The Publishing Industry: More Than Just NYT Bestsellers

By Danielle Lieneman

Before the long process of beginning a career in the publishing industry, it is imperative that you understand your options. Last week we broke down the different titles you could have at various publishing houses, this week our focus is on the different types of publishing houses there are (and believe me, there’s a lot more than you initially think).

Trade Publishers

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Trade publishers are those that create the books that are typically found in bookstores for the average consumer to purchase and read. It’s estimated that trade publications account for over half of all publishing in the United States. The majority of trade publications lie with the 5 biggest global companies, commonly referred to as “The Big 5:” HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster.

These companies have multiple smaller “imprints” that have specific specializations and focuses, like YA fiction, historical fiction, and even cookbooks. If you’re interested in working with a specific focus, these smaller imprints could be the perfect choice. Lists of the company’s imprints can be found on their websites. Additionally, these imprints make great stepping-stones for positions within the general company after you have already proved yourself.

Don’t be intimidated by the Big 5 and their imprints or think that your options are limited because of them. Even if your dream job is to work in a company that specializes in literary fiction, there are smaller, independent publishing houses that do exactly that. Working at a smaller company provides the opportunity to gain experience working with a project from start to finish and getting exposure to parts of the industry you might not otherwise see. This experience is imperative if you wish to move to a bigger company one day.

Scholarly and University Presses


Theoretical and research intensive texts are the main focus for scholarly and university presses. All books that get published are of a high, scholarly caliber and aim to bring good publicity to the university. Books can range from fiction to nonfiction, with many having a regional focus. Because these companies typically operate as a component of the university, they are usually fairly small. That also makes these companies great options for students looking to gain experience in the industry and for university faculty to get their name in print.

Textbooks and Technical Publishers


Similar to scholarly and university presses, textbook and technical publishers focus on educational and academic information. The biggest difference is that textbook and technical publisher’s will more often than not publish the big textbooks that feel as heavy as an unborn child. An attention to detail is crucial no matter what sector of publishing you choose to go in, but it’s especially important here. For some of the more advanced material, like college level Chemistry or Calculus, background knowledge in the subject is required in order to catch content mistakes. Despite my aversion to all things math and science, there are plenty of other opportunities in the technical and textbook publishing fields that should be explored.

No matter which field of publishing you decide to go into, all provide a rich and rewarding experience. It’s amazing to know that you’re impacting someone’s life, whether by fostering a love of reading, providing SAT prep help, or teaching someone about a country they’ve never been to. Internships are available for most every company, so if you think that the publishing industry is the one for you, get out and start researching!

In case you couldn’t already tell, I have a true love for this industry and the written word in general, so please reach out to me if you have any questions! To learn more about the publishing industry as a whole, I highly recommend our book Publishing 101. While initially intended for authors looking to publish their book, there is a lot of great information within the book that can help anyone interested in the field.


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