Understanding the Publisher’s Role in Book Publishing


This week I begin a series on publishing to share all aspects of publishing with writers who have finished writing their stories and have decided to take the next step into either traditional publishing or self-publishing.

Publishing is a Business

When I first started writing and I landed my first publishing contract, I was so excited! I would be a published author and I was on my way to the amazing life of writing books for a living. I imagined my days spent creating characters and stories and never having to work at a job I didn’t like. I was clueless.

You can imagine that that’s not the way it worked out at all.

The first thing I learned was that my goal did not align with the publisher’s goal.

Publishers are interested selling books and making money. They are not in the business of printing books. They are not in the business of building author careers. If that happens as a byproduct, they are happy, but it’s not their goal.

If a book does not do well in the market, it just doesn’t sell for whatever reason, most publishers will not offer the writer a new contract. That always seemed odd to me. They already invested in that author, so why not build that author up and keep trying, especially if the writing and stories were good. Publishers don’t do that. They move on to a different new writer, hoping that something in the new author’s voice, personality, story angle will catch the reader’s attention.

They are also interested in writers who do their own promotion and take control of their writing career. In tomorrow’s blog, I will share more about the writer’s role in this process, but for now, know that a publishing house wants writers who have a platform and are actively marketing themselves, not just their books.

Creating the Books

The creating of books is the first step of the process and this is where authors get to participate. If publishers did not have willing and eager writers practically begging to be published, publishers would not a product to sell.

Once the books are written, however, the writer who is writing for a traditional publisher (it doesn’t matter if it’s for a large house or a smaller press) the publisher takes over the creation of the book.

Editors edit and ask for revisions, copyeditors clean up the language if it needs it, the design team formats the manuscript, the cover designers create the art for the covers. Then when it’s finished the book is prepared into the formats for sale: print books, ebooks, and sometimes audio books.

Distribution of Books into Bookstores

Since the goal of publishers is to make money with the sales of books, distribution of books and fulfillment of book orders is a major step in this process and this comes next.

How do the books get to the bookstore? This will depend on the type of publishing house. The large, mega-publishers have their own sales force who will sell to the major vendors and wholesalers. A major vendor for example is Amazon. The publisher will have their own agreement with Amazon, providing them with a discount for selling the book, usually 40–50%. Wholesalers like Ingram supply books to brick and mortar bookstores.

Smaller publishers who do not have a their own sales force or maybe a small one, use distributors to sell the books to various vendors.

Not all books get the same attention. Publishers and distributors will push books that seem to have more potential. Sometimes this means that if a celebrity writes a book, vendors will want hundreds or thousands of copies and decide they do not want to carry any books from a new, untested author.

Marketing and Promoting Books

This is the final job of a publisher. They’ve already pre-sold many books to distributors and key accounts. They know how many books will be requested and they print the number of books they expect to sell.

Publishers have a marketing team and though they do help all authors, not every author gets the same attention. When I was with Hachette, I was assigned a great publicist. He scheduled interviews for me, got reviews for my book, asked me to do guest blogging. But the publisher will not spend a lot of money to promote a new author’s book.

Their marketing dollars go for books that might not need a lot of promotion. Again, celebrities or best-selling authors tend to get the ads in magazines or billboards. These books have the highest chance of doing well because the author is well known so it’s worth it to the publisher to put some money behind the author.

Other Publisher Functions

Aside from those three functions of creating, distributing and sell/marketing books, publishers have no other interests.

Part of making money is exploiting all possible revenue streams from the acquisition of books. Larger publishers will have a subsidiary rights department that will attempt to sell foreign rights, TV rights, etc. and get more money that just printing. Publishers will usually reserve the right to do this in the contract they have with the author. If the publisher does not sell these rights, the author can no do so on his or her own if the rights have been reserved by the publisher.

They also control the content that is released. With their decision of what they will buy and what they will not buy, they contribute to the culture and literacy of the country and the world. For example, if a writer writes a book set in a time period or a setting that is not popular or believed to sell well, publishers will not buy the book. This can limit readers exposure to certain things. So, though publishers’ only function to move books into reader’s hands, they do hold some interesting power in regard to content.

Have a story to tell? Want to learn how to record personal experiences before they’re lost or write a novel? Let started by downloading for free Julia Amante’s “Free Your Story” framework.

Women’s Fiction author of That Was Then, Say You’ll Be Mine, and Evenings at the Argentine Club. Speaker and and teacher. https://www.facebook.com/juliaamante/

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