Writer, Agent, Editor: Careers in Publishing

I’m an English major, so I would love to know more about careers in publishing.

One of the things I find people don’t know about publishing is exactly how many jobs you can do in the field. It’s not all about the agents and the editors (of which there are actually a dozen when most think only one person “edits” a book) and it’s some of those lesser known positions that people find they really love.

So from start to finish, here are all the people who have their hands on any given book in the publishing world:


You can’t forget where it all begins. The writer is arguably the most important part of the process, as they’re the ones who create the product that eventually gets sold. What they do is pretty obvious to us already: they write and revise the story that eventually gets sold to an Agent (if you’re lucky, of course).


Agents are, more often than not, the next step in the process. They’re the ones who have connections in the publishing world, and typically begin their careers in publishing houses where they have worked as various types of editors and publishers. They know other editors in the business and are able to use those connections to get the work of their clients placed with publishers.

They solicit submissions from writers, select submissions from the slushpile (though many times interns are the ones who have to wade through this mass of unsolicited manuscripts that range from excellent to downright insane), occasionally guide writers through edits of their work, and then begin submitting the work to editors at publishing houses.


Contrary to popular belief, there is more than just one editor that has their hands on a book at any given time. First there are Acquisitions/Commissioning Editors who select or “buy” a manuscript from an author or their agent. They focus on what is commercially viable and marketable, as well as what is well written.

Then, you have the Senior Editors – sometimes called Developmental Editors – who are the ones that actually have their hands on the editing of a book and will make large-scale suggestions for editing the manuscript (plot, character, theme, etc) and work closely with the author.

For the smaller-scale things, such as grammar and sentence structure you have the Line/Copy Editors who read the entire manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. They’re responsible for everything being clear, coherent, and cohesive over the length of the novel (if Jane has brown hair in chapter one, they make sure she still has brown hair by the end of the book).

And of course, there are the Editorial Assistants who do the bidding of senior editors and will have responsibilities in any part of these processes. This is usually where people in editorial begin their career, and advance from there. It should also be noted that many of these positions have duties that overlap, and just because you’re job isn’t called copy editing you can expect to do a lot of it.

Promotions and Publicity

These can be two separate departments in some cases, but deal with a lot of the same materials. People who work in these areas are a part of the marketing of a book. They create sales materials, get books placed with reviewers and book bloggers, manage social media accounts, schedule book tours, and basically do everything behind the scenes that leads to a books success.

There’s a whole team of people who handle various tasks in these areas, but the overall goal is the same: to successfully market a book.


This can sometimes fall under Promotions and Publicity, and can also be outsourced to freelancers, but those in design work on creating the look of a book. They set the text in a book format, conceptualize and create cover art, and generally make everything about a book look pretty.

Sales and Distribution

Also in line with Promotions and Publicity, those in sales work to make sure a book gets everywhere it needs to get so that people see it. They work with bookstores, libraries, book clubs, online stores, and anything that might be considered a specialized market in order to get a book in stock and places people can buy it.

Subsidiary Rights

Maybe one of the least known areas of a publishing house, Subsidiary Rights are the ones who get hardback books turned into audio books, paperbacks, ebooks, and placed with foreign publishing companies. Many people in all of these areas also get to attend various book events such as fairs, conventions, etc.


The job with the actual title of Publisher is the head of the house. They decide what kind of work the house will publish, and how they’ll publish it, and generally oversee operations of the house. Everyone reports to them, and they make the final decisions when it comes to things that happen in the house. Other higher-up positions include the Editorial Director who oversees the editorial department, and other directors who do similar jobs in other departments depending on the size of the house.

These are, of course, only positions you might find in a traditional book publishing company. When it comes to magazines and journals, there are also editors and people who work with marketing and distribution but they are often jobs done by fewer people. There might just be one senior editor and a few assistants, there might be one person who oversees every aspect of marketing.

Unfortunately, publishing is not always known as the most lucrative career and can have long hours. But the people who work in this industry are known to be passionate, creative, and awesome people who love what they do and really care about books. If you work your way up, you might earn some money, but that’s not really why we do this anyway, is it?

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1 Response

  1. Cole says:

    As someone studying English and Creative Writing, this was helpful!

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