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So you want a career in the publishing industry?
The publishing industry offers many career and entrepreneurial opportunities. This guide will give you a brief introduction to some careers tightly tied to the publishing industry.
Publishing brings books into print. So, a natural place to start is with the writers who create the books. Writing is an extremely competitive area. We all hear about bestselling authors. It's easy to estimate how much they make.
Consider, for example, a bestselling title, such as Who Moved My Cheese?, which has sold over 10 million copies worldwide. At a hardcover royalty rate of about 15% the retail price of the book (about $20), that's about $30 million dollars in royalties for the author (softcover royalties are often 10% or less and are often based upon the net the publisher receives and not the retail price.). Yet Spencer Johnson, the author, looks like a pauper compared to J.K. Rowlings, the author of the popular Harry Potter books.
However, many new authors are dismayed to discover that many authors only earn a few thousand dollars for their books. Further, the quality of the writing is only one factor in determining which books get published. The marketability of the author is an important factor. So, it pays for new authors to learn how to promote themselves effectively. (media magic, 1001 ways, Rosses book)
Often, bestselling authors are also public speakers. Speakers can do very well. If you've ever had to hire a bestselling speaker and are unfamiliar with their rates, you'll probably fall off your chair when they tell you. Typical rates start at $5,000 to $10,000 with the more popular speakers often charging $20,000 or more. And, we're not talking Bill Clinton here. Presidents, big-name mass-market celebrities, and sports stars often cost much more. Who ever said talk was cheap?
To help authors market their works and help publishers secure desirable authors, agents usually represent author's works to publishers. In exchange for representation, agents typically receive 10% to 20% of the amount earned by the author. Fifteen percent is a common agent rate. So, examining Who Moved My Cheese? above, Johnson's net take was probably reduced by about $4.5 million that went to his agent. Agents, of course, have expenses, such as really big phone bills.
I feel new authors should work to secure good agents. While it is possible to sell your book directly to a publisher, the process is much easier if you have an agent. And, good agents will help authors negotiate a half-way decent contract. (of course, authors can also read about contracts on their own: Kirsch book. And, lawyers often represent authors.)
Agency is a good business. While an author might struggle for two years to write a good book and the publisher might risk several thousands dollars to print and promote it, the agent has much less at risk. Agents usually represent many authors simultaneously.
Incidentally, many of the best literary agents are usually based in New York where they are close to the major publishers. Many literary agents began as attorneys or as acquisition editors. Agenting is all about contracts. Who you know. So, agents should be people people. (Now Discover Your Strengths helps people discover their talents). If you love networking with others, being an agent might be for you. If you're a recluse, agenting isn't for you.
Also, new authors should be careful to select their agents carefully. In particular, some "agents" charge a reading fee of several hundred dollars to look at a writer's work. Pass on those agents. At $400 a pop and 2,000 manuscripts a year, it's easy to see some of these agents "earn" $800,000 per year, even if they never successfully sell anything. The best agents are only compensated after a work is sold and at a stated percentage. Sometimes, *after* a work is sold, you'll also be asked to reimburse extraordinary expenses, like excessive copies and postage to send your book to foreign rights buyers in Tarko, or wherever.
New authors will usually have difficulty securing a great agent. The best way is via a recommendation from a respected writer or publisher. Celebrities find getting agents much easier. If you become an agent and one of your writers becomes a bestselling author, many competitors will try to steal your writer away.
Publishers & Self-Publishing
Publishers are the ones who risk the money to print, publish, and promote the book. As I write in Thinking Like An Entrepreneur publishers outsource many functions. For example, few publishers own printing presses. Rather, they outsource the printing to companies that specialize in printing.
Other jobs are done internally by the publisher. For example, publishers will usually edit the manuscript in-house. Cover design is often done by artists on staff. Smaller publishers outsource cover design to freelance artists. Promotion is usually handled in-house. But, there are also firms specializing in public relations for books.
There are many good books about the publishing industry:
And many authors begin by publishing their own book (Self-Publishing):
For example, Johnson (above) started by co-authoring the self-published The One-Minute Manager which is still very popular.
Books that were published in previous years that continue to generate profits for the author, agent, and publisher are called "backlist" titles. Backlist titles make up much of a publisher's profits.
Cover design is frequently outsourced to freelance artists. Many cover designers charge $1,000 to $1,500 for a cover design. Some artists become freelance cover designers. Even if no one will purchase their murals and paintings, artists might find they can earn substantial amounts designing book covers. This illustrates a good aspect of entrepreneurship--find what the market is willing to pay for, not necessarily what you want to do.
I've only touched upon a few key careers directly related to publishing. Some people work for printers. Others work for companies that provide other services to publishers. For example, some people start fulfillment companies to pack and ship books. Other companies act as wholesalers or distributors of books. Finally, of course, there are bookstores, online and off. And, most importantly of all, there is the customer--the book reader, who hopefully enjoys the result of the process--author, agent, publisher, distributor, bookseller.
Peter Hupalo, Author of