Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What Does It Take to Be a Publisher?

Publishers come in all sizes, from huge New York houses to one-man bands who form their own companies to “publish” one or two books. In between are what is called independent or “indy” publishers who cater to certain specialized niches. Assuming the big ones are well versed in their craft and the indy publishers are expanding their education through the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), I am going to focus on small, less experienced publishers.

Just saying you are a publisher is not enough to make you one. Most authors who decide to self-publish often have no idea what is involved in the process or what the requirements of the job are. To clear up any misunderstanding on this issue, the board of directors of IBPA drafted a checklist for publishers, posted it on its Website, and summarized it in an article in the IBPA newsletter. Added to that list are several important tasks suggested by author and self-publishing expert, Dan Poynter. Some are the responsibility of any publisher; others are implemented in concert with the author.

Technical Aspects

  • Have manuscript edited and copy edited by two different editors before it goes into design.
  • When the book is complete, send it out for review to peer reviewers. Take their critiques to heart and make changes.
  • Have page proofs proofread by a different editor.
  • Send out review copies of galleys to appropriate publications and reviewers. Mark them as Reader’s Copies. (Don’t send a printed book.)
  • Secure an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and an EAN bar code from R.R. Bowker.
  • Apply to the U.S. Copyright Office for a copyright.
  • Develop a business plan with a budget,
  • Create a contract that spells out what the author does and what the publisher does.
  • Deal with appropriate, industry-related vendors.

Printing & Distribution

  • Get competitive quotes from printers (Be sure they are all bidding on the same specs), and choose the one that best meets your author’s needs, including, but not limited to, price.
  • Research all options on digital printers, POD companies, and offset printers (for more than 1,000 book).
  • Decide how you want to handle storage and distribution. You can do both if you have room and time, but choosing a professional distributor and fulfillment house may be a better alternative. (LightningSource, which deals only with publishers, is owned by Ingram, which is the largest distributor in the country. Most POD companies print and send books when they are ordered. Larger print orders usually require a distributor and fulfillment services.)
  • Go over the printed books with a fine-tooth comb for appearance, quality, pages, printing—in short, everything. Don’t settle for less than perfect. The author assumes final responsibility by signing the printer’s release form.


  • Write a marketing plan. In its simplest form, a marketing plan starts with an overall goal for what you want to accomplish, strategies for how you plan to do it, and specific tactics or actions you will take, with target dates and estimated costs.
  • Create a promotional piece, bookmark, or brochure.
  • Put together two mailing lists—one for regular mail and one for e-mail. You should already have one, but this is the time to hone and add to it.
  • Develop a Website before the book is published to build an author platform and interest in the book.
  • Create a blog to build interest for the book’s topic and keep readers informed of the author’s progress.
  • Request testimonials to include in the book, on the cover, and in promotional materials.
  • Do a promotional mailing to snail-mail and e-mail lists to announce publication of the book.
  • Set up a “media room” on your Website so that media people can find the information they need in a form they can use.
  • Encourage author to write articles on the book’s subject; submit to print publications and on-line article sites. There are countless such sites, but the undisputed leader of the pack is
  • Explain to author that book promotion as an ongoing, full-time job. The more promotion, the more successful the book will be.
  • Work with author to develop fresh ways to repackage the content; develop “spin-off” products (CD, DVD, reports, mini-books, Podcasts, eBooks, Website content).

There are many books and Websites on publishing and self-publishing. This list covers the basics. As a publisher, you should work closely with your authors to produce a quality book and let the world know it exists.