What it is

Publishing is the business of acquiring, editing, designing, distributing, marketing, licensing and selling text-based media, whether physical or digital, including books, journals, magazines, reports and websites. “Academic publishers” include scholarly presses and educational publishers that create textbooks, technical and scholarly databases, and electronic learning materials. “Trade publishers” create books, magazines and digital content for the general public. In both realms, one finds the following functional areas or roles: Operations, Editorial, Marketing, Production, Design, Permissions, and Talent. PhDs and ABDs can reasonably get involved in any of those roles. Historically, the medium has been print, but digital technologies are changing how content is published, sold, and consumed.

Starting points

Each functional area has entry-level positions where a PhD or ABD might get a foothold in the field. Use the word “assistant or “associate” combined with the role of your choice to find entry-level positions. Editorial roles such as acquisitions and copy editing may initially seem the most attractive, but do not write off other roles prematurely, and don’t write off small presses, either, as they offer good opportunities. Also consider the publishing function of organizations that are not in the publishing business: universities, corporations and larger non-profits all have publishing programs where one can get a good start.


Most large publishers are located in New York City, Boston, Chicago, the Bay Area and other urban hubs, but small presses can be found all over. One can progress to greater levels of responsibility by moving to a different employer, and one can also change subject areas, so there is a lot of flexibility. However, changing functional areas is difficult, so choose your role well going in. The future of Publishing is evolving and offers both opportunities and risks, but skills gained in Publishing are highly transferrable to other industries.


Any writing-intensive discipline in the humanities and social sciences can provide a good background for a career in Publishing since there is a publisher for every conceivable subject. PhDs in Creative Writing, English, Journalism, History, and Anthropology are commonly found in the Publishing field.

Personality and outlook

Creative people who are passionate about words and ideas rather than money may be very happy in this business. Publishing is friendly towards introverts, yet also social, and moreover, collegial – competition between publishing organizations is not as intense as in some other professions.


Get involved in projects that involve publishing or writing for non-academic audiences. Gain exposure to different functional areas so you can choose the right role for you. Work for (or start) a journal in your discipline. Get involved with a website that has written content as its main product. Look for an internship with a publishing company. Do some freelance editing. Start reading for fun again.

Real Life Examples