Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

5 Reasons You Might Want to Get into Academic Publishing

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An exciting career awaits!

My aspirations in publishing almost always come up when discussing life after college. The world I may be soon working in–according to friends of my parents and neighbors I run into in the supermarket–is incredibly glamorous. My excitable hairstylist asked me last week, “When will you get to meet the lady who writes Harry Potter?!” For most, the world of publishing is represented almost wholly by the goings-on of the trade sector, so it’s not hard to see why I figured I’d inevitably want to end up inking big fiction deals and rubbing elbows with J.K. herself.

While I would’t mind ending up in that area, another contender for how to spend the rest of my career has emerged: academic publishing.

I started out in publishing as an editorial intern at an independent trade house, moving on to a stint here at Trendsetter. Wrapping up here, I was conflicted as to where to go next. I had one semester of school left, so I couldn’t hunt for a full time job just yet, and decided to squeeze one more internship under my belt. But I had trouble figuring out was where to go next: back to my trade roots, or on a further exploration of what the industry had to offer? The cards fell in favor of further exploration, and I ended up with an internship in the College Psychology division of W.W. Norton & Company. There, I learned just how different things are in academic publishing.

 1. In an entry-level position, the text is not your friend. 

At a small literary house, I was responsible for the slush pile. I read all day, but I also got to see the commissioned text go through multiple stages of editing, production, etc. Basically, I got to see the whole process of publishing, and I was able to interact with the text the whole way.

In academic publishing, this was not the case. I was given small bits of text to work with–a chapter to compare with the art log, a small bit of an article to be checked for permissions, but certainly never a whole manuscript.

I was a bit resentful of this development until I realized that textbooks don’t go through a whole editing flush as easily as a 200-page novel. Each chapter is sent out to be individually copyedited and fact-checked. The text is often sent out to multiple reviewers in order to get as many professional eyes on it as possible. It’s pretty similarly to peer review in the scientific community. Once I realized that the process was a lot more detailed (simply because there is so much more information contained within a textbook), I stopped wanting to get my hands on a whole book.

2. The numbers will blow you out of the water.

The first time I saw an order record from a large state university for a psych 101 textbook, I almost fell out of my chair. In trade publishing, the community of readers isn’t usually enormous unless it’s a bestseller. In academic publishing, a single school could stock their bookstore with 20,000 copies of an introductory textbook.When you factor in all of the schools within the country–there’s a lot of copies to be sold and, potentially, a lot of money to be made. With the higher education system growing exponentially, academic publishing has become a gigantic market.

3. You’ll be hyper-aware of your competition.

Academic and trade buying processes are two completely different animals. In fact, I think purchasing a batch of textbooks is much similar to buying a car or a blender than it is to buying a novel to take to the beach. When universities and instructors are choosing a textbook, they will look to multiple makes & models–your competitors. When developing an idea for a book, texts already on the market will be scrutinized closely so your company can see what can be improved upon, and in that way find a specific selling point for a new title. I’m talking specifics down to the number of black and white graphs and the number of bolded terms within a chapter opener.

 4. There are so many cool gadgets and gizmos being created.

In a world where Nooks and Kindles are trampling print editions of books, you’d better believe that academic publishers are thinking of ways to interest students in picking up their textbooks as opposed to scrolling through their Instagram feed.

In addition to interesting and catering to students, digital elements are being introduced in order to help teachers teach in a more modern way. I participated in a focus group that introduced an interactive online homework assignment. If you got a question wrong, you could ask for hints, try again after additional information was supplied to you, and read up a little more on the correct answer once it was given. Publishers often send packages to teachers that include links to YouTube videos and online segments that can be used to enhance class material. There’s even an app being tested that tracks how long students spend reading the ebook version of their textbook, based on how many notes they take and how long the pages remain open.

In order to remain digitally competitive, publishers need to not only make their products digitally available, but entice students and educators to think that their supplemental digital media is the best. In a world where apps and media products are heralded as great one day and outdated the next, this is definitely a challenge.

5. Get ready to chat directly with your customers.

As the world of social media expands, trade authors are now afforded the opportunity to interact with their readers, fans, and critics. It’s generally considered a new development, but this system has been in place for the academic publishing world for quite some time. Books (or manuscripts) are often sent out to professors the company is hoping will become buyers, and they are asked to provide direct criticism on content, art, supplemental materials, study guides, etc. The feedback of these professors is highly important, as it speaks to the general marketability and strong points of the text, as well as the weak ones.

The only way for an academic text to sell well is for many educators to agree that it is superb. Speaking to them before a print run has been completed ensures satisfaction–and sales.

Liz Janetschek

Liz Janetschek

So will I stay in academia forever? Who knows! The world of publishing is tricky to navigate right now, and I’ve been in touch with companies both academic & trade since graduation. But I’ll leave you with this–schools from kindergarten to Ph.D. programs will always need a source of content to supplement what is being taught. While trade publishing can be glamorous, the reliability of academic publishing is certainly appealing. It’s up to you to make your choice!

2 Comments

  1. Lauren says:

    Thank you for this article because it really gave optimism. I especially loved the part where you explained how entry level people read only parts of manuscripts in academic publishing. My ultimate dream is to be a historical fiction author, but I’ve very seriously thought about academic publishing as a day job. I don’t like the idea of trade publishing because though I love to read, I don’t like being forced to read whole novels, especially ones that haven’t been published yet and therefore might not be as good as what’s sold in Barnes and Noble or on Amazon. But I love the idea of spending my days reading bits of non-fiction, particularly history. Although humanities jobs aren’t amazing compared to being a doctor or lawyer or engineer, academic publishing always seems to have better numbers than trade publishing because students and teachers have to buy academic books whereas only bookworms really buy novels if they feel like it.

  2. Gemma says:

    Thanks for posting this article! It’s refreshing to hear someone talking about careers in academic publishing. When graduates consider a publishing career they often only think about trade when there are other options like this out there. I’ve actually recently set up a blog about my own goal to begin an editorial career in academic publishing: http://pathwaytopublishing.blogspot.co.uk

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