Understanding the Book Publishing Process

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Authors unfamiliar with the book publishing industry can sometimes stumble on the path to publication by not understanding the definitions and roles of people in editing, production, distribution, and sales. By having clarity on the function and purpose of service companies and freelancers, authors can be smarter about hiring the right help.

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Book Editing

Editorial help falls into three broad categories:

  • Development and content editing (often leading to revision and big-picture changes)
  • Line editing and copyediting (which helps shape the material on a sentence level)
  • Proofreading

Editing processes should always start at the top and work down. You do big-picture editing and revision first, followed by line editing or copyediting, and then end with a final proofread to catch typos and obvious errors. 

We cannot emphasize this enough: not all editors are alike, and not all types of editing should be done at the same time, on the same pass. For the highest quality book, authors should plan to hire editorial help at all three stages.

Book Design and Production

Most authors need these book design and production functions fulfilled:

You can rarely find a single designer who specializes in print book design, ebook production, and website design. Usually, you’ll need one designer to handle the print book (and sometimes even two—one for the cover and one for the interior). If your ebook requires complex formatting or design elements, you may need to hire a specialist to assist. Then either you or a designer will need to translate or incorporate your book design into your website and digital media promotional materials (such as your social media profiles). 

Book Distribution and Sales

This is where a great deal of confusion occurs. Most self-published authors cannot—even if they want to—hire sales help. There are few retailers or sales outlets that will accept a meeting to discuss a single book from a single author, especially if that book is self-published. Retailers meet with representatives from major publishing houses to consider the entire fall or spring list to make the meeting worth their time, not just one book.

However, indie authors can get book distribution services that equal the distribution of traditionally published titles. By using IngramSpark, for example, authors can make their books available to retailers around the world at little or no cost. But it’s up to the author to build market awareness and demand for their book that would cause retailers to place orders for the book. A book can be well-distributed but sell poorly because there is little or no marketing effort. This brings us to the last category.

Book Marketing and Publicity

There are many types of book marketing and publicity help, leading to the most confusion as to what investment to make. “Marketing and publicity” is an umbrella term for very different activities, including:

Product Optimization

Inbound Book Marketing (Online)

Industry-Focused Book Marketing

  • Review campaigns: sending review copies to professionals or readers who might review your book; possibly paying for professional reviews
  • Advertising: Getting visibility to librarians, booksellers, book clubs, and others who work in the book publishing industry

Getting Media Attention or Book Publicity

  • Approaching influencers to talk about your book, interview you, or host you at their site or blog
  • Pitching traditional media outlets: TV, radio, print
  • Pitching online media outlets

Launch and Post-Publication Book Marketing

  • Setting up events or speaking at events (conferences, signings, shows)
  • Deciding when to have discounts or giveaways after launch
  • Evaluating the news cycle and identifying ways to pitch the media again on your book

An author may be able to hire a marketer or publicist who can put together a big-picture plan that encompasses all of these areas and more, but sometimes a budget can only sustain efforts in a couple of them. The most critical areas for laying the groundwork for long-term success are product optimization and a strong author website. All other efforts typically do better when those things are at an A+ level. 

Before any author hires help—especially if they’re new to the industry—they should list the very specific goals they hope to achieve and try to match those goals with a professional who has experience in those goals. 


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Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She’s the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential publishing industry newsletter for authors, and the former publisher of Writer’s Digest. A frequent speaker at writing conferences, she has delivered keynotes on the future of authorship at the San Francisco Writers Conference, The Muse & The Marketplace, and HippoCamp, among others. She has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (2017).