In large companies, employees have pretty specific jobs: legal, sales, production, etc. In small businesses, there are just a few people who wear many hats, and we have to find a way to fit so many tasks into a week. The past year, I’ve been working with a few colleagues on some webinars designed to assist fellow small publishers in selecting tools and methods to optimize their publishing process. Working on this made us try to lay out the process from start to finish, and I found it quite fascinating to see it all laid out. When I tell friends that I’m a publisher, they say “Cool! Wait, what does that actually mean – like, what do you do?” I kind of laugh and say, “Well, I make books!” And inevitably, they say, “Yeah, but what does that entail?” So for anyone who has asked, or is thinking of asking, here is the publishing process and some of the jobs it entails:
Project Evaluation: Let’s talk first about acquisition and project evaluation. For me, I evaluate projects based on my own bandwidth and profit and loss. I publish both fiction and poetry and each requires different levels and types of input, so I plan based on that. For my bandwidth, it’s about 12 titles per year. I used to just evaluate titles individually on their own merit, but I realized that if I did that, I might pass on some higher risk, but more fun projects. So now, I use a very detailed profit and loss spreadsheet that groups titles to figure out what the season will look like as a whole. I acquire based on my gut, and how well the author or agent is able to present the title. I then consult with my distributor to discuss each project’s merits and how it fits in with my year.
Contracts: Once I’ve figured out that I want to go for a certain title, it’s time to get the author a contract. I used to use something I cobbled together from samples I found off the internet or borrowed from a fellow publisher. But when I realized I wanted to make my business scalable, my life easier and my books safer, I used a publishing lawyer to put together standard publishing agreements. Historically, I didn’t use any sort of contract management tool and when it came to issuing terms, I would just kind of wing it for each one. However, now I use a specific tool to help me manage contracts.
Product Development: This is by far the biggest part of the process. It involves all the aspects of making a physical/digital book like cover design, editing, proofreading, typesetting, and ebook coding. Most editing is done by professional editors I work with, but most design is done by yours truly. It’s actually one of my favorite jobs (I find typesetting strangely zen). This stage also includes figuring out SEO, metadata, and developing a marketing plan. With a large majority of sales moving online, good metadata management is very important. Metadata is all the data about the book – from title to keywords. I used to use variety of spreadsheets and databases I had built here, but a little over a year ago I moved to using specific title management software that holds all the data and assets and feeds those out to my distributor, who then feeds them out to stores.
Sales & Distribution: Everything until now could and was done on my own for 5 years. But I would be missing a huge part of my particular story if I didn’t mention one of the biggest tools that helped me grow my business by a quantum leap – my distributor, IPG. Traditional distribution opened up opportunities I didn’t even know existed and it’s because of it that my books are listed nearly everywhere. So, I do everything here in my office and when the book is ready to be printed, I send it to my awesome printer, who then ships everything to IPG in Chicago. They handle all aspects of sales, warehousing and distribution/shipping, so I don’t need to be involved in this at all. I provide the sales team with the best assets I can to help them sell into stores. I also work with their marketing team to develop and marketing materials like sell sheets, online or social assets, offering giveaways or bonuses to stores. Once the book is at the warehouse, I only need to make sure I have enough inventory to fulfill demand, which is something that I analyze here regularly. I also work with a rights agent who helps sell our books to overseas publishers and audio producers.
Royalties: After a book is published, the relationship with the author changes from active creation to monitoring sales. This is done via quarterly royalty statements. And again, this used to be done via spreadsheets and exporting to emails, but now I use a specific royalty management tool to aggregate sales from all sources and send out statements and payments on a quarterly basis. Post
Publication: You would kind of think that once a book is published, the work is done, right? Nope. I am constantly monitoring and changing metadata, providing updates to the authors, looking for other marketing opportunities like BookBubs, following up on trade reviews, and managing inventory and supply. I am currently working with a marketing consultant on boosting our backlist, and finding more opportunities to leverage those books in the marketplace.
Well, that was quite a long post! But I hope it’s given you a bit more insight into the publishing process and an overview of the tasks that publishers like myself take on in making a book.