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EXCLUSIVE: Book Publishing Roles Made Simple

Advice, Creative Arts & Design, English, Languages & Cultural Studies, General advice, Marketing & PR, Media & Communications, Media & Creative July 31, 2008

EXCLUSIVE: Book Publishing Roles Made Simple

REAL WORLD ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Book Publishing Roles Made Simple

Whichever area of Book Publishing you choose to work in, you will need an understanding of how other departments function – bringing a book to market is a collaborative process. By Hannah Davies.

The role of the commissioning editor is to acquire books for their imprint. Depending on the area of publishing, this may involve assessing and bidding for manuscripts, or commissioning writers to produce a book on a particular subject, or a combination of both. A good understanding of the demands of the market is essential, as are creative flair and an eye for detail. Desk editors take the manuscript through the design and editing process. Editing a manuscript has many stages, from suggesting structural changes to checking for grammatical mistakes. Editors often need to liaise with different departments, from Marketing and Sales to Design.

Designers are responsible for the aesthetics of the book. This includes the selection of the font, the use and positioning of illustrations and photographs, and cover design. Knowledge of relevant computer programmes, such as InDesign and Photoshop, is crucial, as is visual creative ability.

The Production Department transforms bundles of manuscripts, photographs and illustrations into books. This involves liaising with printers to get quotes and schedules, sourcing and purchasing paper and other necessary materials, arranging typesetting, providing advance proofs to the Sales and Publicity Departments and, fundamentally, getting the books printed and bound. Key considerations include quality control, costs and timings. Production roles suit organised individuals with good negotiation abilities and strong technical skills.

Why would a publishing house put all this effort into creating and printing a book if nobody reads it? The Publicity Department is there to get the word out, working with the media to generate the best possible press coverage. Publicists have bulging contacts books and are excellent at targeting the right publications for each title. Publicists are also expected to organise and attend author events such as book launches and in-store signings, so people skills are a must. Writing ability is important, as you will be expected to produce sparkling and persuasive press releases. The Marketing Department creates advertising campaigns that ensure the books reach their audience, using everything from TV ads to profiles on social networking sites. Marketing involves working closely with Publicity, Sales and Editorial to develop and distribute promotional material.

The public are clamouring to read your fabulous new book; the Sales Department’s role is to make sure they can buy it. Book sales aren’t confined to High Street bookshops and online retailers. Every retailer, from supermarkets to gift shops, is a potential outlet. The process of selling to non-traditional retailers is often referred to within the industry as Special Sales. It’s also worth looking at Export Sales, which involves selling books to markets in other countries, for example, for English teaching purposes. Obviously, sales skills are a must, from negotiating to people skills, but the most successful candidates will be creative and flexible in their approach.

As a member of the Rights Department, your job is to generate as much income as possible from each book. This covers everything from film rights, serialisations in newspapers and merchandising to selling to book clubs. Many Rights roles involve maximising international potential. This involves selling publishers in other countries a licence to publish your books in their own language, either as a royalty deal, whereby they print the books themselves, or as a co-edition, which means you will provide the finished copies. Perks of the job include international travel and attendance at book fairs. You’ll need good negotiating skills and curiosity about different publishing markets. Foreign languages are a bonus but are by no means essential.

The literary agent represents the author’s work, which mainly involves selling the manuscript to publishing houses but can also involve negotiating film and television deals. Agents earn commission on the deals they organise for their clients. The role can be a mixture of editorial – reading and selecting unsolicited manuscripts – and sales.

Larger publishing houses have separate Contracts Departments, whose role is to draw up (you guessed it) author contracts as well as agreements for sales deals. In smaller companies, editors and sales people may be expected to write their own contracts.

There are an increasing number of hybrid roles advertised – such as Production Editorial Assistant – which involve a combination of the responsibilities above.

If you’re keen to get into the industry, don’t overlook positions in Human Resources and IT, or temp jobs. The important thing is to get your foot in the door and make some contacts.

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