Books Front Matter

Banishing Burnout: The Employee Experience in Book Publishing

Every year, a fresh crop of college graduates joins the collective talent pool in hopes of landing their dream job. Book publishing is a popular choice for many, and motivations run the gamut from lofty goals of shaping the future of literature to a simple and profound love of books.

On its list of top careers for English majors, Indeed puts “publisher” at number five for highest average earning potential — behind brand strategist, English professor, internal communications executive, and lawyer. So, with decent money to be made, and an affinity for books to be indulged, why is there a talent shortage in the book publishing industry?

The short answer involves persistent labor shortages across industries. For the long answer, look to the disconnect between romanticized ideas about publishing’s past and the realities of working in the industry as it exists today.

Publishing’s storied past

Book publishing is a creative field, and there is something inherently satisfying in creative work. With the chance to influence literary canon, contribute to tangible works of art, and mingle with important authors, who wouldn’t want to work in publishing?

This was, and often remains, the dream, but book publishing has always relied on hard work, long hours, and intense collaboration.

Historically, publishing houses were home to a host of industry professionals, including acquisitions specialists, editors, designers, marketing teams, and production managers — all of whom worked long hours in a fast-paced environment. Books were everything, work-life balance was not on anyone’s radar, and burnout was out of the question.

So, the reality of publishing has always differed from the dream, but how does all this translate into a talent shortage in publishing today?

The current reality

Business and industry have been through the wringer these last few years, and despite an impressive spike in demand for books, publishing is no exception. The combined weight of a global pandemic, supply chain disruptions, inflationary trends, and the talent shortage is piling more pressure onto an already overwhelmed workforce. With too much work and not enough time, employees are increasingly choosing work-life balance over burnout. And they’re talking about it.

The publishing industry’s talent pool was shrinking before the pandemic and its resulting general priority shift.

Persistent publishing employee challenges include:

  • Consolidated job roles adding to an already heavy workload.
  • Blurred boundaries between roles and responsibilities.
  • Tighter budgets, longer timelines, and complex production schedules.
  • Increasing emphasis on the quality of the employee experience.

Employers are competing for talent amid widespread shortages. With publishing majors and big-dreaming book lovers in short supply, publishers must rethink recruiting and retention.

The employee experience

To combine the dream of a publishing career with current industry realities, book publishers should focus on increasing efficiency and improving the employee experience. Ideas to consider include:

  • Streamlining workflows.
  • Clearly defined job roles.
  • Team building for improved collaboration.
  • A commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
  • Practical performance and advancement expectations.
  • Open and responsive communication.
  • A healthy work-life balance.
  • Strong relationships with essential vendors.
  • An engaging onboarding experience for remote team members.

Book publishing is a demanding profession, and talent shortages in general are likely to persist for the next few years. Today, recruiting and retaining publishing talent means banishing burnout and honoring employees’ commitment to books with a positive and healthy employee experience.

Contact your Sheridan representative to discuss how Sheridan and KGL can provide editorial, design, and workflow solutions to support your team and ease some of the pressures and challenges of today’s work environment.

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