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  • J. J. Hanna

Misconceptions About the Publishing Industry

Updated: Dec 11, 2019

If you've ever expressed a desire to be a full time writer like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling and been met only with the scoffs of legitimately concerned people, you're not alone.

Every writer I know has at one point or another been told that they won't be able to support themselves as a writer, pursuing their dream will end with them homeless and hungry, and that they won't make any money. Generally, the people that say this are well-meaning but uneducated people. They were raised on the belief that the "starving artist" is the reality and that the only way to live a happy, fulfilled life is to have a job in the sciences or business, working a 9-5 in a cubicle of some sort, and making a large paycheck.

These people have falsely equated "art" with "unsuccessful."

And they generally haven't spent any time in the community of writers who do, on a regular basis, make a paycheck by doing what they love: writing.

So before you listen to the nay-sayers and avoid the career you're dreaming of, do yourself a favor and look into your options. Find someone on Twitter, reach out to me, send a message to someone on Goodreads with the tag (Goodreads Author) next to their name. Ask them about the industry and learn your options. It's entirely likely they'll love to talk to you about what they do.

Because while it is difficult (mind you, not impossible) to make a living as a full-time author, you don't have to be an author to be a writer. And, if you're willing to put in the practice and do what it takes to become a better writer, you'll gain the skillset required for another part of the industry: editing.

So what are some of your potential job options, other than freelancing (or, as the nay-sayers would put it, going hat in hand to anyone who'll listen and offering your services for a piddly price. Look up the industry standards and then tell me it's a piddly price.) as a writer or editor?

You know those things called books that you probably enjoy if you're reading this blog post? Yeah, the author didn't just wake up one day, walk into a publishing house and hand them a manuscript. There were a ton of other steps taken, and each of those steps had people in various jobs involved.

Before the author even thinks about submitting, it's likely they hired beta readers and freelance editors to help them iron out some of the immediate problems.

Next, the author probably looked into literary agents. Their entire goal is to help connect authors with potential to publishers interested in their manuscripts. If you are interested in helping determine what gets published, this may be a good job for you. You would be the first gatekeeper of the publishing houses you work with.

Second, there's the editors. (See this post about types of editors for more detail.) Every book needs to be acquired by someone, and then it has to be cleaned up. But, before it gets cleaned up, it has to be approved by a Publication board, people who run numbers and determine the plausibility of selling the book. Those people need to be impressed by the acquisitions editor, or the author won't likely get a contract. Once they've decided to take it on, it goes to the copy and line editors, then to the typesetters (i.e. the people who make the word document look like a book) then to the proofreaders.

Meanwhile, publicists are busy brainstorming ways to let people know the book exists and get the author in front of people. Designers are working on the all-important cover, related bookmarks, flyers, pamphlets, anything that needs to fit the book brand when the author eventually goes out on tour.

The editors I mentioned earlier are all reporting to an editorial manager who's job it is to keep everyone on track and make sure people hit the deadlines. They wrangle freelancers and other outsourced jobs and make sure the book stays on its timetable.

As all of this is happening, there are sales representatives going out from the publishing houses and talking to bookstores and large box stores (like Walmart and Target or your local grocery store) and convincing them to take the books onto their shelves. Someone has to put together the catalogue those sales reps take with them or send out ahead of them, and let me tell you, the author has no part of that.

That's all simply the careers I know of related to the words and the actual, physical books. But there are so many others--warehouse managers, mailroom attendants, the publisher's financial team, the marketing team, the list goes on.

Not to mention the magazine or newspaper industry or the fact that, now that every company (it seems) has an online presence, everyone needs online content. And who's going to write that content? Writers. People who have studied how to write so you don't realize you're reading. If you're more interested in shorter articles and pamphlets, you may want to look into literally any company that produces written words (which is pretty much everyone, including cars manufacturers, coffeeshops, and fast food restaurants [just make sure you look at the administrative jobs]), as anyone who produces writing needs someone to write it and someone to make sure there aren't grammatical errors.

This business, this industry, is thriving. Potential careers aren't disappearing. On the contrary, they're increasing because of the online possibilities.

Don't let the unknown scare you into doing something your parents and advisors think is "smart." Just go out and make the unknown known. The possibilities are endless.


J. J. Hanna is a Professional Writing major at Taylor University. In her spare time she creates YouTube Videos and Comics, and practices Karate at a local dojo. If you have a writing question, she'd love to hear from you! She is also looking for freelancing work, so if you have editing, beta reading, or writing needs, please let her know. Like what you see and want to get more content like this, or have your specific questions answered? Check out how you can support her on Patreon for as little as $3 a month.

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