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.