I am often asked, “What does a book publisher do?” when introducing myself professionally. For many people, who see the finished product on the shelves of local bookstores, department stores, or web retailers, the process is a mystery.
Publishing is the process of production; making information available to the general public. Traditionally, the term refers to the distribution of printed works such as books and newspapers. A book publisher takes a manuscript from a Word document to retail readiness – steps along the way include; acquisition, copyediting, graphic design, marketing/distribution, and sales.
Acquisition is the act of sourcing new material for the purpose of production. Depending on the press, acquisitions are either solicited or unsolicited. Submissions sent directly to a publisher are referred to as unsolicited submissions, and the majority come from unpublished authors. Many book publishing companies prefer to solicit their works and maintain a strict “no unsolicited submissions” policy. These companies generally will only accept submissions through literary agents they have on staff or have a close working relationship with. Solicited manuscripts are commissioned by the publisher directly from an author they are interested in. This type of agreement is “I like your work, and have an idea for x,y,z, can we work together to produce something?”
Once a manuscript is acquired, the work toward retail readiness begins with copy editing. This involves improving the overall quality of the piece. Through both, grammatical and story editing, the company will work with the author and an on staff editor to make the structural changes that bring the project to completion.
Graphic design involves the look and feel of the book. This process prepares the work for printing. The type of book being produced determines the amount of design required. Through processes such as cover composition (or dust jacket composition in the case of hardcover works), typesetting, specification of paper quality, binding method and casing the final look is achieved.
As the behind the scenes work of creating a book is being completed, the marketing process begins. The publishing company will begin to inform the public about the book with their customers to build early interest. They often produce posters, flyers, create awareness online and draft advanced information sheets that may be sent to customers to gauge possible sales. Once the novel has been completed and printed, the publisher will reach out to its customer base again to make them aware.
Lastly, the final stage is making the book available to customers, usually by offering it for sale and having it readily available for order fulfillment. This brings the publishing journey to an end; taking an ordinary Word document directly to the hands of an author’s fan base.