A publisher is the person who oversees the team of people needed to take your manuscript and transform it into that glossy, eye-catching best-selling book that sits proudly in the window of the bookshop. The publisher brings together all the skills needed, and all the distinctive elements that come together to make a book. Just as a film director gathers his skilled team from cameramen to make-up professionals, publishers bring together their team from proofreaders to marketing specialists to ensure that the stories that start off as a home-printed document become a complete, high-quality book.
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What Is a Publisher?
A publisher is the captain of the ship. They have overall command, and ensure that the vision that they see is realised. Publishers are constantly on the lookout for stories. They see potential in the manuscripts that land on their desks, and they understand what readers like to read, what current trends are popular, and what will sell. They know where to market your book about reformed vampires turning vegetarian or your book about how to parent an autistic child, and they ensure that everything is done to make each book sell to its full potential. They have to assemble an impressively diverse team and manage them to create a finished book. It is a highly skilled profession that is very rewarding. Publishing is a very competitive industry, and the people that make it will have been chosen from a large field of applicants. If you are working with a publisher, you can rest assured that your book is in the hands of someone who cares deeply about working with you and your book to make it the very best that it can be.
The Work of the Publisher
A publisher is a professional who creates a book from an author’s manuscript. This process involves many steps, indeed it often takes around a year to turn a manuscript into the book that you see for sale on the shelves of the bookshop. From the initial reading of the manuscript, a publisher will then begin work on the book, starting with editing and proofreading. From here the book needs to be designed, and formatted, it needs an incredible cover. Finally, the book needs to be distributed and marketed. Publishers are responsible for all these steps, and making sure that the professionals that deal with each section of the process are doing what is needed. They hold the vision for the book and make sure that it is achieved. We are focusing on the work done by publishers in publishing houses, such as Random House, but the term publisher can apply to magazines or other forms of the written word, not just books.
Working with Authors
Much of the work done by publishers involves working with authors. Publishers agree on contracts with authors and their agents. Publishers work with authors throughout the publishing process. Often publishers will have a team of professionals, and they will carefully choose the best person to work with each author. We are all different, and we all get on with different people. Good publishers are skilled with people and will be able to match people together to get the best results.
Editing a book is a many-layered process. An editor will look at the overall content of the book and may suggest changes to improve the story, and the potline, or add another dimension to a character. A copy editor will make changes to the book regarding word choice, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. A proofreader will read the complete book, looking for any errors or mistakes. Each of these jobs is highly skilled, whilst they can be done by the same person, they cannot be done at the same time. As each element is a distinctive step.
Production and Distribution
Production is the art of making the book, from designing the cover to formatting the pages. Once the book has been produced, then it needs to be distributed, which is another skilled profession, making sure that all the elements of distribution come together to send the book out across the country.
Marketing and Promotion to Sell
And after all those steps have taken place, then the book needs to sell. Successful marketing and promotion of a book will make sure that the right people will see the book, and that they will be drawn to pick it up and ultimately buy it. Again, these are highly skilled jobs, which need experienced professionals to optimise sales.
Responsibilities of the Publishing House
Given the number of steps required in producing a book, it is easy to see why publishing is a skilled profession, with a high level of responsibility. Publishers receive hundreds and thousands of manuscripts. They need to choose which ones are the best, and which ones are worth the lengthy process of producing a complete book. If they decide correctly, they will have a bestseller on their hands, but if they get it wrong… Once you understand the complexities of the process, you can see why big publishing houses like to deal with authors they are sure they can sell, and why it can be so hard to get your novel published. Smaller publishing houses may be more likely to take a gamble on a new author. Publishers need to bring together all the steps of the publishing process to transform the printed manuscript that lands on their desk into a bestseller on the shelves.
Types of Publishers
There are different types of publishers, and they all have their own specialisms.
- Trade publishers – these are your standard bricks-and-mortar publishers. Publishers work with authors to produce their books, which end up on the shelves of bookshops and supermarkets.
- Academic publishers – these focus on academic books and textbooks which are produced for school or university students, often based on the current syllabus.
- Professional publishers – these publishers produce books for professional bodies such as accountants or lawyers. These often contain high quantities of data and are nowadays mainly online so that the information can be updated in a timely manner.
- Independent publishers – also known as indie publishers, these are smaller publishing houses that can typically specialise in niche sectors or certain genres. They operate similarly to mainstream publishers, just on a smaller scale.
- Self-publishing – which enables more people to share their stories with the world. Self-publishers offer the same level of expertise to their authors as traditional publishing houses, but it can be easier to get your book published through self-publishing.
The Required Skills
Obviously, you must love books and reading! Primarily, you need to have a good nose for a story and be able to spot the gem of a potentially brilliant book amongst the thousands of manuscripts that you receive. Good organisational skills, creative thinking, the ability to work within a team, and being a respected manager, and leader, are all skills that good publishers should have. You need to have an excellent project management approach to bring together all the strands that make a book come together.
Challenges Faced by Publishers
Many of the people who work with publishers are creatives. Creatives need to be managed to ensure that they meet targets, and work to deadlines. Authors can be difficult to deal with, they can be possessive about their work, and resistant to changes. Publishers bring together professionals who need to work with each other. Handling teams such as these can be tricky and requires tact and good people skills. Publishers also need to watch the book market closely, looking for trends and other books that are being released onto the market. Keeping abreast of consumers’ habits, such as their buying patterns, can be complex and challenging.
Future of Publishing
Despite the wealth of other forms of entertainment available to us, the humble book is still as popular as ever. A book can be used without electricity, and without Wi-Fi, it can be enjoyed for brief moments during the day, or indulgent evenings on the sofa. A book is portable and affordable, and a book can be borrowed for free from your local library. Humans have been sharing stories since the dawn of time, originally out loud around campfires, and then as we have developed, stories have been written down so that they can be passed on. Despite everything, the book is still popular, and around 200 million books are sold in a year. As long as people want a book to read, which they do, the future of publishing looks set to continue.
It should also be remembered that many of the most popular movies and TV series started with a book.