So you want to get into publishing? Part II

Last week I discussed various tip on getting into the publishing industry. This week I explain the different types of publishing houses, and the different departments within a typical house, or the ‘publishing chain’ as it’s known.

Types of Publishing

These are broadly split into three categories:

  • Consumer/trade/general publishing

This is what most people think of when they think of publishing. It includes general fiction and non-fiction, books read for pleasure, cookery books, biographies, also children’s and YA. The books you mostly see filling bookshops, airports and supermarkets. Examples of publishers in this sector include Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Canongate.

  • Educational publishing

This covers school textbooks, both primary and secondary level, and also ELT (English Language Teaching). As the digital age advances, many of these publishers are moving into service provision in addition to book publishing, providing additional online resources for students and teachers. Examples of publishers in this area are Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Macmillan and Bright Red.

Stack of books

  • HSS, ST(E)M, and professional publishing

Academic, scholarly, reference and professional works are included in this sector. HSS (Humanities and Social Sciences), STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are large sectors, but also included are third-level textbooks, books for vocational training or continuing professional development, and journals, which could probably get a whole section of their own if you get into enough detail. This sector is ahead of the curve in moving to digital content and service provision. Publishers include Reed Elsevier, Springer, John Wiley, and Taylor & Francis.

Consumer is probably the one that draws most people into the industry, yet it is the most difficult to break into and to be successful in. It is well-nigh impossible to foresee what will be a success; most publishing here is taking risks and hoping they pay off.

Educational is a little more predictable as you know the number of children in schools and how many pupils take each subject. The key is to make sure your books and service provision give you the edge over your competitor, to ensure teachers choose you for their class. But also that your books appeal to the students actually using them too. A fine line to balance!

Having a background in, for example, maths or law is a real advantage for academic and professional publishing. But it’s not essential.

Publishing Departments

Now that you know the different types of publishing, what about the departments within a publishing house? How does a book get from writer to reader? Each house will have different structures, some are large global conglomerates, some are small indie presses with a handful of staff. But all need to cover the following bases:


Responsible for acquiring and commissioning titles, maintaining relations with authors/agents, and for preparing the manuscript for design and production. Copy-editing and proofreading may be done in-house, but very often it is outsourced to freelancers.

Girl with book pulling funny disgusted face

Jane hated finding errors after publication

Design and Production

Responsible for the all important cover – because despite what the old adage says, people very much judge books by their cover. Also in charge of typesetting (again, may be done in-house or outsourced), sourcing images, choosing book size, paper, binding and overseeing print and digital productions. Printing is generally done externally by a specialised printers. Digital versions may be done in-house or outsourced.


May be combined with Sales. Marketing is very important – there’s no point in producing the books if no one knows about them. The marketing team are involved from an early stage in each title. They conduct market research, develop the publisher brand, and conduct detailed publicity and promotional campaigns for each title.

Sales & Distribution

Ensure the titles get from the publisher to the audience, as profitably as possible. Books may go to warehouses, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, bookclubs, schools, libraries. It is important that the book gets to the right place, at the right time. Otherwise sales will be lost.


Some companies may also have a separate rights department, which handle the buying and selling of IP (Intellectual Property) rights. There are ebook rights, audio book, translation, movie production and so on. There is a push on publishers to get as creative as possible when it comes to dealing with their rights, as this is where their real assets lie. They may not have all the rights to titles they produce; often authors/agents keep certain rights in order to sell them selectively and hopefully make more profit.


Boring as it may seem, publishing is a business at the end of the day and requires a finance department to deal with the money side of things. They keep track of income (sales, rights), expenditures (printing, salaries, rent, etc.), royalties to authors, commission to salespeople and everything else finance related.

Although segregated above, in reality each department works closely with every other department. In fact, in very small publishing houses, the same person could be responsible for several ‘departments’. It’s a good idea to have a firm grasp of what each department does, even if you are determined you are only interested in one area.

It is possible to change track once you’re in the publishing world – sometimes it may just happen naturally, sometimes you may have to fight for it. But in terms of getting your foot in the door, I would advise against being too selective. Take what you can to gain some knowledge and start building the all-important contacts. Good luck!


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