Book Publishing Today

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These days, John Grisham tries to live a normal life as one of Oxford, Mississippi's, 10,141 citizens, although he may be its most prominent one, earning far more money from one book than another local literary hero, William Faulkner, made in a lifetime.

In 1989, Grisham was a thirty-four-year-old practicing lawyer when his first novel, A Time to Kill, was published. The book was hardly a blockbuster, selling only about five thousand copies. But in 1991 Grisham struck the mother lode with Doubleday's publication of The Firm, a novel about the nefarious deals of a Mafia-controlled law partnership. The Firm sold more than a half-million books in hardcover, and when it reappeared in paperback the next year, it sold better than seven million copies. Paramount Pictures' movie of The Firm, starring Tom Cruise, grossed more than $300 million worldwide. The lawyer-author's subsequent novels have had similar success, generating enormous advances even before he sits down at his word processor.

But don't assume for a nanosecond that Grisham's good fortune mirrors that of the whole book publishing industry. Each year publishers issue about three thousand new works of fiction. Few achieve success. Yet publishing is more than best-selling novels that become high-grossing movies. The industry, for example, publishes almost six thousand new books each year on sociology and economics, five thousand children's books, three thousand on medicine, two thousand on scientific topics, and two thousand on technology. In total, the twenty-six thousand publishers listed in the Bowker data file, an industry directory, produce almost fifty thousand new books every year. Of particular interest to readers, the burgeoning book business employs approximately seventy-four thousand people. And book sales in 1995 are estimated at $20 billion.



If you're seeking employment in this fascinating industry, you should know that not all publishers are giant organizations publishing a few hundred new books a year. Eleven thousand of the nation's publishers publish three or more books a year, while fifteen thousand publish fewer than three books each. For example, Minneapolis-based Better Endings New Beginnings published only one book in 1994 and has two books in print. Dinosaur Press in Tulsa published only two titles in 1994, its first year in business.

Where the Book Publishers Are

The Literary Market Place directory (IMP), available in most large libraries, lists almost seven hundred book publishers based in New York. Clearly The Big Apple dominates the publishing scene. Yet there is substantial book publishing activity all over the country. University presses, for example, exist at many major colleges and universities.

Massachusetts has about 150 publishers, including the major houses Little, Brown & Company and Houghton Mifflin. Illinois is home to a similar number of publishers, including Encyclopedia Britannica. There are about four hundred publishers in California, including many fine small presses and specialty publishers, such as Sierra Club Books and Sunset Books.

If you're going to work in book publishing, your options do extend beyond New York. One important consideration is money: You earn less in other cities. Of course, that may be balanced by the lower cost of living.
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