The world of publishing plays an important role in the life of a professor engaged in the guild. While many who work in publishing have education in other fields, it is often advantageous for publishers to hire experts in the field of biblical and theological studies to work as editors. They are intimately involved in influencing professors, students and churches through a wide variety of publishing projects.
Dr. Christopher A. Beetham
Senior Editor | Zondervan Academic
I work at Zondervan (located in Grand Rapids, Michigan) in their academic group with the official title “Senior Editor of Biblical Languages, Textbooks, and Reference Tools.” I am basically the editor for all things New Testament and Greek, though I oversee numerous other types of (mostly) academic books as well. My doctorate gave me a decisive edge over most of the other applicants for the position (so I was told), because Zondervan was looking for someone with strong skills in Greek who knew the field of New Testament and early Christianity well. I use my skillset and knowledge gained from my doctoral studies every day in this role, as they provide me what I need to edit our academic books with confidence and at a high level of professionalism and competency. I love working for a publishing group that seeks to provide outstanding resources both for the church and for the academy—books that will help equip church leaders and students to know Scripture and handle it wisely. It is not difficult for me to get out of bed in the morning and go to work (which, admittedly, during COVID is a one-minute commute to my home office) because of the sense of purpose and mission I derive from the work.
I did not set out to be an editor at a Christian publishing company; I kind of fell into the position for need of a job when my family was coming off the mission field in Ethiopia. Like most PhD students, I had dreamed of teaching in a tenure-track position at a seminary somewhere in the States. But over the course of our time at Wheaton, God unfolded his plans for my family. He placed in my wife and me a desire to help equip the global church when we realized the lack of opportunities for theological education among the churches in the majority world. Yet it is here where God is doing such an incredible work in our time. So, we set off for Ethiopia a week after I graduated from the doctoral program, and we served there in theological education for a decade. In the process of coming off the field at the end of our time, I applied for a few teaching posts and came in as a finalist for a few of them, but none of them materialized. When our family of seven finally landed back in the States in June 2015, I still did not have a job. But the Zondervan job had opened, and I had applied. A few weeks later, I was offered the position. I was initially thrown by this turn of events and discouraged. I had wanted to teach at the seminary level—all this experience and training and passion to train trainers. Was that all going to go to waste? But God knew. Today, nearly six years into my editorial role at Zondervan Academic, I enjoy deep job satisfaction. I get to “read” amazing books every day (but let the reader understand!) and to interact with some of the brightest authors of the evangelical world. In joyful partnership with our authors, we serve the church and the academy and make an impact to help fulfill the Great Commission.
At Zondervan, I also have a colleague who holds a doctorate in Hebrew Bible and ancient Near Eastern studies, and she handles all things Old Testament and Hebrew. I have another colleague with a doctorate in theology who handles projects in the area of theology, philosophy, and ethics. The three of us are production editors, but our group also employs acquisition editors, visual-content editors, and marketing colleagues who hold graduate-level degrees in biblical and theological studies. Two of these are pursuing doctorates in these areas. Our supervisor (a senior vice president and editor-in-chief) holds a doctorate in church history. Four of us adjunct teach at local institutions. Many of us are involved in teaching in our local churches. I write this to say that the Lord has been pleased to use our educational endeavors to help all of us secure great jobs that have a ministry component that infuses our lives with meaning and purpose.
Dr. Nancy Erickson
Executive Editor | Zondervan Academic
My primary job at Zondervan Academic is as a production editor of Hebrew Bible and related languages textbooks. A production editor at Zondervan Academic sees a book from the acceptable submission of a manuscript to publication. My tasks involve cleaning up the manuscript, i.e., copyediting and managing the editorial and proofreading process with the author and external academic freelancers. Other related tasks to seeing a manuscript from beginning to end include input on cover design and marketing copy. I have responsibility for anything related to the content of the book that finds expression in other areas or formats of the book, including follow-up reprints and other editions. As an academic I also acquire books that are related to my expertise, such as Old Testament and Semitics.
In addition to the broad tasks above, I am a resource for all of the publishing departments at Harper Collins Christian Publishing, including Bibles, kids, curriculum, and trade. I have my hand in many products related to my expertise.
My PhD is what landed me the editorial job at Zondervan Academic, not my years of editing experience. An academic publisher like Zondervan needs experts in the field in order to edit and engage with other experts in the field. My degree provides authors of similar academic training confidence in Zondervan Academic as a publisher for their manuscript.
In addition to my editorial work, I teach for a couple of seminaries and am engaged in my own research and writing for various academic publishers.
Dr. Andrew Knapp
Senior Acquisitions Editor | Wm. B. Eerdmans Co.
I am a Senior Acquisitions Editor for Eerdmans. Like many comparable publishers, Eerdmans distinguishes between acquisitions and project editors. I have worked in both capacities, and having a degree in biblical studies is helpful to both, so I’ll say something about them both. As an acquisitions editor I acquire books. This involves working with authors on proposals, helping authors develop their proposals into better books—“better” in this world can refer to inherent literary and academic qualities, and saleability, and usually the two intertwine—presenting proposals to our publishing committee, fielding all kinds of questions and providing guidance as authors write, collaborating with series editors to invite authors and help shape series, vetting final submitted manuscripts to make sure they conform to both Eerdmans standards and the project as described in our offer-to-publish agreements, and more. After I officially accept a manuscript, it gets handed off to a project editor (see below), but I continue to stay involved with projects through to, and even after, publication, providing input on sales possibilities, the cover, the title, and more.
If acquiring covers the first half of a book’s gestation—from proposal to accepted manuscript—project editing covers the second half, squiring the book the rest of the way to press. The project editor oversees a book’s copyediting (sometimes doing it oneself and sometimes assigning it to external copyeditors), proofreading, corrections at all stages of the manuscript, indexing, and everything else in the approximately ten to twelve months from accepted manuscript to publication.
An advanced degree in biblical studies is required for my position in acquisitions, because I cover most of Eerdmans’s Old Testament program, and is useful for project editing as well. Much of acquiring is networking, so knowing who is working on what, what directions the field is going, who writes well, and other details of biblical studies is key. At Eerdmans we sometimes use external peer review but often I vet manuscripts myself, and other editors often consult me on OT matters when their books wander into the world of ancient Israel. On the project editing side my background has helped me catch numerous errors, both major and minor, and helps me double-check transliterations, historical details, and other things.
Like every profession, editing has its advantages and disadvantages. Most importantly, at Eerdmans I enjoy my day-to-day work and find it rewarding. Acquiring books is both reactive, assessing what proposals happen to land on my desk, and proactive, pondering what nonexistent books should exist and then finding authors to write them. The latter, when it works, is particularly exciting. Also, while I focus on Old Testament, I am encouraged—perhaps required—to acquire outside this niche as well. I’ve acquired several books in the area of social justice, a topic I find stimulating and fulfilling. Acquiring has also allowed me to keep abreast of the field, as I attend conferences regularly, work with all sorts of scholars, and continue my own research. Project editing appeals to my natural fastidiousness and my love of language. Also, being right in the middle of the introvert/extrovert spectrum, having a foot in both worlds is great as acquiring requires putting myself out there and striking up conversations, while project editing tends to be more solitary work.
One drawback of publishing, especially with an extensive background in the field, is encountering so many fascinating projects that we cannot publish. Much of acquiring is rejecting proposals, which is almost as unpleasant as having a proposal rejected—especially when I like the project but we simply can’t make it financially viable. Our mantra at Eerdmans is that we exist to serve readers, which is a philosophy I endorse. But often I’m discouraged that we can’t generate readers for certain books that, I believe, should provoke more interest. Also, academic publishing overall faces many challenges these days with declining money going to the humanities in universities (and declining attendance in many church denominations), decreasing individual focus on buying books, and other harsh realities. The industry has changed significantly in recent decades, and must continue to adapt to a rapidly changing global situation, especially in higher education.
I can’t rationally or ethically consider doing my own writing as part of my editorial work, so I work on it outside the 9-5. This is sometimes discouraging, but then I think of so many scholars teaching 4-4s and summer classes and things that I expect it’s not much different. The biggest issue I have is that because I want to focus on family during weekends and vacations, I rarely, if ever, have major blocks of time, which are so much more effective for writing than little chunks. The upside is that both publishers I have worked for have strongly encouraged me to keep doing this work. Most people in publishing are here because they care about this sort of research, of course, and being something of an insider can open doors and occasionally lend me some gravitas with our authors. It also works to my advantage that I attend numerous conferences, so I have frequent opportunities to present my own work and talk with others dealing with the same topics.
I was fortunate to stumble into the editorial profession. During my doctoral studies at Johns Hopkins, I did grunt editorial work—proofreading, reference checking, etc.—for the Royal Inscriptions of the Neo-Assyrian Period project, published by Eisenbrauns. Conveniently, just as I finished my dissertation, Eisenbrauns posted an application for an acquisitions editor with an advanced degree in both biblical and ancient Near Eastern studies. My academic training suited me perfectly for this—I had always dreamed of publishing my first book with Eisenbrauns—and I had a foot in the door with my RINAP experience. I also come by the sort of work honestly, being the son of an English teacher, the husband of a long-time editor, and being naturally OCD about all things grammatical and otherwise pedantic. After working with Eisenbrauns for a few years, I joined Eerdmans.
Like university teaching, publishing is a difficult industry to crack. I was lucky. To those interested, I recommend trying to get to know people in the field early. Most academic publishers work with a variety of freelance help for copyediting, proofreading, indexing, and other services. Find the publishers who work on the type of things that stimulate you—be it high-end academic publishers, confessional publishers, or some mix thereof—and learn the industry as best you can. Several times I have worked with colleagues I know from the field, and at least once, after working with a similarly trained scholar on several projects, I recommended them for a full-time position.
Dr. R. David Nelson
Senior Acquisitions Editor | Baker Academic & Brazos Press
I serve as an acquisitions editor specializing in theology and related subject fields for a major North American theological publisher. I work with authors to develop proposals for publishing projects and shepherd promising proposals through our reviews process. I also partner with authors as they write manuscripts for publication, offering counsel as they craft ideas into prose and encouraging them to avoid common writing pitfalls. Acquisitions work involves a good bit of vision casting and strategic planning. I give constant thought to books and authors I’d like for us to publish, and I work closely with colleagues in editorial, sales, and marketing to ensure that our program is both well rounded and on the cutting edge of trends in the discipline. I travel frequently, meeting with authors on campuses and at conferences, and occasionally leading workshops on publishing in theology and biblical studies.
While only a handful of folks in the industry hold positions in acquisitions similar to mine, there are many different kinds of jobs available in editing and publishing these days. Still, it is a highly competitive environment, especially for those just getting into it. Perhaps the best advice I can offer for someone trying to break into the world of theological publishing is to build up a portfolio of pertinent experience through internships, retail work, and personal editorial projects (e.g., serving as a research assistant and/or editing manuscripts for a professor) before applying for open full-time positions. Jobs at major presses tend to go to candidates who can boast experience in editing or publishing, and the more one can do to craft a resume accordingly, the better one’s chances of getting hired. I am one of several PhDs in the industry of theological publishing at the moment, and most of us brought into our positions both academic credentials and prior experience in editing or publishing (in addition to earning a terminal degree in theology, I spent eight years in Christian retail, including three as manager of a seminary bookstore, and served as personal editor to an academic author during a doctoral fellowship).
It is difficult to measure the extent to which my PhD prepared me for or contributes to the work I do in publishing. As an acquisitions editor, it certainly helps for me also to participate in today’s theological discussions. I have managed to publish quite a bit of my own work (such as it is) during my time with the press, and I suppose that such activity in the field has enabled me to make new contacts and to stay abreast of trends and new initiatives. However, I know a number of other acquisitions editors who neither possess PhDs nor publish their own work who are just as effective as (or more than) I am. As such, while it may be advantageous for me to have a PhD in theology to work in theological publishing, it is hardly necessary. Newly minted PhDs seeking to enter the industry would do well to realize up front that theological publishing is a step or two removed from full-time academic work. But for those who manage to adjust their vocational expectations, a career in theological publishing can prove invigorating and rewarding.
Dr. Amy Paulsen-Reed
Key Account Sales Rep, Academic Sales Manager, and Acquisitions Editor | Hendrickson Publishers
I knew that I was not interested in jumping into the “piranha pool” that is the academic job market, and so I started researching a variety of options during the last year of my program. I looked into academic tutoring, college admissions, and college administration. I gave birth to my daughter 2 weeks after finishing my dissertation and gave myself a few months to focus on her before I got serious with the job search. Then, a friend of mine from school who had been working in academic publishing got in touch to let me know that a sales position had opened up at the publisher he worked for.
I was a bit skeptical about the idea of going into sales, since I’d always considered myself the opposite of what it takes to be a salesperson, which in my mind, meant a smooth talker who could talk anyone into buying anything. However, before my interview, I thought about it, and I hypothesized that sales is probably a lot like teaching undergrads: you have people sitting in front of you who probably care very little about what you’re trying to teach them, but it’s still your job to get them to pay attention. Similarly, I imagined that sales requires creative thinking to figure out what the client cares about and then present your message in a curated, strategic way. And I was right!
It turns out that my previous idea of sales was based on direct-to-consumer sales, which is quite different from business-to-business sales, which is what I do as a publishing sales rep. In business-to-business sales, the sale has to be a good fit for the client, because otherwise they’ll just return the items, which is a hassle for both sides. So, it has to be a win-win. To do well at business-to-business sales, you have to research your client as thoroughly as possible so that you can make recommendations that truly are a good fit for them. In addition to excellent research skills, communication skills are crucial, both in communicating in person, as well as following up over email. Analytical/critical thinking skills are also a huge asset in sales, since you are constantly analyzing sales reports and using them to guide your strategy going forward. Creativity and out of the box thinking are key, since you’re always confronting new situations and challenges. Lastly, the ability to learn quickly is also important, since as new products come out, you need to master their salient selling points so that you can decide both what and how to present to each individual client. Each client requires their own strategy.
What I love about sales is the amount of variety in my job and the space for creativity, strategic thinking, analysis, and research. Although I happen to be working in publishing right now, I can now take these business-to-business sales skills into a variety of fields and industries. It’s opened up a whole new career path for me with lots of room for growth and earning potential.
Charlie Trimm is Associate Professor and Chair of Old Testament (Undergraduate Division) at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. The testimonials above were first published on his blog. Brittany Kim teaches Bible classes at North Park Theological Seminary.