On Publishing: The Dinner Party Spiel

This article about needing to explain the publishing process to the public gave me the nudge to write up something that explains how publishing actually works.
So I’ll write this with the assumption that I’m explaining it to someone I just met at a dinner party. See, I sometimes wander into situations where I’m asked what I do, and when I answer that I work in publishing, people aren’t entirely sure what I mean. This tends to happen at family mixer dinner parties a lot. So here it is. Publishing: the dinner party spiel.

There’s a variety of roles in the book business, which can be best understood by seeing a cycle a book goes through.

  • Editorial. This is where manuscripts are acquired and the book goes through the development and editing process. There’s different levels of editing: substantive editing, line editing, copy-editing, and proofreading. On the side, there’s also other fun stuff going on, such as cover and interior design, or indexing and fact-checking if the book is a non-fiction book.
  • Production. This department deals with the process of physically producing the book. Production works with the cover and interior designers to lay out pages and deals with the book’s material costs: the paper, printing, binding, and then the shipping. Production now also produces ebook files and checks them for quality.
  • Publicity. This department makes some serious (good) noise about the book and makes sure the author and the book are talked about in news and reviews. Publicity also makes arrangements for author tours and readings.
  • Marketing. Marketing for books is not that different from marketing for other products; you reach out to your target audience and make sure all every effort is made to maximize the book’s sales.
  • Sales. You guessed it: actually selling the book. Salespeople peddle the publisher’s catalog around to bookstores, libraries, and the like, convince them about how awesome the respective season’s titles are, take orders, and make sure orders are fulfilled.

Now, it’s totally fine if you totally forget all of the above as soon as you finish reading it. But what the readerly public really needs to be aware of is how publishing works (or doesn’t work) monetarily.

Apart from your Stephanie Meyers, Stephen Kings, Dan Browns, and Margaret Atwoods, most authors nowadays simply do not make that much money. Ideally, they shouldn’t be doing it for the money, but one can argue that it’s unfortunate that they can’t make a living just by writing.

Also, the set price you see on the book’s back cover is not at all inflated. Most publishers’ profit margins, especially nowadays in the post-recession, print-dying era, are razor-thin, and that’s assuming they do make a profit. The cost of the book is not just physical. There are also the costs associated with all the departments described above: editorial, marketing, and publicity.

In short: publishing is simply not something anyone gets into for the money. On some level everyone gets into it for the love of books. So the world really owes a lot to us. We could have gone and become brain surgeons or professional belly dancers or space engineers or imams or shaykhas, but no, we went for publishing so that you all can have something to read!

Where do I fit into all this madness? I’m happy with doing anything, really. But I especially love the editing process. And I’m very excited about ebooks and the potential they hold for making books so accessible. I’d love to get involved in anything digital, whether it be ebooks, different models for publishing (such as ebook only) or online marketing for books.

So that’s the dinner party spiel. I usually only give myself time to do an extremely condensed version of it, so going all out was quite satisfying.

Questions? Fire away! The comments section awaits you, as does my freshly pressed contact page.


2 thoughts on “On Publishing: The Dinner Party Spiel

  1. Pingback: On Publishing: The Coffee-With-a-Hopeful-Writer Spiel | A Muslimah Writes

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