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What do Book Publishers do Anyway?

In this blog post we’re going to look at what on earth book publishers do anyway. If you’ve written something that could be made into a book (or catalogue or magazine) and distributed, you might be looking for a publisher or even thinking about going it alone but what exactly to publishers do?

This will change a little depending on the type of publisher. Mainstream or big budget publishers certainly have a lot more money to throw at getting your book distributed, sold and read but it doesn’t mean they do a lot more in terms of quantity. Usually having deeper pockets just means that they can be super effective at these things, which is a big advantage of publishing this way. If you want to get paperbacks in the airport and big posters in the street all on the first day of publication then this is maybe for you.

Riches may or may not be forthcoming in the form of publishing advances and mega-sales, though this isn’t guaranteed. Publishing with smaller presses will usually be a much slower burn because they just don’t have the deep pockets or influence. This doesn’t mean that longer term you can’t have great reach with your book though. In all cases, authors have to do a lot of work on promoting their titles these days.

So here’s a brief breakdown of what a publisher does. Essentially the main thing to remember, and a reason to publish with someone, is the publisher bears the financial risk of getting your book set up all through the print process down to it being manufactured and distributed.

Print is expensive, as is access to some of the expertise you might need to put a book together and so a publisher will front this all with the hopeless expectation of never getting any of their money back. If a book sells, maybe you both make some money but the publisher is the one taking the risks by paying for things upfront.

After this, there are a few other things needed to get a book out there that publishers do.

  • Editing and proofreading is an exhaustive process and usually involved different professional editors as well as proofreaders.

  • The cover design and all other necessary artwork is usually part of the general book design and might involve a specific professional illustrator as well as book designer.

  • General book design and graphic design for how it all looks also might involve a book designer as well as graphic designers who know how to format books for different print methods and formats.

  • Printing the book can be done in a number of ways and is a huge expense in book publishing, which only seems to have gone up a lot in recent years, but a publisher will arrange for this and front the costs.

  • Distribution might be one of the single hardest things to do without established distribution channels and this is also something a publisher will arrange, with the big publishers having much deeper pockets and more corporate relationships to facilitate this.

  • After distribution, in terms of expense, comes marketing and promotion, which may include advertising and this is something that again the big publishers can throw more money at.

  • ·  Accounting including handling sales and royalties is also something a publisher will do, so that if your book sells well enough to generate royalties you can sit back and wait for the money.

  • Long-term effort is put in by publishers who handle many titles and also work with longer-term forecasting on titles.


If you want to self-publish or do something similar then to some extent you will be handling all of the above yourself. As mentioned, with different resource levels, the above things might be harder or easier and also take different periods of time.

Even with mainstream publishing, authors will usually be very involved in the workload, but it will be less at the business and product end and more where promotion is concerned.

There are obviously lots of types of publishing and you can engage with different types depending on your projects. For example, many authors who have published with a mainstream route have their own blog or podcast. You might make a zine for an easy self-publishing project but go mainstream when it comes to publishing your romance trilogy that spans over 50 years and 1000 pages. It doesn’t have to be just one, so you could evaluate the checklist of publishing functions above against each project and see which is the most suitable for what you have in mind.

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