such as the Oxford Publishing Society (OPuS), BookMachine, or the Publishers Publicity Circle (PPC). Publishing groups on LinkedIn provide contact opportunities, especially in non-consumer publishing.


Most entry into publishing requires an undergraduate degree, and common subjects are English, History and Modern Languages. People with degrees in science and other specialities, such as law or medicine, are at a premium for publishers in those areas; and publishers developing digital products and services would love to recruit graduates from mathematics and computer science. A teaching background or experience in English language teaching is particularly useful for educational and ELT publishing, and African studies or experience of working for Voluntary Service Overseas for international educational publishers. Some legal background is useful for rights and contracts positions. Language degrees are desirable for rights and export sales departments of all kinds of publishers. The level of degree is less important. Those with doctorates seeking their first junior job may face the difficulty that they are that much older than competing younger applicants. Some of the major publishers offer graduate recruitment schemes. For example, under the long-running Macmillan scheme, a small number of graduates are selected each year and are given an accelerated, diverse and international experience to shape them for management positions.

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Pre-entry qualification

Traditionally the only departments in which formal vocationally orientated qualifications were highly desirable were graphic design and production. For marketing posts publishers have come to recognize the benefits of qualifications from the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM). The pre-entry publishing courses, which used to concentrate on copy-editing and production skills, now also cover the business and marketing aspects of publishing. At undergraduate level, students can choose to study publishing on its own or along with other disciplines. There has been a large increase in the range of courses available at undergraduate and graduate levels, with student places around several hundred per year. Their links with publishers, various work experience schemes for students, and the rise of their former students into management positions have undermined the traditionalist view that pre-entry vocational training is a waste of time. Attaining a BA or MA in Publishing does not guarantee a job in publishing but it substantially increases the chances – the established courses score impressive success rates. Some publishers, recognizing the quality of graduates from the main programmes, advertise job openings directly on their websites.

Work experience

There are some websites that advertise work experience, and some of the larger publishers have established mechanisms for recruiting students keen to gain, mostly unpaid, placements. You can write to the HR departments or if you have any contacts inside a publisher, use them to find out who it would be best to contact. Work experience is an excellent preparation for a career in publishing. By working in different departments you can gain first-hand experience of the different functions, find out about your aptitudes, and build a network of contacts: employers may treat it as an extended interview. Whilst there continues to be a large amount of unpaid work experience offered, there is a trend towards paid assignments (see the information at

Other experience which increases a job applicant’s attractiveness includes editing your school or college magazine, marketing and website work, and short-term work in a bookshop.

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Recruitment agencies

There are a variety of agencies that recruit for publishers. Examples are Atwood Tate, Judy Fisher, Inspired Selection, PFJ Media Recruitment, and Redwood. Some specialize in more senior positions and will help headhunt staff from rival companies. The agencies regularly advertise junior positions on their own and other websites. Some of the agencies encourage job hunters to register with them, offer free advice, and they will forward the details of likely candidates when a vacancy occurs. It is unlikely they will take someone on their books without a publishing degree and six months of work experience within the industry.

also use agencies to recruit for temporary positions. There is always a demand from for temporary staff to fill jobs vacated by people on holiday or ill. In London this is a good way of getting the feel of different publishers and can lead to a permanent job.

Advertisements and search

Advertisements for publishing jobs appear in The Bookseller and the national press (mainly the Guardian on a Monday). Some companies use more generic recruitment websites, such as Monster, and publishers outside London may advertise locally. The high cost of advertising has prompted many publishers to advertise jobs on free websites, such as those of the IPG, SYP, and the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies; and on their own career web pages, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Many jobs, especially in trade publishing, are not advertised at all, and publishers prefer to use word-of-mouth recommendations, especially referrals from their own employees. You need to use a variety of search engines to find internships, and try different key words, such as ‘publishing work experience’ or ‘publishing opportunities’: look through all result pages. Career-based websites, such as Prospects (UK) can be useful.

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How do I know if my book is good enough to publish? ›

Write query letters to agents. If you keep getting back standard form rejections, its likely that your book is not ready to be published yet. If you pique the interest of an agent and they want to see more of your work, this is an excellent sign. You might even get an offer.

Why does my book keep getting rejected? ›

Most rejections stem from the same three problems: the story isn't compelling, there's no clear audience, or the writing isn't ready yet. But how can you identify and solve these problems? Literary agents with stuffed inboxes don't have time for personal feedback. But Jane and Allison do.

How long should I wait to hear back from a publisher? ›

Editors almost always take more time to get back to you than agents. They can take three to six months, even up to a year. If their policy is that not hearing from them indicates a rejection, do not e-mail a status query.

What percent of books are rejected by publishers? ›

The content was developed in a way that reached the reader on both an emotional as well as an intellectual level. Why are 99% of book proposals rejected?

What are my odds of getting published? ›

If agents are looking to auction a manuscript, they'll typically send it out to 8-12 publishers – that is, to all the bigger publishers in town. So while an individual publisher might take just 1% of work submitted, that means an overall success rate of more like 10%.

Is 30000 words enough for a book? ›

If you're writing your first novel, the general rule of thumb for novel writing is a word count in the 80,000 to 100,000 range. While anything over 40,000 words can fall into the novel category, 50,000 is considered the minimum novel length. Anything over 110,000 words is considered too long for a fiction novel.

How do you know if a book is poorly written? ›

Tell-Tale Signs of Bad Writing
  • Vague, unclear writing that has no direction or, worse, too many of them. Good writing has a strong purpose. ...
  • Ignores the reader. ...
  • Failure to edit. ...
  • Awkward transitions. ...
  • Filler words. ...
  • Clichés.

Why do most authors fail? ›

Most writers fail due to a combination of factors, but mainly being too lazy to try, lacking persistence, too little planning, not being focused and unrealistic expectations. Writing takes more effort than most people think. It takes a lot more than just sitting down to pen a few sentences.

How do you know if a book is too difficult? ›

The number of fingers they're holding up by the end of the page tells them if the book is the right level:
  1. 0-1 fingers: It's too easy.
  2. 2-3 fingers: It's just right.
  3. 4-5 fingers: It's too hard (or best read aloud with a buddy).
8 Aug 2022

Can a publisher reject a book? ›

Remember, there are many reasons why a publisher might reject a story. Sometimes, a story just isn't right for their business model. And if that's the case, you can't do anything about it. It's time to move on to another publisher or another story.

Why do publishers take so long to respond? ›

The simple answer to this question (and usually the correct answer) is that literary agents are busy. Most agents spend their days working for their active clients, because they make their money after securing deals for the authors they represent.

Do publishers send rejection letters? ›

Rejection letters from literary agents and editors of literary journals can be discouraging for creative writers — especially impersonal, one-line responses. But writers who want to succeed at getting their work published know rejection is an unavoidable and even necessary part of the writing process.

How many times J.K. Rowling was rejected by publishers? ›

J.K. Rowling's original 'Harry Potter' pitch was rejected 12 times — see it in new exhibit. A new exhibit in the British Library features a number of magical delights!

How many times J.K. Rowling rejected? ›

The novel was rejected by 12 different publishing houses before Bloomsbury accepted it. It goes on: "A copy was submitted to Bloomsbury Publishing and was a significant step in convincing them to offer J.K. Rowling her first contract."

How much will a publisher pay for a first novel? ›

Then I'd say if you're getting an advance on your first novel, it's most likely going to run somewhere between $5000 and $15,000, depending on the publisher and the story you're telling.

What age do most authors get published? ›

This is more the sort of age you'd expect for a debut novel, possibly even a little on the young side (30, that is, not 81). This study of professionally published novelists found the average age of first publication to be 36 years.

How hard is it to get a book published traditionally? ›

Traditional Publishing

When seeking a publisher, you are facing an uphill battle. Thousands of hopefuls send their novels to publishers per week, and the majority get rejected. Most publishers don't allow unsolicited manuscripts, so it doesn't matter how good or talented you are.

How difficult is it to get a book published? ›

The simple answer is; very difficult. But the process can be made easier when you get a book published by a publisher like Austin Macauley. Publishing your book sometimes becomes as time taking as writing your book. Choosing the right publisher will, however, make things quick and less time-consuming.

How many words does a 200 page book have? ›

How many words are in a 200-page book? A 200-page book is about 60,000 words in traditional publishing, assuming you fit 300 words to a page.

How many words does a 100 page book have? ›

A 100 page book is about 30,000 words. If you write more than 1500 words per week, you can expect for it to take 2 – 4 months to write a 100 page book.

How many words Stephen King wrote? ›

My students often look at the word counts of some famous novels and see something almost unattainable. They'll cite authors like Stephen King, who has released many novels that clock in at over 150,000 words, with others much higher.

What makes a poor writer? ›

Bad writers are unable to create logical and connected text. Their work is always chaos for the readers. The readers get troubled in going through the text. Likewise, the readers feel that there are many knowledge gaps in the text as the author appears to be shallow and talk only on the surface level.

What is the hardest part of writing a book? ›

Your new novel is progressing nicely. Perhaps you're 30,000 or 40,000 words in — far enough along to establish a rhythm. You have a clear idea of how the story ends and you're excited to take the journey that will get you (and your characters) to the big finish.

What makes a book boring? ›

Many writers spend too much time developing characters that get killed off early in the story. They also show good luck charms, objects, or places we never see again. These factors, along with an interesting but ultimately irrelevant history, all make appearances in boring stories.

What is a common mistake for writers? ›

1. Wrong Word. Wrong word errors take a number of forms. They may convey a slightly different meaning than you intend (compose instead of comprise) or a completely wrong meaning (prevaricate instead of procrastinate).

Are most writers loners? ›

Are Writers Loners? Despite rumors to the contrary, writers aren't necessarily loners. After all, many top screenwriters, like Vince Gilligan of Breaking Bad fame, spend hours in a room with other writers crafting screenplays. However, many writers need time and solitude to think and create.

How much does a first book make? ›

How much can authors expect to earn from their books? A first-time author with a traditional publishing deal might expect an advance of $1,000-$10,000 and 5-18% royalties once they “earn out” their advance. Self-published authors do not receive advances, but their royalties can reach up to 70% for ebook editions.

What is the 5 finger test? ›

As the child reads, he/she should count on their fingers each unknown word. If there are five or more unknown words on this page, the book is too challenging. If the child knows all the words, the book is too easy. If there are two or three unknown words on the page, the child has found a "just right" book.

What is the hardest book to get through? ›

Notoriously Long & Difficult Books
  • Moby-Dick, Or, The Whale. by Melville, Herman. ...
  • Les Misérables. by Hugo, Victor. ...
  • Ulysses. by Joyce, James. ...
  • Finnegans Wake. by Joyce, James. ...
  • Infinite Jest. A Novel. ...
  • Mark Z. Danielwski's House of Leaves. ...
  • War And Peace (Vintage Classics) by Tolstoy, Leo. ...
  • The Brothers Karamazov. by Dostoyevsky, Fyodor.
24 Oct 2022

How do you know if a book is really well? ›

How to Do It
  1. Read the introduction and reflect. Any nonfiction article or book will have an introductory section that gives an overview of the main points. ...
  2. Look at the sub-headings. ...
  3. Read the summary and reflect. ...
  4. Read the material. ...
  5. Take notes. ...
  6. Watch for lists. ...
  7. Look up words you don't understand. ...
  8. Keep on plugging through.
13 Feb 2019

Should I copyright my book before sending it to a publisher? ›

Your work is protected by intellectual property law as soon as it's written or saved (in every draft and edition) so it's not absolutely necessary to register your copyright, which is what people mean when they say “copyright your book”.

Can you sell a book without it being published? ›

Some authors may not be totally convinced to publish their book through a traditional stream to get their work out there. You don't have to traditionally publish a book in order to sell it. Although it can be a difficult undertaking, self-publishing is possible.

Can you get sued for publishing a book? ›

Publishers can be sued for publishing false and defamatory statements and, sometimes, even just embarrassing private facts about individuals; and in our highly proprietary and litigious age, more and more references to individuals, living or deceased, bring claims of defamation, breach of privacy, or violation of ...

How can I speed up my publishing? ›

Whether you are currently performing experiments or are in the midst of writing, the following tips may help to increase your publication speed:
  1. Keep your figures in mind. ...
  2. Start writing early. ...
  3. Write clearly. ...
  4. Use reference formatting software. ...
  5. Know when to submit. ...
  6. Seek pre-publication peer review. ...
  7. Choose the right journal.

What happens when a publisher accepts your book? ›

After your agent accepts the offer from the editor, then the publisher's contracts department drafts a contract based on the terms discussed. Most publishers will then email the draft contract to the agent, at which time more negotiation often ensues.

Does self-publishing hurt your chances of being published? ›

Does self-publishing hurt your chances with a traditional publisher? Self-publishing does not hurt your chances with a traditional publisher at all. The opposite is true, actually. Self-publishing a book and having success can make it more likely you'll publish with a traditional publishing house.

Why do badly written books get published? ›

Other Reasons Bad Novels Get Published

These people are just that – people. Their tastes play a huge part in what they choose, and sometimes a book resonates with an editor due to personal experience or preferences. Sometimes these books don't resonate the same way with the average reader and fall flat.

How long does it take to get accepted from published? ›

The final step is an internal proofread to ensure the quality of the paper that is going for publication. In summary, it takes about 4-6 weeks after acceptance for a paper to be published (faster for fast-tracked papers).

What does a form rejection look like? ›

A form rejection usually comes in response to your initial query and rejects your submission in a few short sentences. It is not personalized, so it may seem “one size fits all.” You may see language like, “I will need to pass on this manuscript at this time,” or “Of course, this is one agent's opinion.

How many books does the average self published author sell? ›

Even though there are a lot of authors publishing books, most authors don't sell many. The typical self-published author sells about five copies of his book. The average US book now sells less than 200 copies per year and less than 1000 copies over its lifetime.

Why was Harry Potter rejected by publishers? ›

Among the (ostensible) reasons for rejection were too conventional, too long, too weird or too old-fashioned. As if any of these things matter to the audience for which Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone!

How many books does the average indie author sell? ›

Again, it's important to be realistic about how many books the average indie author can expect to sell. Some research shows that 250 to 300 books per year is pretty average.

Should you plan a book before writing it? ›

Of course, there's no magical formula that fits every single writer – what works for one is another's nightmare. But, most writers agree that planning your novel is essential to prevent major plot and character mishaps.

How many times did Stephen King get rejected? ›

Stephen King

Stephen King was turned down 80 times by publishers, with his horror story Carrie. Now, the novel has been translated into hundreds of languages, and has been adapted both into a play and a musical. Perhaps the publishers were a little too quick to judge…

How much does publisher take from book? ›

Royalty rates vary slightly, but on average, you can expect the following from traditional publishers: Hardcover sales: 15% Trade paperback sales: 7.5% Mass-market paperback sales: 5%

How much money does an author of 1 book make? ›

Publishers typically pay a $5,000 to $10,000 advance to good first-time authors. This means they would need to sell around 1,000 copies of a book that costs $20 per copy to break even after printing and distribution costs. Following that, the author will receive royalties, typically about 10%.

How many copies does the average book sell? ›

The average book in America sells about 500 copies. Those blockbusters are a minute anomaly: only 10 books sold more than a million copies last year, and fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000.

What is the cheapest price to publish a book? ›

The average cost to publish a book falls within the $200-$2500 range and includes publishing costs such as cover design, editing, formatting, and book printing. However, it's important to note that the publishing type you choose will also factor into the overall cost to publish a book.

What makes a book publish worthy? ›

You should also ask yourself if your book has characters that are unique, detailed, and interesting for readers. You should consider if your characters are nuanced and detailed, with a strong voice or point of view. These are often signs of a strong book that is worth being published.

What is the best age to publish a book? ›

This study of professionally published novelists found the average age of first publication to be 36 years. Given that many novels take many years to perfect, it stands to reason that late twenties, early thirties are prime time for putting in those writing hours.

What does it mean to own 100% of publishing? ›

If you own 100% of the publishing on your songs and are utilizing a publishing administrator, you'll be able to collect all royalties owed to you from public performance, digital publishing royalties (internet radio and on-demand streaming), synchronization (TV, film, and video games), and mechanical royalties (sales ...

What kind of books sell best? ›

Romance: Romance novels are perhaps the most popular genre in terms of book sales. Romance novels are sold in grocery store checkout lines, in monthly shipments from publishers to readers, and online, as well as via self-publishing services. Readers tend to be loyal to their favorite authors within the romance genre.

Can a first time author get published? ›

New authors seeking to distribute their first fiction or nonfiction book have two publishing options. One is to sign a book deal with a traditional publisher. Such a deal, which is traditionally facilitated by a literary agent, gives the publisher exclusive rights to print and disseminate the book.

How do you tell if a book is too hard? ›

They read the page and hold up one finger for every word they don't know or can't pronounce.
The number of fingers they're holding up by the end of the page tells them if the book is the right level:
  1. 0-1 fingers: It's too easy.
  2. 2-3 fingers: It's just right.
  3. 4-5 fingers: It's too hard (or best read aloud with a buddy).
8 Aug 2022

What makes a book awful? ›

There are many reasons for what makes a book bad, such as a predictable, unoriginal, or cliche feeling story. Often the characters are flat and uninteresting, the world-building bad or nonexistent, or the dialog is not even vaguely realistic.

What qualities make a good book? ›

Writing a good book: 10 ingredients of great novels
  • A strong opening. ...
  • Satisfying, fitting style. ...
  • Powerful description. ...
  • Balanced showing and telling. ...
  • Diverse and developed characters. ...
  • Effective dialogue. ...
  • Strong internal story logic. ...
  • A good balance of tension and release.


1. ROOM TOUR | See Inside a Publishing House!
(Book Break)
2. The publishing process at Penguin Random House
(Penguin Random House UK)
3. Inside Publishing: Designing Book Covers
(Merphy Napier)
4. Inside Publishing: Printing and Book Binding
(Merphy Napier)
5. Find out more about the publishing process at Penguin Random House
(Penguin Random House UK)
6. Inside Publishing: Editing
(Merphy Napier)
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