Careers in Publishing

Publishing is NOT printing. This is perhaps the reason many aspirants shy away from considering mainstream publishing. It’s true that publishing began with printers and printing presses, however, this changed when printing and publishing became specialised. Today, hardly any publisher owns a printing press.

There was a period in the late 1990s and early 2000s when publishing was going through a phase of reinventing itself. The digital age was dawning and the Internet was spreading its web. Since then Publishing has truly matured and there has never been a better time to explore this as a prime career option.

Look around you, do you know the web page you visit, the article you read, the ad that you love so much and even the product information you seek are all a form of publishing? There isn’t an area of life that publishing doesn’t touch and yet very few think about joining this industry.

It’s true that when one thinks of a ‘publisher’ one tends to use it as a synonym for ‘book publisher’. And that is where people confuse themselves. Publishing is about disseminating knowledge (content) and NOT just about putting out a book. There are many types of publishers but there are some common opportunities across all types of publishers.

Editor: at last count SAGE had about 16 definitions for this term. I am going to focus on the top 3 types of editors.

Commissioning/Acquisition Editor: This editor is the one responsible for acquiring content for a publishing house. At one time these were perhaps the most powerful individuals in a publishing house and their craft was hidden under many layers. There are just two basic traits one needs to be able to excel at this:

  1. The first is a clear understanding of the publishing vision and or publishing priorities. Each publishing house has a clear focus area of publishing. It is the responsibility of the Commissioning/Acquisition Editor to ensure that every type of content clearly aligns with the focus area.
  2. The second is commercial sense. A good editor knows where the content will sell, how much it will sell for and how much of it will sell. Yes it takes some time to develop this but in today’s world, the learning (as can all learning) can be fast tracked.

This is a front facing job where the person is expected to travel and meet with potential authors. It needs someone who is an extrovert, knowledgeable in a given subject area, articulate in the language one wants to commission in and the ability to be a sales person. No, he is not supposed to sell the content to the end consumer, he needs to sell the publishing house to the content creator AND to sell the content to internal stakeholders within the publishing house.

Production Editor: this is the editor that takes over from where the commissioning editor acquires content. In smaller publishing houses the role of a Commissioning Editor is merged with that of a Production Editor. This type of editor coordinates the cleaning, structuring and finalizing content. He (she) is aware of the language styling and content structuring that works for the publishing house. There are two clear needs of excelling at this job and a third that is great to have.

  1. A very good command of the language. Good production editors are fluent in the language they are working in. They need to have the ability to spot errors especially in areas such as titles, section headers etc. They need to communicate efficiently between the content creator and other types of content processors (such as language editors).
  2. The second is the ability to multitask and manage schedules. “Time is money” is their mantra and every task they work on must be completed within an agreed timeframe. And there are always multiple projects running concurrently.
  3. A third skill that works but isn’t an absolute essential is diplomacy. Production editors typically handle lots of sensitive authors.

Copyeditor: if you have a love for the language and the ability to spot errors, it this sort of editor that is valued very highly. They have to have outstanding language skills especially written ones. The rest of the skills can be learnt.

Away from the editors are a host of jobs that are equally challenging.

Sales: With publishing changing the forms of delivering content, sales has now opened up possibilities like never before. Gone are the days when sales people had to haul backbreaking loads of books. Digital catalogues and computer data are today’s tools needed to sell content. A bright person with a charming smile and a can do attitude will help make a great career in sales.

Marketing: Many people confuse sales with marketing and that is where the similarities end. Marketing is about highlighting the virtues of a product or series of products and placing these before the correct (target) audience. The Internet, online selling, web pages, social media, etc. require loads of targeted data. This is where design, branding and timing come together to produce marketing materials that drive sales.

While publishing is synonymous with publishers there is another universe that very few people are conscious about. This is the universe of service providers. While China became the manufacturing capital of the world, India quietly created a dominating position in knowledge processing. Today almost all types of global (English) content (static text, images, moving images, animation, web, etc.) flows through India. This industry hires more than 3 times the number of people all of publishing hires.


So when you think about careers in publishing don’t just think about books or magazines or journals, think about content, its structuring, cleaning and dissemination. While publishers do this directly, service providers do this indirectly. The result is a great rewarding and fulfilling career in Publishing.

This article has been published in the Employment news. You can read the published article at this link. Careers in publishing

About Vivek Mehra

I am currently the MD & CEO of SAGE Publications India. But I wear many hats that make me the person I am. Between the (public) professional life and the very deep and private recesses of my brain lies a universe of thoughts, actions and beliefs. These have been shaped by events, people and perhaps Karma. It's this universe I seek to put in words. When everything else failed me professionally, it was the power of my words that not just resurrected a career but brought back life to life. It is with these words that I continue to make a difference with those whose karma connects mine. Sometimes it's direct and most times it's not. But the essence of who I am never changes and I remain a person searching for himself. Update: In 2014 I published my first book on Kindle. It was written in 1999 and it never saw the light of day. Reader input welcome...
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5 Responses to Careers in Publishing

  1. R. Nageswaran says:

    Whatever clarity you have added still people in the publishing or who done in the past excellent job in SALES AND MARKETING in SOUTH OR WEST not duly recognised may be due to chamchas or even jalras


    it is karma or hypocrisy ? I WANT TO KNOW WHETHER AN 5O YEAR OLD PERSON WHO WANTS TO PERFORM NOW DAYS ARE NOT IN THE marketing in our industry ?


  2. Andra says:

    Reblogged this on ANDRA and commented:
    Vivek Mehra, MD & CEO of SAGE Publications India, on how a publishing house works. And what kind of exciting job-opportunities are there. In Germany lots of students dream of working in publishing (at least that was like 10—20 years ago), but they most of the time rather think of sticking their noses into books and reviewing manuscripts. I really that article!


  3. chandramohan says:



  4. …. For this very useful information.

    Aneesha found the job of a copy editor very appealing, that’s exactly what she loves doing.

    She is going to try for an internship at Magna Publications. Her SYLLB will start in July sometime but college attendance is not that necessary, you need to study more on your own, so it’s fine.

    Will keep you posted of her progress.

    Sent from my iPhone



    • Vivek Mehra says:

      Am glad the article helped. I have been asked to add more data and information to this. It will be published by another magazine in late July. I will post that article here too.


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