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Publishing is a career that can have a major impact on culture. Here’s a thought: Nobody would have heard of Harry Potter had one imaginative publisher not taken a chance on an unknown author. Publishers need many qualities. Firstly, they should have the knowledge of an economist and the acumen of a business professional. But they also need creativity and insight to be successful.

Publishers nurse a book from its first draft to the final product that attracts your eye in the store. The process includes editing, organising the design, and promoting the book and author.

Not all publishers sell books that are written for the general public. Many specialise in works that are of interest to specific industries such as education and science.


Most people working in publishing are graduates in the areas of literature, communications, journalism or media studies. NUI Galway offers an MA in Literature & Publishing. This course offers graduates the opportunity to study a publishing-specific course at fourth-level. If the publishing company specialises in a certain area, such as agriculture, for instance, then they may seek candidates with qualifications in that area.

Options After Qualification

Most people in publishing work their way up from a junior position. A common route is for graduates to acquire their initial experience in a small publishing house, and spend time working in different roles as they make their way up the company ladder, learning about the industry.

The Work

Commissioning editors identify gaps in the current market – for example, for a cookery book – and keep this selling point in mind when reviewing manuscripts. They select manuscripts that are suitable for publication, and draw up contracts with authors. Maintaining a healthy relationship with successful authors and their literary agents is essential to a successful publishing house, much in the same way as a football team tries to keep a firm grip on their best players. Commissioning editors must also manage the finances of a project, including estimating the cost and viability of a print run.

Copy-editors work with the author’s manuscript and help him/her achieve a polished final draft. Their work involves checking and correcting problems of style, consistency, factual accuracy, spelling and grammar. This is a quite painstaking process made necessary by the financial cost of discovering an error after the printing process has started.

The sales and marketing departments of a publishing company are equally as important as the editorial department. A good deal of enthusiasm for the book in question is required in order to awaken in interest in potential buyers, and the ability to write an enticing blurb (the text written across the back of the average novel, like ‘An engrossing thriller that will shake you to the core!’) will be valuable. In their dealings with booksellers, the marketing department are also an important source of feedback from the reading public for the commissioning editor.

Other important publishing roles include those in the production and design departments. The typography, artwork, and general appearance of a book are central to its marketability. Personal

Qualities & Work Environment

The actual size of the publishing company has a huge effect on the roles available. Large conglomerates such as Random House (now even more powerful since merging with Penguin) would have various departments such as marketing; yet in smaller firms an employee may be expected to take on diverging roles.

A love of books is valuable, but not essential. An eye for business trends and current market trends will prove more beneficial than a reading hobby. Attention to detail and communicative skills are also desirable traits for a publisher to have.

The Jargon

Advance: Money paid by a publisher to an author before the book goes on the market, in anticipation of sales.

Backlist: Previously published books. A publisher’s backlist is an important source of revenue as backlist sales are more predictable and dependable than new sales.

Final Draft: The last version of a manuscript, ready for the printing press.

Potboiler: A book of poor literary quality

Further Resources

Irish Writers’ Centre 
Publishing Ireland, The Irish Publishing Association is a national database of universities, colleges, institutes and providers of third level and PLC courses in Ireland. We operate a national search database of courses at certificate, diploma and degree level as well as providing information about career paths and directions.
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