What is a Publishing Degree?

Writers can write, but without publishers, fewer people could access their work. Publishers make books, magazines, and other media content accessible to wider audiences.

Students in publishing degree programs learn about the process of acquiring content, editing and editorial standards, design and production, author-publisher contracts, publishing rights, the marketing, sales, and distribution of publications, and accounting and finance for publishers.

Program Options

Master’s Degree in Publishing – Two Year Duration
To be considered for admission to a master’s program in publishing, applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree. Students often enter with a bachelor’s in an area such as English, journalism, creative writing, or communications. The common curriculum integrates traditional print with digital publishing topics, including editorial acquisitions, production and design, copyright law, marketing, distribution, management, and business. Programs tend to offer practical specializations such as:

  • Digital Media
  • Editing
  • Marketing and Distribution
  • Technology and Design

An extensive internship in the publishing industry, often up to four months long, is a key component of the best programs.

Here is a snapshot of the typical curriculum:

  • Book and Journal Publishing – fundamental aspects of the publishing industry: business models, acquisitions, production, marketing, and sales for both books and journals; challenges to the industry and strategic decisions made by publishers
  • The Business of Publishing – business operations in the publishing industry and how various business practices impact the publishing ecosystem; book acquisitions, contracts, business plans, and distribution strategies
  • Copyright Law in Print and Cyberspace – foundations of copyright law for print and electronic media; history and development of copyright law; key concepts such as exclusive rights, fair use, remedies for infringement; challenges in application of the law to all media
  • Marketing Strategies – marketing and promotional strategies for print and digital book and journal publishing products; decisions marketing departments must make to help increase the impact of publishing products
  • Production Management – publishing production and product life cycles; students develop products, plan and specify requirements, select vendors, and learn about integrating digital products into print production processes
  • Fundamentals of Electronic Publishing – digital technologies and trends that have transformed the publishing industry in recent decades, including standards, business models, and technologies and approaches used in electronic publishing
  • Ethics in Publishing – ethical issues in publishing, including censorship, intellectual property rights, plagiarism, open access, business practices, and environmentally-responsible publishing; issues of diversity, inclusion, and accessibility
  • Publishing Management, Organization, and Strategy – publishing management, strategic planning, how publishers add value, and organizational change; issues that drive the strategic planning process, such as staff involvement, team building, and resource allocation
  • Accounting and Finance for Publishers – accounting and financial reporting for a publishing organization’s operating results; evaluating what these results mean in terms of financial success, new business ventures, and sustainability
  • Global Publishing – overview of the publishing industry around the world; national publishing industries and strategies for entering those markets; global English language publishing; acquisition, sales, and production strategies; translation rights and global strategies
  • Book Publicity and Promotion – overview of strategies, objectives, and tactics for promoting and publicizing new books, monographs, and other publishing products, using examples from trade, academic, and electronic publishing
  • Children’s Publishing and Media – exploration of the children’s media industry with a focus on book publishing; overview of children’s and young adult print, digital, audio, and video segments; review of business opportunities, market analysis, trends, demographics, acquisition, and outreach
  • Professional Editor – the editorial function and importance of editorial judgment in the acquisitions, developmental, and copy editor roles; freelance editing, editorial management, challenges facing the professional editor, and potential editorial career trajectories
  • Editing Special Projects – students gain practical experience editing special projects, which may include journals, open educational resources, monographs, and books
  • Editorial Content, Rights, and Permissions – meaning and monetization of rights in the publishing world; what editors need to know to negotiate terms for rights that they wish to acquire; the effects of emerging electronic and digital marketplace on permissions and rights
  • Book Design – the role of design in the publishing process; how components of book design, such as typography, imagery, page layout, cover design, printing, and production, are affected by and affect content, tone, function, and intended audience
  • E-Publishing Technologies and Standards – overview of current and emerging content technologies, software and hardware components of a typical publishing system, enabling standards, and publishing systems architecture
  • Designing for E-Publishing Success – principles of digital design, usability testing, search engine optimization, iterative design, and multiple presentational models
  • E-Publishing Tools – tools to produce both book and magazine page layouts; style sheets, master pages, importing different file types, and rendering on different platforms; print-ready projects and ways to use multimedia

Degrees Similar to Publishing

Creative Writing
In creative writing programs students analyze how prose and poetry are constructed and also write their own works. Typical classes include American poetry, fiction writing, the contemporary short story, and the creative process.

Desktop and Web Publishing
Programs in desktop and web publishing teach the design and layout of printed and digital documents. Coursework includes web design, multimedia design, writing, and editing.

In English degree programs, students read, study, and write about the literature and culture of the English-speaking world. Coursework also includes the history, linguistic structure, and use of the English language.

Journalism degree programs teach students how to report, write, and edit articles for broadcast or publication. They include classes in broadcast news writing, copyediting and design, reporting, and media law and ethics.

Mass Communication and Media Studies
Degree programs in mass communication and media studies are concerned with the critical study of communication and media. The typical curriculum explores topics like communication infrastructure, as well as issues in communication from all of these perspectives: social, cultural, historical, political, economic, technological, and legal.

Multimedia Arts
This degree program involves creating images and content using the latest design techniques and technology. Animation, audio, interactivity, still images, text, and video are examples of multimedia arts. The core curriculum consists of courses in 3D digital art, animation, design concepts, interactive design, storytelling, and writing for media.

Speech Communication and Rhetoric
Degree programs in speech communication and rhetoric focus on the study of human communication. Students of the discipline examine how we communicate one on one, within organizations, and in the larger contexts of politics, cultures, and societies. Coursework includes public speaking, speech writing, and analysis and criticism of examples of persuasive speaking or writing.

Technical Writing
Degree programs in technical writing teach students how to convey technical information in writing. Coursework covers building documentation templates and style guides, recognizing translation issues, and formatting documents for visual appeal. And because technical writers are the mediators between the technical subject matter experts and the document end users, programs also stress the importance of developing a communication pathway between technicians and writers.

Visual Communication
Visual communication degree programs combine instruction in diverse media, such as photojournalism, painting, sculpture, and graphic design.

A novel you can’t put down. A poem or a song that makes you cry. A biography that inspires you. A catchy corporate slogan or tagline. An eloquent op-ed piece in your local newspaper. A product manual that walks you through a technical maze. An ad that moves you to make a purchase. A speech that leaves you speechless. Every one of these creations is the work of a writer, the product of a wordsmith.

Degree programs in writing teach students to be wordsmiths of many different kinds and in many different arenas, from the arts, media, and entertainment, to business, education, and science. They teach budding writers to create new worlds and compelling characters, to use the intricacies of language to produce texts across a range of media, and to find ever innovative ways to capture and interact with readers.

Skills You’ll Learn

Graduates of publishing programs come away from their studies with a high degree of literacy and strong business instincts, as well as other transferable skills including:

  • A world view that is broadened through exposure to diverse ideas, opinions, and philosophies
  • Ability to absorb and summarize new information quickly
  • Ability to collaborate and debate
  • Ability to disseminate information accurately
  • Ability to analyze and edit
  • Ability to make judgements based on research
  • Ability to multitask
  • Ability to negotiate contracts and rights
  • Ability to read critically and understand subtext
  • Ability to tailor oral and written messages for different audiences and media
  • Ability to understand, connect, and evaluate complex ideas
  • Ability to use market research to keep aware of consumer trends
  • Attention to detail
  • Cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary sensibilities

What Can You Do with a Publishing Degree?

Opportunities for publishing grads exist in a range of publishing settings, the most common of which are:

  • Trade Publishing – publishes general interest books, both fiction and non-fiction, sold through the general retail trade
  • Academic Publishing – publishes scholarly research papers across all academic disciplines, usually in academic journals
  • University Presses – non-profit presses associated with a university, which publish scholarly books, monographs, and periodicals aimed at scholars and well-informed lay readers
  • Independent Publishing Houses – operate independently of large corporations or conglomerates and tend to specialize in specific genres or publication types, such as non-fiction, poetry, essays, graphic novels, newsletters, or e-books
  • Educational Presses – publish specialized content for the education sector, including textbooks, study guides, and academic software
  • Web Publishing – publishes original content on the Internet, including text, videos, digital images, artwork, and other forms of media
  • Magazine Publishing – publishes specialized content across disciplines (examples: lifestyle, fashion, sports, music, travel, celebrity news, gardening) and audiences (men, women, teens, retirees, golfers, auto mechanics)
  • Self-Publishing Services – help authors self-publish by providing publishing platforms, author services, and self-publishing education

These are the main publishing activities and job roles:

The editorial department is responsible for acquiring, editing, and proofreading books and magazine content and seeing them through to publication. The department’s focus is on checking sentence and plot structure, language use, grammar, and quality of writing, as well as liaising with the company’s authors and literary agents. Specific roles include:

  • Assistant Editor / Junior Editor
  • Editor / Senior Editor
  • Managing Editor

This department is concerned with finalizing the book title, cover design, typesetting, and illustration. In short, the focus of the design department is the visual brand of both the publishing company and the books they acquire. Specific roles include:

  • Design Assistant / Junior Designer
  • Designer / Senior Designer
  • Head of Design / Art Director

The production department transforms the manuscript and design into a book ready to be published. The department’s work includes requesting quotes; negotiating pricing on typesetting, printing, and binding; working with different print and digital book formats including hardback, paperback, e-books, and audiobooks; monitoring production schedules and deadlines; maintaining book inventory; and processing invoices. Specific roles include:

  • Publishing Assistant / Production Assistant
  • Production Controller / Production Specialist
  • Head of Operations / Operations Manager

Contracts between authors and publishers are of course a vital part of the publishing business. Most often, the contracts staff is part of the legal or finance department and work closely with editors and literary agents to negotiate contract terms and ensure that correct royalties are paid. Specific roles include:

  • Contracts Assistant
  • Contracts Executive
  • Contracts Manager / Contracts Director

The rights department protects the rights of authors and publishers. It is responsible for selling these rights to those interested in buying them, such as companies who want to translate a book; turn it into a series, movie or TV show; or produce book related merchandise. Specific roles include:

  • Rights Assistant
  • Foreign Rights Executive
  • Rights Manager
  • Head of Rights / Rights Director

Marketing and Publicity
Marketing and publicity is all about generating awareness of, and interest in a publication. Staff members of this department conduct market research, plan promotional campaigns, produce promotional material, and attend conferences, book fairs, launches, and book-signing events to sell their products. Specific roles include:

  • Marketing and Publicity Assistant
  • Marketing Executive
  • Publicist / Senior Publicist
  • Head of Marketing and Publicity / Marketing and Publicity Director

Publishing sales teams liaise with sales agents, distributors, and booksellers to persuade them to buy their company’s books. They monitor trends, develop sales presentations, track daily orders, generate sales reports, and manage budgets. Specific roles include:

  • Sales Assistant
  • Sales Executive
  • Sales Manager
  • Director of Sales
  • Publisher

The distribution department manages a warehouse from which it sends books across the globe. Some publishers operate an in-house distribution department, while others use a third-party distributor to manage book stocks. Specific roles include:

  • Distribution Specialist
  • Supply Chain and Distribution Manager


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