Oftentimes authors are quite confused about what exactly each person does in the publishing process. There are so many people involved in developing and promoting a book that it is easy to get overwhelmed by the many functions and responsibilities of each department. To help make it easier, here’s a quick breakdown of the general jobs in publishing and how each one functions.
If pursuing a traditional publishing deal, the author must first secure an agent. The agent serves two roles. One, the agent acts as a gatekeeper for publishers, vetting books for quality and marketability and sorting through the many authors vying for a publishing deal. Two, the agent is the author’s representative in the negotiation process for securing the book deal. The agent’s job is to get the best deal possible for the author and to sell author’s rights in a way that is most beneficial (e.g., the agent may recommend selling subsidiary and film rights separately). In exchange, the agent takes 10 to 15 percent of all payments made to the author in advances and royalties.
The publisher is the person who actually produces the physical book. Inside a publishing house the author will work with a variety of people:
- Editor: The editor helps polish the manuscript and makes sure it is free of typos, grammatical errors, and other mistakes.
- Designer: The designer works on both the cover design and the interior layout for the book (some house separate these functions out).
- Print buyer: The print buyer works with vendors to secure the best deal on printing services. Traditionally published authors may not deal with this person directly (but trust us, they’re there).
- Production associate: This person works as the puppet master, making sure all the pieces of the publishing process flow into place on time and on budget.
- Distribution team: Depending on the publishing route you take, you may work with an in-house distributor or a third party, but in either case the distributor is responsible for getting your book into internal and bookseller systems and making it available to wholesalers and retailers.
- Marketing team: Each publisher has a marketing team that works with the trade to drum up interest among corporate buyers, indie bookstores, libraries, schools, and some specialty stores. They may also help with securing some reviews and advertising, but again this depends on the publisher.
Some publishing houses have a staff publicist, but for the most part authors will need to hire their own publicist to help secure media coverage, interviews, reviews, and other coverage to help create demand for the book. Some publicists work online and may also schedule and coordinate events, provide media training, and schedule speaking opportunities. While the publisher works with the bookstores and the author connects directly with the reader, the publicist’s job is to work with the media—all three parties aiming to drive book sales.
Authors nowadays must wear many hats, including “writer,” “entrepreneur,” “marketer,” and “ringmaster.” You are largely responsible for serving as the producer of content and as the face of your brand as an author. You are the driving force behind your platform and are ultimately what attracts people to your book. As mentioned above, it’s your job to connect directly with readers, and you should be doing this in as many ways as possible—through social media, speaking, and other platform-building activities.
As you can see, it takes many people to take a book from idea to the bookstore. There are additional functions depending on the publisher, but overall this is the core staff for any book that ends up in a reader’s hands.
Shennandoah Diaz is the Business Development Assistant at Greenleaf Book Group, a publisher and distributor supporting independent authors and small presses. Diaz develops educational materials for authors in addition to managing Greenleaf’s social media, writing case studies and white papers on the publishing industry, and coordinating Austin Publishing University.