jeudi 14 décembre 2006

The publishing process in a nutshell

vary according to the size of
publishing company involved, but the following
twenty stages are fairly typical of most companies.
Manuscripts are submitted by authors and
agents to the editorial department for
consideration for publication.
Some are rejected instantly, others are
discussed at editorial meetings.
In-house or external readers will read and
report on the merits of the manuscript.
If the reader’s report is positive, the sales
department will be consulted regarding
the book’s selling potential.
Many factors are taken into account when
comparing manuscripts shortlisted for
An offer to publish may then be made,
usually with a view to printing the book a
year or two from that date.
This gives enough time for the editor to
work on the manuscript, suggesting
rewrites, re-structuring and correcting
Meanwhile a designer will work on a cover
The publicist will request a photo and
biographical information from the author
to help create the press release.
Other editors will write a blurb for the
book’s jacket and will register an ISBN
from which a bar code can be generated
for the back cover.
The sales department will create an
Advance Information (AI) sheet consisting
of the cover design, the ISBN, the title
and author details, the blurb, and the
book’s price, dimensions, binding, release
date and selling points.
This AI sheet will be duplicated for the
sales reps to take into bookshops in order
to achieve advance orders.
The company website will be updated to
include details of the forthcoming book,
and an entry will be included in its next
printed catalogue.
All of the book information will be
submitted to the publisher’s warehousing
company and to the industry databases
from which Amazon and high street shops
obtain their computer book data.
A small number of uncorrected ‘proof’
copies of the book may be quickly typeset
and printed some months ahead of the
publication date and sent to key reviewers
and book trade buyers.
The book will be typeset.
A final proofread is done.
The book is sent to the printing presses.
A month or so later it arrives in the
warehouse with a few weeks to spare
before it is delivered to the shops.
In the couple of weeks following the
publication date the publicist will attempt
to get the author interviewed as widely
as possible.
After that, there is little the publisher can do. The
book has to make its own way in the harsh world
of retail bookselling. The publisher has given it a
strong push, but doesn’t have the resources to
keep pushing it forever. After all, there are other
books coming along which need its attention.
If a publisher releases fifty titles a year, that’s about
one per week going through its system. Every
person working on that book must get their job
done in less than forty hours, otherwise they’ll fall
behind schedule. That’s why as an author it’s
important to be realistic about what a publisher
will be able to do for you after the book is printed.
You will only be the number one priority for forty
working hours!
The most senior editor is usually the
commissioning editor. The choice of which
books a company should publish is crucial to its
success, so that role tends to be reserved for
experienced individuals. Editors nurture
relationships with authors and agents, sometimes
working with the same authors for many years.
Editors work on manuscripts through various
stages. Initially there may be structural editing,
involving the rearrangement of the order of
chapters or the elimination or addition of an
entire theme. Usually suggestions are made and
the author carries out the actual restructuring,
but sometimes the editor will do the work.
Following the structural edit comes the copy edit,
in which the text is examined at a closer level.
An editor may recommend rephrasing of
paragraphs with repetitive vocabulary, for
instance, or they may identify inconsistencies of
style. Zooming in still closer the editor finally
comes to the proofreading stage. This often
happens after the typesetting of the book has been
completed, enabling them to spot layout errors
as well as spelling and grammatical errors that
have slipped through the net.
The sales department consists of a sales manager
and teams of national and international sales
representatives. The sales manager will ensure
the reps on the road are kept supplied with up-
to-date sales literature and samples, and may also
visit the head offices of key accounts such as
wholesalers and major bookshop chains. The
reps themselves visit individual shops and other
head offices to show the buyers what is coming
out in the next few months and to take orders.
The orders are then sent to the warehouse to be
entered into a computerised invoicing system.
Long before the publisher sends the book to be
printed they know the number of orders already
achieved and can adjust their print run
Normally the number of advance orders
will be multiplied by at least three to take
account of late arriving orders and
reorders from shops where the initial
stocks of the book sell through quickly.
Publishers aim to print about six to twelve
months’ worth of stock at a time.
Warehousing and distribution
Publishers normally employ third party
distributors to handle their book storage,
invoicing and despatch. This tends to be more
cost effective than doing it themselves because
distributors can take advantage of lower postage
costs by bundling orders from various publishers
into the same box to be delivered to a bookshop.
So when books are printed only a small quantity
of them is actually seen by the publishers: the
rest are delivered into a warehouse many miles
away from their offices.
Selling a new title into the bookshops is only
halfway to making a genuine sale because unsold
stock will be returned for credit. The best way to
avoid returns is to make sure the public hears
about the book and makes the effort to visit the
bookshop specifically to buy that title. Publishers
employ in-house or freelance publicists to liase
with press, radio and television media in order
to get coverage for the book or the author in the
form of reviews, competitions, interviews, news
stories, extracts or features. The process begins
with a press release that is posted or e-mailed to
suitable recipients, and may be followed by a
launch party and schmoozing lunches. Don’t
assume all new books are celebrated by launch
parties, though. It usually doesn’t benefit sales
very much, so unless you’re prepared to fund and
organise it yourself the chances of your first
published book having the honour of a launch
party are only slightly better than the odds of
getting published in the first place.
The design department has the crucial task of
typesetting attractive pages, creating irresistible
covers, designing trade catalogues, adverts,
leaflets, posters and press releases. This work is
sometimes outsourced to freelancers or design
companies. The success of a book product hangs
almost entirely on its design. Over-eager authors
have been known to put pressure on their
publishers to use their own artwork despite its
inappropriateness for the market. Publishers, too,
make mistakes in the design of their book covers.
It’s an art, not a science, and it’s very easy to get
the look of a book so wrong that it doesn’t sell.
Publishers appreciate ideas for cover designs from
authors, and it’s useful when the writer provides
quality photos or artwork that can be used on
the front cover, but ultimately the publisher must
decide whether it is in everyone’s best interests
to use those materials or not.
Authors who receive royalties for their books will
be sent statements of sales either annually or
every six months. In larger publishing houses
there will be a department that deals with these
reports and their subsequent payments. Editors
and owners of smaller publishers tend to work
out the royalties themselves. Most contracts will
state that the publisher is obliged to pay any
royalties within three months of the statement
date. My publishing company always tries to pay
royalties with the statement, which usually means
the author receives their money more than two
months early. But I’m aware of other companies
(which I won’t name) where the unofficial policy
has been to prepare a royalty statement only when
the author chases it.
Keep a note in your diary as to when the
statement is due and don’t be afraid to chase late
payments. It’s also vital to keep the publisher
informed when you change your address because
royalties often get sent to the wrong place.
Publishers have two ways of earning money from
books. One way is to sell copies of the book,
either printed or electronic, and the other way is
to sell rights. The kinds of rights that are
commonly sold are translation, large print,
extract, serial, film options, and overseas English
language. No physical product has to be
produced by the publisher when these rights are
sold, so their profit margin per transaction is high
and that is why the author usually receives a
higher percentage of the income than they do
for the sales of the printed book.
What happens to the books?
It’s not quite as simple as saying that all the copies
printed will be sold and the author will receive
some money for every one. Let’s say an author is
told by their publisher that 3,000 copies of their
book will be printed. How many copies are likely
to be available for sale?
The following numbers are typical of what could
• For technical reasons the printer is not obliged to
deliver the correct amount – it can vary by about 5%
up or down, and in this instance only 2,900 books are
• The publicist will send 50 copies to reviewers.
• The sales manager will send 30 copies to key bookshop
• The author will receive 10 free copies.
• The sales reps (let’s say 8 of them) will each have 3
copies to show off to the bookshops.
• The rights manager will send 30 copies to publishers
in other countries who may be interested in buying
translation or territorial rights and will keep 20 copies
available to take to book fairs.
• The publisher will also keep a small stack of 20 copies
of the book in their office just in case they receive
enquiries from other reviewers or potential customers
in the months after publication.
• 10 copies will be damaged in transit or in storage.
• 6 copies will be bound incorrectly by the printer.
That amounts to 200 copies that are not available
for sale, plus the 100 copies that the printer
delivered short, which comes to 300 copies in
So in this example, 10% of the stated print run
never makes it onto the author’s royalty statement.
The percentage can be much higher if books are
lost, the warehouse is flooded, half of the print
run arrives with the covers bound upside-down,
or the publisher decides to spray free copies of
the book at every reviewer in the land. They, not
the author, own the books after all. The publisher
pays for the books and can give away as many as
they like. But they have the same interest as the
author in selling as many as possible, so however
many they give away it’s probably in the
expectation that the freebies will lead to extra sales.
What happens when a book stops selling?
Most publishing contracts permit the publisher
to remainder unsold books if they deem it
necessary, usually not less than two years after
the date of publication.
They will only do this if they consider your
book to be no longer commercially viable. Sales
will have dropped to about zero (or may even be
negative due to returns) and the cost of storing
the books will outweigh the income from them.
Remainder dealers buy this kind of ‘dead’ stock
at knock-down prices, often just token amounts
of money, and sell the books in discount book
stores. When this happens, authors are normally
entitled to purchase as many copies as they want
at the discounted remainder price.
If no buyer can be found for the stock then
the publisher will offer it to the author for free.
If the author is not excited at the prospect of
clogging up their house with dusty boxes of
unsaleable books then the publisher will arrange
for them to be pulped.
In the past, the sale of stock to a remainder
dealer or the pulping of every last copy meant
the end of the life of the book. But new
technology has created other options for books
at this stage of their life.
Print-on-demand means that a book is
officially available as far as Amazon and high
street bookshops are concerned, but the publisher
holds no stock at all. When an order arrives it is
automatically diverted to a specialist printer who
holds digital files for that book, from which they
can print and despatch one copy direct to the
This sounds so simple that you’d expect
publishers to do that automatically so that they
can do away with their warehousing expenses,
but unfortunately the cost of printing a single
copy of a book is many times more than the unit
cost of a print run of several thousand.
The other ways in which a book can continue to
live beyond its physical print run are as an eBook,
an audio book, or as an edition published in
another country.
Book fairs
Publishers get together at trade fairs to meet with
each other and agents to buy and sell book rights.
The London Book Fair, the Frankfurt Book Fair
and Book Expo America attract the highest
attendance, but there are also many others around
the world.
A publisher based in one country may choose
to sell the right to translate (if necessary) and sell
one of their books in another country. It’s possible
for a book published in one country to be sold to
a dozen or more publishers in other countries,
each of which will arrange their own translations.
Authors do well from foreign rights sales, usually
earning at least half of the net income received.
Book fairs are ideal opportunities to chat with
the smaller publishers and if you’re lucky you’ll
be able to pitch your book to them. But
publishers aren’t there to sign up new books –
they’re there to sell rights to their existing list
and they hate being cornered by an author who
talks for so long that a potential rights customer
walks away. So publishers are often wary of
catching the eye of any passing writer.
You may feel anonymous walking around a
busy book fair but actually it’s very easy
for a publisher to spot an author amongst
the suits. Apart from the fact that authors
have to wear a badge with their name and
the word ‘AUTHOR’ on it, they tend to
wear hats, carry small rucksacks and dress
in a way that is uniquely authorian.
Publishers have been known to pretend to
be in a meeting simply to avoid having to
talk to them.
At a recent London Book Fair one of my own
authors came up to me wearing a suit and a badge
with his company name on it, rather than his own
name. He told me it was easier to get to talk to
publishers when hiding behind a company name
(albeit the company consists solely of him)
because they prefer talking to perceived
professional business people rather than writers.
He wrote humorous books – I don’t think this
approach could be applied to weightier books like
novels. If you want to take advantage of trade fairs
to get useful networking time with publishers,
just remember three things: editors of larger
companies don’t always attend the fairs, so you
might not meet the right people; dress like a
publisher (smart, but not too smart); leave your
hat at home.
Creating a (fake) company to hide behind is
simple. Just call it something like YOUR NAME
LITERARY SERVICES and explain that you
write books to order. I know it’s silly, but for some
reason it can open more doors for you than
simply calling yourself an author.

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