Inside the Publishing House

The world of publishing extends far beyond just literary agents and authors. Within the industry, a variety of departments work together to ensure that every book sails as smoothly as possible from acquisition to publication. Some of the sides of publishing are visible to authors and some happen behind the scenes. This post will teach you a little about what your manuscript will go through on its journey to the bookstore shelf.


Every publishing house is structured slightly differently, so the below description of departments is only general. However, having even a general understanding of the layout of a publishing house can help you as an author to understand the industry better and be prepared for your journey towards publication. Your agent will help you through the process, as will the in-house staff, but the question is: what really does go into the publication process?


The department that most people know about and associate with publishing is the editorial department. Nowadays, these editors do more work acquiring manuscripts for the house than actually editing (as in “copy editing,” “line editing,” or “developmental editing”), but many people outside the industry are not familiar with this distinction.

Most editorial jobs in big publishing houses belong to people called acquisitions editors and their editorial assistants. They are responsible for sifting through submissions by literary agents (and sometimes unagented authors) for gold and presenting their findings to the rest of the house to make a case for acquiring particular manuscripts.

Once an acquisitions editor finds a manuscript he or she likes, the next step is to calculate a profit-and-loss statement, or P&L. This document estimates the value of the manuscript and its potential profitability for the house after all expenses are paid. After this document is drawn up, the editor takes his or her findings to an editorial meeting where members from all of the departments in the house sit down to decide whether or not to acquire particular manuscripts.

If there is a consensus to acquire the book, the editor then begins the process of negotiating with the author and agent for an advance and other contractual details. When all of the legal hoops have been jumped through, the editor then works with the author on any changes the manuscript needs and then shepherds it through the rest of the publication process.


An important part of the P&L is the budget that the house will allocate to a particular title for marketing and publicity. These departments are responsible for getting the word out about the book and drumming up excitement prior to and after publication.

In-house marketing efforts usually follow plans laid out and budgeted for well before publication. These efforts could include paid advertisements, swag associated with the book (like bookmarks, tote bags, posters, keychains, and many other examples), book store displays, and other paid attempts to garner attention for the book.

Publicity is largely unpaid attention that the houses’ publicists earn through concerted publicity efforts. These efforts could include book reviews (earned after mailing pre-publication copies to reviewers, also called galleys or advanced reader copies/ARCs), interviews on TV or radio, social media efforts, or book tours, amongst others.

You are more than welcome (and usually encouraged!) to do your own publicity as well and grow your platform before and after publication. Sometimes your in-house publicity and marketing team will like to know what efforts you’re pursuing so that you don’t overlap in your media outlets.


What will your book actually look and feel like when it’s been published? Another important part of the editorial team’s P&L statement is estimating the cost for printing the books. The production specifications for each book are different, but they include:

  • Trim size (6” x 9” is the standard measurement, but some books deviate from that)
  • Number of pages (a book with 200 pages is likely to be cheaper to print than one with 500)
  • Type of paper or stock used (How thick is the paper? Is it coated with anything or just matte?)
  • Presence of photographs or drawings (especially any that require a different type of stock)
  • Binding on the book’s spine (especially important for gift books or activity books with spiral-binding, flexible binding, etc.)
  • Cover finish (Does it have a glossy sheen? Is the text raised or textured? Etc.)
  • And many more, depending on the particular book

All of these factors determine how your book will look and feel on the shelf. Of course, the other important element to this department is the design team that will create the cover of the book, the layout of the pages, and other visual elements. These teams—production and design—are both very creative and important to the process, despite many consumers never considering them when they think of “publishing” as an industry.

Contracts & Rights

Behind the scenes from an author’s point of view are the contracts rights departments of the publishing house. However, these departments are incredibly important to the success of a book and the ease of an author’s publishing experience.

Of course, the contracts department focuses heavily on both author contracts and contributor contracts. As an author, you will interact with this department tangentially when you first sign on with a publishing house. The contracts department keeps records of the agreements you have with the publisher so that you can assure your relationship with the house meets the criteria laid out in your contract.

The rights department of the house sometimes also deals with royalties and writes the check to authors’ agents to be distributed when a book is selling well and has made back its advance. However, more than that, the rights department consists of three main branches: domestic, international, and subsidiary rights.

These branches have the responsibility of selling and licensing the rights of your book around the country and the world, depending on the agreement you made with the publisher in your contract. Sometimes authors choose to retain certain rights (Say you only signed away the rights to your book in the English language; you and your agent could then sell the foreign language rights elsewhere on your own.), but any that they do not retain are managed by the in-house rights teams.

Domestic and international rights can include a variety of permissions, including (but not limited to): foreign language rights, territory rights, paperback rights, audiobook rights, e-book rights, reprint rights, accessible-text rights, movie rights, and many others. Subsidiary rights are the rights to create products based off of an author’s book. These might include toys, games, or fashion items—the list goes on and on.

The rights teams for domestic, international, and subsidiary rights can greatly increase an author’s profits if they do their jobs well. Being able to sell and license rights helps to gain a wider audience and more sales.

Sales & Distribution

After a manuscript has been acquired, edited, designed, and produced, as well as gone through marketing and publicity campaigns, it’s time for the sales force to get the book to market. Prior to publication, the sales representatives visit book stores and discuss the upcoming titles with the store’s book buyer. If the buyer thinks a particular book will sell well at the store, the buyer purchases it and tries to sell it through.

Most publishing houses work with distribution warehouses and wholesalers around the country to make sure that bookstores are stocked with enough copies of each title so that they can be available quickly for interested customers. Booksellers at bookstores are the final step towards getting a book into a reader’s hands. Hence, supporting those bookstores is very important to the industry.

Author Input

For the most part, authors don’t have input within the departments listed above. The main exception is editorial, where the author has a relationship with a particular editor. In addition, authors can sometimes have sway with the publicity department if they are willing to contribute their own efforts or have ideas of how to garner more attention for the book.

Production and design frequently operate outside of an author’s realm of interaction with the publishing house. Occasionally, authors will be allowed to give feedback on cover designs for their books, but other than that, these two departments rarely interact with authors.

The same goes for the rights departments in the house. Of course, authors decide contractually which rights to grant to the publisher to sell or license elsewhere, and authors always have access to their contracts, but they don’t have a say in the rights department’s decisions.

Finally, authors might know the general sales regions or outlets that a particular house usually sells to, but the sales team works independently of any interaction with the authors.

Agent Responsibilities

Literary agents are responsible for shepherding authors through the publication process. They have more thorough contact with the different departments of the publishing house. If an author has a question about any of the departments or the plans surrounding his or her book, the agent may be the best person to ask to get an answer. Additionally, the editor who works alongside the author could help.

Agents handle negotiations with the publishing house about the author’s contract (including monetary advance and royalties), the marketing and publicity plans and goals, and the granting of rights. In general, they also have a better understanding of the publishing process and can help clarify things for the author.

A publishing house has many moving parts that help authors books go from manuscript to bookstore shelf. Understanding the basics of the industry can help you be more confident through the process. This is just a general overview, but I hope you find it valuable.

As always, if you have questions, tweet me or comment below!


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