Book publishers do more than put books on shelves.
The role of a publisher is broad, covering several aspects of a book, magazine, or newspaper’s creation, editorial direction, and publicity.
In this article, we will dive into the role of a publisher. We’ll also explore how you can publish your own work (self-publishing) if you don’t want to hand the reins over to a third party.
If you already finished your manuscript and are now deciding how to publish your work, this article may help you.
What is a publisher?
So, what is a publisher? What are the roles and duties involved?
When it comes to publishing a book, there are two routes authors typically take.
The first is to approach a publishing company or house. An author sends the final draft of their manuscript to one of these houses, which takes over all aspects of publication, from design to editing to marketing and putting books on shelves.
Publishing houses and companies hire:
- Editorial staff for acquisition and development of material
- A managing editor
- Designers and illustrators
- Copy editors and proofreaders
- A production manager
- Sales and marketing staff
Each of the roles above is crucial when publishing a book.
Those unaware of the ins and outs of the publishing process may understandably assume that publishing is a matter of taking a manuscript, putting it inside a book cover, and sending it out to bookstores.
The truth is that many small details and important considerations go into publishing a book.
The editorial staff at a publishing company are in charge of acquiring and developing material they see fit or relevant to publish.
Publishing companies receive hundreds if not thousands of submissions regularly.
Editorial staff involved in the acquisition of work must assess submissions and select a small few that align with the company’s values or theme and hold potential for success.
Does the company prefer to publish non-fiction? Children’s book? Or a specific genre, such as fantasy or sci-fi?
A managing editor oversees the editing process once a book has been selected for publication.
Their role is to ensure that all tasks and goals are coordinated and happen on time so that the book is ready for publication by a pre-established date.
A development editor works on the sent manuscript. They assess problems that need to be fixed relating to themes, style, and structure.
They evaluate the author’s work and see how it can align with the company’s overall theme.
They edit the manuscript and communicate with the author to ensure it fits the company and its image.
There is no room for error when it comes to publishing a book.
A company’s entire reputation is on the line if a book is distributed with errors and mistakes.
That’s why companies hire freelance or in-house copy editors to double and even triple-check a manuscript and correct any errors.
These errors may include punctuation, grammar, spelling, and headings.
Designers and illustrators
Designers assess a manuscript’s structure, typeface, and readability and make changes they see fit.
The most beautifully written, the impactful text will be less effective and fail to reach a broad audience if the book’s design is poor.
The designer also oversees the covers of the book.
Illustrators are required if the book needs images and illustrations. An illustrator is almost always needed for children’s books unless the author chooses to illustrate by themselves.
Production managers source a printer to print selected books.
They decide on POD (print-on-demand) or traditional hard print and how to do so within the company’s budget.
POD is a low-cost option, and many authors and publishers opt for it these days, given the popularity of e-books.
If it has been decided that a book will be printed traditionally, paper and other materials must be sourced and stay within the given budget.
Distributors are in charge of distributing a finished book to bookstores, libraries, and online retailers.
Larger companies such as Penguin Random House often have distribution warehouses, but companies also work with wholesalers and bookstore chains to get books on shelves.
Many publishers let readers, stores, and libraries discover new books by publishing catalogs and providing meta-data about their stock.
Many companies also hire salespeople to reach out to bookstores, libraries, etc. and show retail acquisition staff which books are popular and worth stocking.
Marketers are responsible for boosting public awareness about a new book.
A marketer publicly proclaims the book’s appeal, importance, and use.
Marketers effectively use ads, reviews, social media platforms, and the author’s qualities to promote the book and bolster sales.
Publishing companies, like other companies, hire accountants to keep track of sales, payments, budgets, and more.
They also track royalties and discount deals made with bookstores and other publishers.
The larger the company, the more work is involved in accountancy. Larger companies typically use digital systems to carry out these duties.
How to become a publisher
You don’t need to approach a traditional publishing house to get your work out there.
Self-publishing is a growing practice, and many first-time and seasoned authors choose to publish independently.
There is much more labor involved in self-publishing than the traditional approach, but the creative control in self-publishing is a central selling point for many authors.
If you decide to self-publish, you must take on all the roles customarily assumed by a traditional publishing house.
As mentioned, there is much more labor involved in self-publishing than traditional, but there is also greater satisfaction.
Taking the reins of your creation and following through to publication and distribution is an incredibly fulfilling experience and is also something that gets easier with time and practice.
Steps to self-publish your book
Publishing your own book means you don’t have to acquire and select manuscripts from a long list of submissions.
Still, you may have several book ideas, so you need to decide on one to publish.
You may want to have several books published at once out of excitement or for profit, but it’s wiser to do so one at a time, especially if you’re a first-time self-publisher.
1. Plan and schedule your workdays
Though more labor is involved in self-publishing, there is also more freedom.
You’re on your own schedule when you self-publish, which frees you from deadlines.
Still, it’s wise to create a consistent schedule and stick to it, rather than having no schedule and risking procrastination.
2. Edit your manuscript
The editing process can be laborious.
You can take on all the editing roles outlined earlier, but many self-publishing authors hire freelance editors.
Hiring an editor is not only a matter of reducing your workload. It’s beneficial to have a second or third eye to look at and assess the quality of your manuscript.
The beauty of hiring a freelance editor is that you still keep creative control, unlike the traditional publishing route in which the editorial staff influences your content.
3. Designing and illustrating the book
Unless you’re already a skilled designer, it’s wise to hire a designer for your book.
Again, feel free to take on this role yourself, but hiring a professional freelance designer means that you can relax knowing that this crucial aspect of your book, something that affects its level of success, is being taken care of by a professional,
Creative control is yours, and you can work with a designer to make your vision a reality.
Your manuscript is edited, designed (and illustrated if relevant and necessary). Now, you need a distributor.
Distribution is one of the main reasons why an author will approach a publishing house. It can be incredibly costly, especially if you want to print hard copies and distribute them to bookstores.
Instead of printing hard copies, many self-publishers opt for print-on-demand (POD) services. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform allows authors to select the POD option for distribution.
POD is incredibly cost-effective. A customer who wishes to purchase a hard copy of your book does not order an existing hard copy but instead chooses to have a digital copy printed and sent.
5. Sales and marketing
Another rather laborious aspect of self-publishing is sales and marketing.
Companies have sales and marketing teams that take care of the process, but as a self-publisher, you’ll need to market the book yourself.
This involves effectively using social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, interviews, book clubs, and school and library visits.
You can also hire a marketing agency to promote your book, at a cost, of course.
A publisher’s role is broad, so publishing companies hire a wealth of staff to oversee different aspects of the process.
In essence, a publishing company (or publishing house) is a go-to resource for getting your work published and on shelves without the hassle.
Still, working with a traditional publisher means handing over some of the creative aspects of the book’s creation.
Self-publishing means retaining complete creative control but also comes at a cost.
It’s possible to cover every aspect of publishing yourself, but each element needs to be taken care of professionally.
That’s why many self-publishers hire professional freelancers to collaborate on their books.
If you’re stumped between going the traditional publishing route or self-publishing, you may start by assessing the pros and cons based on the costs, creative freedom, and how much time you have. Either way, publishing your work is a legacy you can be proud of.