The Publishing Process

Every publishing company acquires its books from similar sources, such as literary agents, direct commissions from editors to authors and, occasionally, from unsolicited proposals taken from what is known unceremoniously as the ‘slush pile’.

The commissioning editor finds a book from among his or her regular weekly reading, and makes a case for taking on a book at an ‘acquisitions meeting’, which is attended by all the other departments directly involved in publishing the book, including sales, marketing, publicity and rights. This in-house selection process then moves to the second stage which involves lively discussions, and the final decisions are determined from a mixture of commercial good sense (estimated sales figures, likely production costs and author’s track record) and taste; every company’s and every editor’s preferences are different.

The Commissioning Editor will draft an ‘advance information’ sheet, which is the earliest attempt to harness the excitement that led to the book contract being signed in the first place, and effectively rubber-stamp the acquired book with all the basic information required by the rest of the company, including the title, ISBN, format, extent (number of pages), price, rights holder, sales points, and appraisals of any previous books, short blurb and biographical notes. The initial pieces of copy that will be written about the book at this stage will be used as the template for all the others, such as a catalogue entry, jacket blurb or press release. In the case of non-fiction books, it also means considering whether illustrations, appendices, bibliography, notes and an index may be needed.

The copy-editing stage follows, which is designed to catch all the errors and inconsistencies in the submitted text from spelling and punctuation to facts, figures and tics of style. Once done, the author will be asked to answer any queries that may have arisen. When the commissioning editor, copy-editor and author are happy that the marked-up typescript is in the best possible shape, it is sent to the production department for design and typesetting.


By this time, the designers will have got to work on the book’s cover or jacket, and this is a crucial stage because almost all buying decisions are made before the book is printed. Until that time, the cover is the book, and it influences the trade buyers and is also one of the most important factors in encouraging customers to pick up the book and pay for it at the till.


When the final typescript is sent to the production department, it will draft a brief known as a ‘spec’ (type specification). This may be created for a series of books, which will give the latest volume the same look and feel as its predecessors, or for an individual book. While the typescript will usually be dispatched to an out-of-house typesetter to be turned into page proofs, the production manager, commissioning editor, and the designer, work to the binding materials and any embellishments, such as headband, coloured or printed endpapers. He or she will also decide the print run (based on advance sales and track record, if applicable) and place an order with the printer.


When the book has been typeset, the proofs normally shuttle back and forth in three stages:

The First proofs are read by the author and a proofreader. This is the last chance an author gets to make amendments.

The Second proofs, or ‘revises’, are checked against the collated first proofs and any last-minute queries are attended to, and at this time, an index (if required) it is compiled.

The Third proofs are changes to the ‘revises’ which, are checked against the second proofs and passed for press.

Going to press

Most publishing companies use and negotiate with only a few printers. A key role of the production department is to buy print at a rate that allows each tightly-budgeted book to make money and, just as importantly, to manage the supply of reprints so that the publisher’s warehouse is never short of stock.


‘Selling in’ in the home market (Britain and Ireland) is increasingly done by key account managers working with the chain buyers, as well as by a team of sales representatives. The reps visit bookshops in their designated area and try to achieve the sales targets set for each book. The number of copies sold pre-publication is known as the subscription sale, or ‘sub’.

Selling books effectively to bookshops, supermarkets, other retailers and Internet stores takes time and careful planning. The British and Irish book trade has developed in such a way that the sales cycle has extended to cover the best part of a year.

Many sales are also made in-house by phone, email and fax and the World Wide Web. Most publishers have their own websites and provide customers with the opportunity to buy their books either directly, or from another bookselling website.

Export sales are achieved using teams of international agents and reps run from in-house by the export sales department. Here format, discount, royalty rates, shipping, and exchange rates are the key components. The margins are much tighter and it requires a lot of skill and chutzpah to generate significant sales and then to maintain a successful international presence.


The marketing department is responsible for originating all the sales material, which is normally produced by in-house designers, and this includes catalogues, order forms, ‘blads’ (literally ‘book layout and design’ – illustrated sales material), ‘samplers’ (booklets containing tantalising extracts), posters, book proofs (bound reading proofs) and advertisements. Much of this work is now done through websites and social media such as ‘tweets’. The marketing team works alongside the sales department when dealing directly with the big bookshops on special promotions and selections that are now a common feature of the larger chains (‘Book of the Month’, ‘Buy one get one half price’, etc) and with eBook promotions via Amazon, Applestore, Kobo and others.

The department also prepares the advertising for the trade, such as the post-publication press advertising that, along with reviews and other publicity, entices customers into the shops to buy a particular book. It also organises the company sales conferences at which the new season’s publishing is presented for the first time to the sales reps and overseas agents. The run-up to the sales conference and the event itself is an exciting time and stimulates many of the best ideas on how to sell the new books.


The publicity department works with the author and the media on ‘free’ publicity with the emphasis on the ‘sell through’. This covers reviews, features, author interviews, bookshop readings and signings, festival appearances, book tours and radio and television interviews and so on. A campaign is devised by the publicity department for each author and their book that will play to the book’s or the author’s strengths. Best use will also be made of written features or radio interviews for authors who are shy in public, just as full advantage will be made of public appearances for those authors who thrive on the thrill of showmanship.

With thanks to: Scott Graham, Campaign Creator, Pauline Loroy, and Helen Coulman-McCrone.

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