Burning Questions about Book Publishing: How do traditional book publishers function?

by Ruta Rimas

Kristen’s post last week about her work as a copy editor reminded me of how—once a book is accepted and bought by a publishing house—there are so many different individuals who are involved in a book’s actual publication.

Obviously, there is the writer, the creator of the content, the most important piece of the book-creation puzzle. Without the writer (without you), there is no book to read.

But there are many hands that touch the book before it goes final. Beyond the writer, publishing houses often have the following departments:

Editorial: The publisher and/or editorial director, the editors

This is the team that initially brings a manuscript in to the house. EditingImageThe editors evaluate projects, buy them when their publisher signs-off on the project, and then conceptually and developmentally edit the manuscript. After the actual editing is done, the editor serves as a project manager and liaises with the various departments below during pre-publication, on publication, and after publication.

Design: The creative director, the designers

I wrote about the book cover design process here, but in short, the design department is responsible for creating the visual cover for the book as well as designing the interior layout.

Managing editorial: The managing editors, the copyeditor, the proofreader

The work that Kristen described in her post falls within this department. Managing editors are responsible for a book’s schedule of production and that includes hiring copyeditors and proofreaders; ensuring materials are turned in and passed over to the appropriate departments in a timely manner; working closely with the production department and design to upload digital files of the book jacket and interiors to our printers websites so that the printer we’ve contracted can physically create the book.

Production: Production editors, in-house pre-press department

The production department is responsible for working directly with internal pre-press departments and printing houses. The pre-press team simulates what certain printed materials will look like; having this function in house saves publishers time and money when evaluating things like printed proofs of book jackets.

PHOENIXCOLOR
Inside Phoenix Color, a Maryland-based printer.

Production editors make sure all flows well with pre-press as well as set up the actual printing of the book by ensuring that the printer has the time, space, and capacity to print the book to a publisher’s specifications. Most printers are based in China or India, though there are some US-based printers for any books that a publisher may want produced quickly.

Marketing and publicity

These two departments work closely together to create a comprehensive campaign for each book published.

Sales

There are sales reps for every major account including retailers like Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Target, Walmart, and other types of accounts like wholesalers, independent bookstores, museums, and military bases, to name a few.

Subsidiary rights

This is the team that licenses book rights to other parties. These rights can include audio, foreign translation, UK, book clubs/fairs, graphic novel adaptation, film/TV, and more.

Other important players at publishing houses include the Legal Department, the Business Office, Inventory/Warehousing, and the mail room.

Each department also has several assistants, and in truth, the assistants are the ones who make the publisher function. Without them, the system would crumble. They make copies, answer calls, route paperwork, coordinate meetings, go on coffee runs for last-minute visitors, and more, all while learning the business.

It takes one person to write a book…but it takes a large team of people to make one.

Burning Questions About Book Publishing: What are good resources for keeping a pulse on the industry?

By Ruta Rimas

The business of book publishing can feel so far away from the reality of writers. Maybe you imagine an editor sitting at her desk, surrounded by stacks upon stacks of paper (real or virtual), casually crushing dreams as she rejects manuscript after manuscript. Truth be told, very little of that type of work goes on during business hours; the dream-crushing is done late at night, on subway or train rides home. Luckily, that’s when the dream-making happens as well.

pexels-photo-256455

When a writer publishes their book, it can take a year or two for it to get to market. In the meantime, information and news about the publishing world might seem like it bounces around at light speed. What are editors buying next? What manuscripts just sold? What’s the juicy industry gossip? How can anyone keep up?!

Well, in my attempt to answer that, I thought it might be time for a straightforward post that provides a few resources for anyone who wants to keep better tabs on the goings-on of book publishing. Below is a list of sites that, as an industry professional, I often turn to when I need intel. Because here’s a secret: it’s nearly impossible to keep up with everything that’s happening, even for those of us who work within the industry.

Industry News Sites

Publishers Weekly: https://www.publishersweekly.com/

This publication is both in print and online and is the quintessential publication for the industry. Some online content is free, like this article (https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/international/international-book-news/article/79125-man-group-pulls-out-of-booker-sponsorship.html). Big book deals are announced, industry news is shared, and the best part? Loads of book reviews. It might worth it to invest in a subscription for the wide range of information, depending on where you are in your writing career.

Shelf Awareness: https://www.shelf-awareness.com/about.html

 

shelf-awareness

A FREE (!) website and FREE (!!) bi-weekly newsletter with the top 25 books of the week, as selected by booksellers and librarians. Also included is book news, interviews with authors, and more publishing-based articles.

Publishers Lunch: https://lunch.publishersmarketplace.com/

Publishers Lunch is similar to Publishers Weekly, meaning some of the content is behind a paywall and requires a subscription, and some is free, like this recent article: https://lunch.publishersmarketplace.com/2019/01/newbery-to-medina-caldecott-to-blackall-and-more/

You can also sign up for daily Publishers Lunch emails for FREE. From their website: “Publishers Lunch is the industry’s “daily essential read,” now shared with approximately 45,000 publishing people every day. Each report gathers together stories from all over the web and print of interest to the professional trade book community, along with original reporting, plus a little perspective and the occasional wisecrack added in. Daily Lunch is e-mailed daily to qualified book trade professionals. Deal Lunch is e-mailed occasionally, sharing about 10 deal reports from the previous week (or roughly 5 percent of reported deals).” https://www.publishersmarketplace.com/lunch/subscribe.html

These three sites and newsletters can help orient you within the book publishing business, from the who’s who of editors, to buzz-worthy books, to bookstore openings and author events. They’re a worthwhile investment, even if only in the time it takes to read one of the free newsletters. Knowledge is power, after all, and these publications provide a ton of great information.

Author Interview: Jessie Chaffee and Brendan Kiely

by Ruta Rimas

The Get Lit Salon on January 13 — the first one of 2019 — will feature not one, but two guest authors, Jessie Chaffee and Brendan Kiely. They are both highly acclaimed, award-winning novelists with a special distinction: They’re married.

Two authors, one roof.

Florence+in+Ecstasy
Jessie Chaffee’s debut novel, Florence in Ecstasy

Jessie Chaffee’s debut novel, Florence in Ecstasy, was published by The Unnamed Press in 2017, and translated into five languages. She was awarded a Fulbright Grant in Creative Writing to Italy to complete the novel, during which time she was the Writer-in-Residence at Florence University of the Arts. Her writing has been published in Literary Hub, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, The Florentine, and Global City Review, among others.

Brendan Kiely is The New York Times bestselling author of All American Boys (with Jason Reynolds), Tradition, The Last True Love Story, and The Gospel of Winter. His work has been published in more than ten languages, received a Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award, the Walter Dean Myers Award, and the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award.

Brendan-Kiely-Book-Tradition
Brendan Kiely’s most recent novel, Tradition

His work has been selected twice as one of the American Library Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults and was a Chicago Public Library Best of the Best. Originally from the Boston area, he now lives with Jessie in New York City.

This couple’s literary credit rolls deep and we’re excited to speak to them in person. In advance of the salon, I asked these two writers the same question.

Why write?

Jessie Chaffee:

Jessie+Chaffee_credit+Heather+Waraksa
Author photo by Heather Waraksa

I write because it is my way of making meaning and of understanding the world and my place within it. Whenever there is an issue that I’m grappling with, whether personal or global, the solution is always writing, because it is in putting words on the page that my understanding takes form and shape. Sometimes that process provides answers, but more often it just clarifies the right questions—and then those questions keep me writing! I write because I’m a reader and, like reading, writing is a path to empathy and connectedness. It takes me further into myself but it also takes me far outside of myself. It gives me access to an entirely new existence and to characters who are vastly different from me, who surprise me, who stretch me and challenge my sense of what it means to be a person in the world. Florence in Ecstasy took almost a decade, and while the writing process was at times maddening and there were plenty of dead-ends, I got to spend those ten years with a city that I love but that is not my own, with art and rowing and history, with Italian women and men and American expats and ecstatic saints. I’m grateful for every one of those years. I write because I’ve always felt most at home in books, in those moments when I glimpse truths that I might understand deeply—being lost, being at war with oneself, being in love—but that I haven’t seen captured in the (exact right way) that my favorite writers have managed to articulate them. And I write because I hope that my books might provide similar moments of connectedness for other readers.

Brendan Kiely:

Brendan-Kiely-Author
Author photo by Gary Joseph Cohen

I take inspiration from Toni Cade Bambara’s line, “the role of the artist is to make revolution irresistible.” I write as an act of social engagement. Whether it is the scandal of abuse in the Catholic Church (The Gospel of Winter), racism and police brutality (All American Boys), or the violent repercussions of misogyny (Tradition, May 2018), I write novels examining the motivations of people grappling with the complex social issues of our day to try to inspire action for social change. I write to move the heart and the feet: I write in search of hope.

Join us on Sunday, January 13th at 5 pm, at Oak Vino, to continue the discussion with Jessie and Brendan.

Burning Questions About Book Publishing: What’s the deal with children’s books?

By Ruta Rimas

When people think of children’s books, the first type that usually pops into mind is picture books, the often large-trimmed delights of young childhood, sometimes (but not always) read at bedtime. Most adult readers can fondly look back upon their youth and recall a few favorites books, the ones that transformed them into the readers they are today.

There are the classics: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, anything by Dr. Seuss, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (which has countless spinoffs!) by Laura Numeroff. But if you don’t have a toddler, an elementary-aged kid or teenager, you may not know that the children’s book industry is so much more than picture books, and so much more expansive than the classics. For instance, my employer produces over six hundred new children’s books every year.

WildThings
A classic picture book.

Children’s books often get lumped into one giant box, but this segment of the publishing industry is robust, diverse, innovative, and vast. The books published in this category span 0-18 years of age, and that includes:

A board book is short and simple, made from thick cardboard for little hands that like to pull and little mouths that like to bite. Generally, children’s publishers either repurpose content for board books or write board books in-house.

Picture books are usually geared for readers aged four to eight, and contain both a text-based narrative and a visual one. Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt are modern picture book successes.

For young readers who are eager to begin exploring stories on their own (or perhaps with a reading partner) there are chapter books. These tend to run between 10-12,000 words, sometimes have spot art, and are gobbled up by kids six to nine years old. A great example of a chapter book is the Clementine Series by Sara Pennypacker

There are also middle-grade novels, usually for readers who are eight to twelve. These tend to be longer and offer more complex and sophisticated stories. Diary of Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney is middle grade, as is Wonder by RJ Palacio.

Finally, children’s publishing also encompasses the thriving young adult category. These are books published for teenagers, though there is a significant adult readership, too. Recent YA successes include To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

THUG
A modern YA bestseller

The business wasn’t always this way: The world of children’s publishing fundamentally shifted about twenty years ago and we have a young wizard to thank for that. The Harry Potter series changed everything for this part of the publishing business, and created a shift from a primarily back-list driven industry (i.e., books that have been published many years prior) to a front-list driven one (i.e., new books). This type of model is much more in line with how the traditional adult book market functions. The Harry Potter series is also responsible for the invention of a children’s New York Times Bestseller list, too, because when those books published, they ate up the slots on the regular bestseller list.

Children’s books. It’s where it’s at.

Burning Questions About Book Publishing: How is a book cover created?

By Ruta Rimas

The cover of a book is by far its most valuable marketing tool, and many ideas (and opinions) factor into the final design. Publishers want unique, eye-catching book covers. Ask yourself what makes you pick up a book, and that is the very question publishers ponder at every stage of the design process.

Well over a year in advance of a book’s on-sale date, the cover design process begins. There’s good reason for the early start: we need the image and a printed jacket for the sell-in process, which occurs about six months prior to a book’s on-sale. A book has a stronger chance of being ordered by booksellers if they can visualize it. No book cover? Many booksellers will skip an order, especially if the book is by an unknown or unproven author.

AllEyesFINAL
This is the final cover for a book that goes on sale in June 2019.

The process of book cover design looks something like below, though it varies from publisher to publisher.

Editor presents the book to design: The editor shares what the book is about, who the audience may be, what  comparative and competitive books are already on the shelves, and then offers some ideas to the design department. To give you some perspective, for my Fall 2019 books, I started talking covers with my designers in… August 2018.

Designer is assigned: The creative director assigns a designer who they feel is the best fit for the project. The designer and editor begin bouncing ideas around. The designer often reads the manuscript at this stage, if one is available.

all-eyes-on-us-comps-3i-e1539887216977.jpg
This was the first cover direction for the book pictured above, scrapped after input from sales and marketing.

Designer drafts ideas and presents to editor: The designer whips up several different directions using inspiration art, stock photos, unique lettering, even illustrations. The editor offers input and sends the designer back to work until finally, an idea is agreed on. This stage has a lot of back and forth and is often the longest. Once everyone is on the same page, it’s time to set up a photo shoot or to hire an artist. Sometimes, we use stock photos for book covers, too. It all depends on the need of the book, our budget, and where we see the book shelves at stores.

Editor shares with author and Editor shares with sales/marketing: This step can happen simultaneously or sequentially or flip-flopped. Editors want their authors to be happy and proud of the book cover. Most editors take their author’s feedback into consideration and will share that feedback with the designer. Sometimes if an author is very unhappy with the cover, the cover is scrapped and a new idea pursued. We also take our sales and marketing feedback very seriously. Sometimes sales and marketing might even ask us to rethink a cover. And then we start all over again, until…

All Eyes On Us_cover comp
Take two! The author saw this version and provided feedback, which was incorporated for the final cover.

BOOK COVER IS DONE! Then…

The cover feeds out digitally to retailers: About six to nine months prior to on-sale, just in time for sales calls, the book cover posts online at Amazon, B&N, and IndieBound.

Jacket proofs are printed and mailed: Once a final image is agreed upon by everyone, and as the sales force continues their sell-in process, the production department creates jacket proofs for the sales team to show accounts. The proofs may not be the final jacket that wraps around the final book, but generally they are very close and will include things like special effects (embossing, spot gloss, a unique finish like “soft touch,” for example).

The above steps are a general overview of the process, but talk to your author friends and you’ll find exceptions to every stage. Sometimes books don’t have manuscripts available early enough for the editor — let alone the designer! — to read and publishers have to create covers based on a synopsis or sample pages. Some books are crashed onto a season after the sell-in process begins, and so the cover has to be whipped together immediately. And sometimes, books change cover design from the hardcover to the paperback.

But one thing is certain. All book covers are tailor-made and with a common goal: encouraging readers to buy the book.