Opportunities in the book publishing industry

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Photo: “Trapeze 101 Class” by David Galindo is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The year 2011 might be one of the toughest for new graduates entering the workforce in the U.S., particularly if they happen to be seeking positions in the book publishing industry. Entrepreneurial skills will enhance their job prospects, but many hopeful young writers have been taught that their social and professional networks magically will appear to catch them. It worked that way in the past—the rather distant past. No one bothered to mention that the net has a maximum capacity.

Observing the present state of affairs, Jane Friedman says, “Never before have I seen so much activity, service, and business ideas focused on ‘helping’ writers as during this period.” She’s concerned that turbulent times will cause desperate writers to waste their money on help that might not be very helpful. She’s right. They will, because everyone’s looking for a fast track.

On the other hand, disruption, innovation, and transformation always create demand for new services. Job seekers might be interested to know where the demand currently outstrips the supply. It’s necessary to point out that this is just a temporary situation. As soon as a gap is detected, the most enterprising will rush to fill it. The following list won’t be of much value six months or a year from now. I’m merely observing that qualified individuals offering these skilled professional services seem to be in short supply at the moment:

Book publicists

Foreign rights agents are scarce in developing markets.

Online community managers

Virtual assistants—formerly known as secretaries—can help prepare manuscripts, track submissions, maintain calendars, etc.

Oddly enough, although freelance copyeditors and developmental editors are not rare, they’re elusive, because most of them don’t have websites advertising their services.

Literary event organizers are less visible and, I presume, less common than literary magazines, which number in the thousands. The most viable of the new literary publications serve multiple functions. They offer a way for writers to achieve recognition for their work in print or online, and they also create a supportive and competitive community by organizing literary events, workshops, mentoring programs, fundraisers, outreach, residencies, and contests. Maybe they’re simply a variation of the old-school networks, but I don’t think so. In any case, the best of these endeavors are characterized by a distinctive energy that sets them apart. I’ll leave it to someone else to elaborate on the concept, but it’s something to watch.

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