a b o u t   FLP

by Nancy Stodart


Book Publishing : A Road to Form and Discovery

Publishing is the art, process, and business of bringing an idea or ideas to an audience in the form of a tool whose designated purpose is to entertain, or educate, inspire, challenge, transport, satirize, vilify or otherwise exert a specific effect or combination of effects. Books are one tool of publishing.

Initially, we acknowledge that this is no ordinary trade, although it is practiced by people no more intelligent than those engaged in other lines of business; its rewards are commercially trifling in relation to the work and shrewdness it calls into play; as an occupation it entails fully as much of the humdrum drudgery, the pettiness of detail, as is exhibited in any means of earning a living. But, it is distinguishable from others by the fact that its fundamental staple is ideas. In publishing, the intangible becomes tangible.

When engaging this magical process, we enter a curious atmosphere of idealism and commercial practicality. We understand that books have power and that the power of any given book is with us from the beginning but also goes far beyond any initial contact involved in its making—because the reader will use the idea(s) in the book for his own extension in life, and in doing so he transforms himself or the status quo of those around him.

Types of Publishers
University Presses
Professional or Special Interest Associations
Small Independent Publishers
Major Publishing Houses
Agencies such as UNESCO, the government

Publishers choose their titles based upon their particular interests, the audiences they have developed, estimated sales vs. expenses, and the ideas they cherish and feel are worthy.

University Presses may have academic subject specialties but may also include among their titles works that go outside their traditional lines. Commercial publishers may include in their budgets money for a title that they know will not pay for itself but feel that the material is important to the larger cultural good and needs to be in print. Publishing is thus a major contributor to political, ethical and social development as well as cultural change, personal development and enjoyment.

There is an adage: If you wish to learn about something, write a book on it. Some authors are wordsmiths and enjoy presenting their ideas with sentence structure, punctuation, paragraph development, pacing, etc. for creative and proficient meaning. Other authors prefer to get the idea down and have a wordsmith in the form of an editor or copy editor polish the text for them.

However, the author and wordsmith will engage together to ensure the author's meaning. The author is ultimately responsible for providing a clean manuscript initially, and a final, polished text that includes requests from the publisher—these are the words that become the Book. Illustrations are provided by the author unless agreed otherwise with the publisher.

Authors approach publishers either through a literary agent or directly by sending a query letter, synopsis, author bio, and two sample chapters. Today, much of this is done via email, but if the publisher or agent is not expecting your email and it gets lost, this can be tricky.

Once in dialog with a publisher, the author engages the business side of publishing and the support of a team whose goal is to make a book that carries the author's message and speaks to an audience.

Here, authors are often amazed to learn that there are multiple ways to present the same material and that any given publisher will choose one that they feel will work best for their house, sales operation and buyers. Hence, the same book taken to different publishers might indeed look different with various individualities.

"Positioning" is the term used for deciding a book's place among other titles. It is also the principle 'voice' of the book sitting on a table among others, as a readers approaches. Positioning gives Marketing/PR/Sales a place to begin in communicating the book to outlets, buyers, conferences, media, bookstore buyers. Positioning lets the bookstore buyer know if he already has 3 titles trying to accomplish the same task and whether this new title will work for him. What about it makes him happy to recommend it to his customers? Clear positioning helps the reader/buyer to find the book and meet his needs.

Authors will find that publishing houses have personalities. Some operate as well-oiled machines. Others operate offering guidance and encouragement while taking the book and author through its stages.

Steps In The Publishing Process

The steps below are given in a matter-of-fact way because every publishing venture includes most, if not all, of these steps, whether the publisher is a one-person house or a large publishing house with a staff of 100.

Acquisitions and Administration

1. Based on initial submission of material by the author or a recommendation by a house member, the author is asked to submit a manuscript. The manuscript is logged in and assigned to a house editor who is responsible for acknowledging to the author its arrival and giving a first indication of what will follow. The editor reads the manuscript for evaluation of style, suitability for the house list, and potential market. Frequently a manuscript is rejected outright after an editorial reading for any number of reasons and the author is informed. If the editor sees possibilities the manuscript may be sent outside for an expert's opinion.

2. The editorial board reviews the in-house editor's report and the outside reader's report. The outside reader provides not only a yes or no response but offers suggestions for revisions.

3. The manuscript and readers' reports go to the Production and Sales departments. A cost estimate is requested from Production to be based on Editor's suggested type of printing (print-on-demand or off-set giving first-run quantity, paperback or hardcover, trim size, b/w or color. The sales manager makes a marketing assessment usually based on more than one combination of price, discount and quantity, noting any special requirements. The promotion manager notes if any special promotional costs may be involved. These reports go to the editor.

4. Editor takes the cost estimate forms and completes a preliminary pricing analysis. All previous reviews by readers, cost estimates, expected initial sales are reviewed by the Editorial Board and a decision is made by the board to offer the author a contract to publish, pending the revision suggested by the readers. The Editor details the terms of the contract agreed upon by the Editorial Board and sends the forms to the press Director who prepares and signs the contracts, sends them to the Business Manager for second signature and the Business Manager forwards them to the Editor for negotiation with the author.

5. The Editor prepares and sends to the author a contract letter detailing conditions of publication, relevant portions of readers' reports and an Author Information Form.

6. Upon author acceptance of the terms of contract, the author informs the Editor that the requested revisions will be made and a final manuscript submitted on a given date.


1. The final manuscript, when received, is assigned to the Editor to prepare a physical inventory of the manuscript: to note any missing materials (illustrations, etc.) to determine any potential editorial or production problems, to prepare the manuscript for copyediting, and to make recommendations on print quantities, binding, price and preferred publication season. The author is contacted to obtain a date for receipt of final artwork and a freelance copy editor is contacted to prepare the manuscript based on detailed instructions.

2. When the copy returns from the freelance editor and the artwork arrives from the author, a house editor checks everything and prepares the front matter copy, running heads, ISBN number, Library of Congress application. This material, with a transmittal form and related cost analysis, description of book and proposed release date (previously determined by the Editorial Board in agreeing to publish), is sent to the Director for final analysis and approval of the production plan.

Production and Design

1. The Production and Design team takes the manuscript and prepares preliminary cost information at the early stages of consideration. This report usually includes trim size and recommendations that meet the house standards. Using the Editor's description of the book, statement of positioning and rationale for publishing as well as outside and in-house review reports, the production department establishes one or more mock-up designs for the book and meets with the Editor and Sales Director. The goal is to have a product that communicates the ideas of the book, supports the positioning statement, catches the eye of the audience and serves the requirements of the book trade. Based on this meeting, adjustments are made to a chosen design and plans go forward. The Editor shares the design and cover mock-ups with the author when the Editor has final copyedited text and design can provide a good visual representation of the book. The author provides advice regarding any adaptations needed to meet specific needs of the text. The cover remains the responsibility of the publisher, with author giving input but realizing that the cover is the publisher's domain.

2. First galley of the text goes to the Editor for in-house and author review. Changes from all reviewers are consolidated by the editor and returned to production for input.

3. Editor reviews revised text and may request another reviewer to look at it. When all revisions are complete the Editor provides sign-off on text. The Editor provides Production with cover copy and reviews final cover with author, sales and promotion directors. Requests for changes go to the Editor. Editor sends changes to production, reviews revisions and signs off on the final artwork.

Sales and Promotion

The sales and promotion teams are dependent upon the author for their success. Best strategies and promotion plans are tailored to meet goals they both have and can work together to achieve.

Sales and promotion use the author information sheet, the manuscript and editorial reports to determine goals and opportunities for bringing the book's attention to buyers.

Who are the buyers? Is this a book that will appear unique right away or one that will sell best through recommendation—"of all the books here, this is the one". Such questions result in strategies. If the book needs to sell via recommendation (because too expensive to bring it to a dispersed buying group) special incentives need to be offered to book sellers, associations, special interests,etc. for them to advise their buyers/clients that this is the book they should purchase. The goal is to get them to be your sales team.

How much support can author provide? Some authors have promotional time and want to engage the public. Others need training and opportunities that meet their work and personal needs. The promotional team will meet with the author to learn limits and opportunities, willingness, etc.

Promotion is often the reverse of book making. Production is the work of making the intangible tangible. Once the book is in hand, the art then sometimes shifts to talking about the intangible benefits of owning the book. So, some promotional materials will emphasize the very intangible ideas and benefits which inspired the author to begin his book. The process is a complete circle.

Some basic tools prepared by these two teams are: the book fact sheet, news release for print and electronic delivery, author interview question and answer sheet, book flyer for electronic and print use, web page, color post card. Distribution information and pricing is given on all literature. Quantity discounts are pre-determined and every communication invites queries for volume discounts. A name and email/phone contact included.

review copies with news release to list of reviewers
news release to magazine columnists, bloggers, newspapers, associations, subject-related outlets and professionals working in the subject arena
professional institutional mailings, phone follow-up for sales and coverage in newsletters, etc.
conferences, hand-outs
author book signings at local book stores
author tour?
Author lectures over an 18 month period. Where possible?
Media coverage: radio media and TV media kit (author prep and training can be part of this)


1. Book publishing might be considered the art of tool making: authors, editors, copy editors, graphic designers, art directors, sales teams, distributors, marketing directors are all involved.
2. Production: There is no single 'right' way to produce a book. There are many approaches based on personalities involved, resources available and purpose.
3. The same book can be 'positioned' a number of ways, so in deciding focus, emphasis, and design, the position chosen needs to be clear to the publishing team, author, promotion team. When promoting a book, the more angles to the position and ideas of a book, the greater opportunities for developing various reading audiences and thus giving a book a longer, broader promotional life.