Different publishing roles

There are many different roles in traditional publishing. So, today, I’ll be sharing brief descriptions about the main ones that are connected with book production (I’m leaving out financial, marketing, distribution, and sales, as they’re quite a lot to tackle on their own and I’m more focused on the books themselves). Keep in mind that different types of publishers (academic, scientific, literary) may include more roles, different steps in the process, and varying deadlines. Plus, depending on the size of the publishing house, one person may carry out the activities of two different roles (or something to that end). I’m also generalizing the overall process and the extent of the responsibilities of the different roles involved.

For starters, there’s the writer. There are different types of writers (like ghostwriters), but I’ll get into that in another post. The gist of it is, the writer… writes. A novel, a story, a novella, a script, etc. Writers may hire an editor or a proofreader (on a freelance basis, basically), to get the manuscript as polished as possible, given that it’d be pretty challenging to find an agent with an unfinished text, or one that has plot holes or grammar or spelling mistakes.

Then, the writer gets representation from an agent, someone who knows the business side of publishing, who can see how the market’s changing, who networks a lot and who manages to sell the writer’s manuscript to a publishing house. Different kinds of rights are also negotiated by the agent or agency (for example, to adapt a manuscript into a TV show or movie).

Among the various ways of getting a manuscript into a publishing house, an agent is the most common, while there have been success stories related to slush piles. The publishing house’s readers tackle the slush pile, reading manuscripts that are sent directly by the author, without representation. If a manuscript is liked by different readers, it’s taken to an editor or to a commissioning editor.

The literary agent does that, with a specific editor and publishing house in mind.

The commissioning editor knows the odds and ends of the market and is basically the one who decides whether to buy the manuscript or not.

Then there’s the editor who works with the agent and the writer on the manuscript. Changes may be suggested or asked for, until the final version is agreed upon.

The designers then come in to work on the interior of the book and on the cover. While the writer may voice their opinion, more often than not the final design is up to the publishing house (and it should be, in my opinion).

Other matters to consider when it comes to traditional publishing and the professionals involved: negotiating print numbers, distribution to different booksellers or selling points, promotions, discounts, publishing dates, getting reviews, possible public appearances by the writer, book clubs (especially famous ones), and a few more things.

So, as you can see, the traditional publishing model involves many different roles that cover diverse areas of expertise. Isn’t it just great? (Yes, I love all things book-related.)

Moira Daly

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