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.

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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.

Reading Like a Copy Editor

by Kristen Holt-Browning

I write poems and short stories for fun (except when it’s completely frustrating), but I copyedit the work of others for (a little) profit. Usually when I tell someone what I do for a living, the first question I get is, “What exactly does a copy editor do?” followed by, “how are you different than just, you know, a regular editor?”

My response is that I don’t help the author revise the rough drafts of the book, when characters, plot, and structure are still being formed and shaped. By the time I start working on a project, the editor has already done that, and the manuscript is (hopefully) in good shape. But it still needs a fine-tuning, and that’s where I come in. Not only do I check spelling and grammar, but I watch for consistency, logic, and flow: Wait, on page 3 she was “Catharine” but now on page 23 she’s “Catherine”—which one is it? Or, did this king really rule from 1350 to 1580? Ah, nope, that should be 1380. Better make a note to check that throughout. Looks like this author is really fond of the word “ambiguous”—this is the fourth time she’s used it in this chapter. I’ll suggest she use “unclear” here instead.

What kind of person makes a good copy editor? Benjamin Dreyer, the copy chief at Random House, offers his opinion in his new book, Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style:

“Copyediting is a knack. It requires a good ear for how language sounds and a good eye for how it manifests itself on the page; it demands an ability to listen to what writers are attempting to do and, hopefully and helpfully, the means to augment it…I do think it’s a craft whose knowledge can only be built on some mysterious predisposition. (The one thing I know that most copy editors have in common is that they were all early readers and spent much of their childhoods with their noses pressed into books.)”

Dreyer’s insightful description suggests how my copy editor and writer sides interact and, I hope, support one another. I’ve been focusing on writing poetry for the last year—and more than any other genre, poetry demands an attention to the sound of language in the ear, and the look and layout of language on the page. (Plus, I was definitely a young bookworm.)

But what do I not do when I copyedit? Well, I don’t scold authors for split infinitives. I don’t have a heart attack if a writer starts a sentence with the word “And.” My job is not to force a writer to align with unbreakable rules. It’s about supporting and strengthening the author’s own voice, through judicious application of grammatical guidelines and common sense.

Although, I’m with Mr. Dreyer on the serial (or Oxford) comma, when he notes that only “godless savages” do not use it.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

Burning Questions About Book Publishing: From start to finish, how does a book end up on a bookstore shelf?

By Ruta Rimas

As a publishing professional, I’m often asked about the process of book-making, how a Word document is transformed into a beautiful, typeset, bound, physical object that one can purchase.

The answer seems obvious —  write, send off the files to the printer et voilà! Book! — but many are surprised by how complicated and time-consuming the creation of a book can be. The general process outlined below can take between one to two years, though it can vary depending on the needs of the book and what is selling in the marketplace (e.g., a publisher will “crash” a book and speed up this process if they think a book needs to hit the shelves sooner).

BinnacleLogo
How does a book go from your brain to Binnacle?

Many different people have a hand in book creation; once the book is written, it’s touched by agents, acquiring editors, assistants, managing editors, production editors, designers, marketers, publicists, sales reps, warehouse staff, and more. Writing is solitary but book creation is a team effort.

How a Book Is Made

  1. Manuscript is written. This step is the most obvious. There is no book without words strung together by a writer.
  2. Agent offers to represent writer. Posts 1 and 2 address agents.
  3. Editor acquires book Check out post 3 for an overview of that process.
  4. Editor edits. Working as a one-on-one creative writing workshop, the acquiring editor will often send a letter and notes on the manuscript to the author, making revision suggestion on aspects like plot, characters, arcs, continuity issues.
  5. Manuscript is finished. After a few rounds of revision, the manuscript is sent into managing editorial and the managing editor begins copyediting and proofreading. At the same time, the Book cover is designed. The book cover is generated fairly early in the process as it is the first material that the sales teams shares with their accounts, like Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Independent Book Stores, etc.
  6. Author addresses copyeditors questions. Working from a master Word file created from the copyeditor, the author will go through the pages and address any outstanding issues, including grammar. Most publishers use the track changes function in Word for this step.
  7. Manuscript is sent to design. This step is a fun one: the interiors of the book, the galley pages, are laid out.
  8. Advance Readers Copies are created. These are early bound galleys, sometimes referred to as ARCs, and they look like paperback books. Publicity, marketing, and the author are able to send ARCs to reviewers and to others to generate early buzz. Generally, these are available 6-8 months before a book is on sale.
    ARC image2
    This is an ARC of a book that publishes as a hardcover in December 2018. Note that the back has a section dedicated to list the marketing campaign.
  9. The production editor schedules the book at the printer. Working closely with editorial, design, and managing editorial, contacts the printer to set up the printing schedule for ARCs, jacket proofs, and final books. Many publishers work with international printers, usually in China or India. Some books are printed domestically, depending on how quickly they are needed. This scheduling can become complicated during certain times of year, like Chinese New Year, when overseas printers close for a few weeks.
  10. The books ship from the printer and are warehoused. The printer will place books on ocean liners to arrive at US ports. Trucks will pick up the boxes and drive them to publisher warehouses. From the warehouse, the books ship to booksellers, distribution centers, and other facilities.
  11. Books are delivered to the store, shelved by staff, and ready to buy!

This list addresses the physical production of the book but it doesn’t outline everything that is happening simultaneously with nearly every step: Sales meetings! Marketing and publicity discussions! Licensing opportunities! That will be the subject of a future post in the Burning Questions about Book Publishing series.

If you have any additional questions about book publishing, please ask in the comments and those questions may become the topic of another post in this series, too.