All About the Publishing Industry

One of the great motivations behind students in the English major is a love of books. A lot goes into the making of books: reading, writing, editing, designing, publishing, and more. Many English majors choose to focus on the first two elements, but there is so much more that they could do!

Here, I’ll briefly summarize the primary roles in the publishing industry. For each of these roles, there are resources to help students prepare.


If you’re an English major who likes to write . . . you’re in good company! Authors often work freelance. They can hone their skills by writing on a particular topic with a specific magazine or company, by working through a website that assigns topics to them, or by producing works of their own creation and publishing either commercially or electronically.

One of the best ways to become a good author is to write. A lot. Another thing is to read. A lot. (Especially within the field you want to contribute to.) Students can form writing groups to help them polish their work and get experience helping other writers problem-solve. There are a huge variety of classes about writing, so pick one that focuses on the kind that interests you: persuasive writing, creative writing, technical writing, and many others.


There isn’t a lot on campus about becoming a literary agent, but it’s an important piece to the publishing industry. Many publishers only look at submissions that are represented by an agent. The agent gets to represent the author and help negotiate the contract for the manuscript. They’re paid with a cut of the royalties, so if you’ve caught the scent of who the next J. K. Rowling will be, this is definitely the career for you.

The best way to break into a career as an agent is to work as, essentially, an apprentice to a professional agent, preferably one with an established client-base. Look up some agencies and see what books they’ve helped along. If you recognize the titles, then they’re probably a great source of insight. See if they’ll be willing to let you interview them.


Many English majors make use of the editing minor already. It’s definitely growing in popularity, and works as a great supplement to essentially any major. For those interested in editing, there are a wide variety of options.

Copyediting is the most similar to what most people think of when they imagine an “editor.” Copyeditors focus mostly on sentence-level structure, such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, and other mechanics. They’re needed in every field. A copyeditor’s skills are useful in essentially every other editing role as well. ELang 350 teaches students these skills, and every semester there are openings in the LDS Magazine Internship for professional experiences.

Acquisitions editors are responsible for finding and approving the manuscripts to be published by the publishing house. They need to be well-versed in the direction of the market and have a strong instinct for recognizing good writing. Acquisitions editors also work with authors with developmental editing, which helps the author prepare their manuscript’s content to be accepted and put under contract with the publishing house. A variety of student journals on campus offer students a chance to experiment with choosing new content for a publication, and ELang 430 gives students the opportunity to develop a manuscript as if for publication.

Substantive editors work more with the content of the manuscript. They review the large-scale issues with the manuscript, like flow, consistency, and purpose. Frequently, especially in smaller publishing houses, the editor will wear more than one hat, and the substantive editor will be the copyeditor and acquisitions editor all at once. If you prefer more specialization, look to work in a larger publishing house. For experience in this type of editing, take ELang 410 or apply to work with the Writing Fellows on campus.


This isn’t one that seems obvious to most English majors, but the design element of publishing is huge. A designer is responsible for the interior layout and visual orientation of the manuscript. Designers often use software like InDesign and Illustrator. They may also be responsible for designing the covers of the books, or at the minimum they’ll work with an artist on it.

The editing minor requires Dight 230, a class about print publishing that offers an introduction to the Adobe Creative Suite. Some designers in publishing have a Graphic Design major, but publishing companies are finding that they cost more to hire than others with comparable skills. There is a new minor called digital humanities and technologies that offers in-depth training on useful software skills, but if you’re not up for that Dight 230 will give you an idea of if this is the path for you.


This is another lesser known role. That could be because a publisher is typically the businessman of the group. This role requires a very business-minded perspective and a willingness to take risks. Publishers furnish the overhead costs of publication, so they make a large percent of the profit in the book business. The publisher has the final say on what gets published, how it’s published, and where it’s sold. Larger publishing houses will rely on in-house publicists and marketing groups to make decisions that in a smaller company they would’ve made themselves.

There are lots of new publishing houses popping up in Utah. If you’re the entrepreneurial type, look up a couple of them to see what distinguishes them from the others that are out there. New and old publishers alike will send representatives to writing conventions and conferences. These representatives can answer questions, offer advice, and sometimes they have enough room in their office to fit an intern.

In Preparation

The editing minor opens students up to the world of publishing, as does the Dight minor and several others. Career-oriented classes like the ones suggested here give students confidence and direction in their search for internship and work experiences.

There are many professional roles in the publishing world many English majors could easily qualify themselves for with a little foresight and preparation. What about the publishing industry appeals to you, my fellow book lovers?

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