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What does a Book Publisher do?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated Feb 03, 2024
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With the advent of print-on-demand services, many people are turning to self-publishing as a way to get their books published. The much higher commission of sales paid out makes it look like an attractive option, so why do most writers still try to find a traditional book publisher? What exactly is it that a book publisher does that makes them worth it?

Of course, the most obvious thing a book publisher does is to print your finished manuscript and bind it into a completed book. While print-on-demand services, and small printers might offer similar services, a book publisher has extensive experience with a wide variety of printing. They know how to make sure your book is printed the way it needs to be, working with their printers every step of the way to ensure the highest quality.

Long before the book gets to that point, however, the book publisher begins their work. If you’re writing non-fiction, as soon as your idea is accepted the publisher will assign an editor to begin working with you to make sure the book you write is as good as it can be. Depending on the publisher, this may extend to helping you get leads, putting you in contact with others in the field, or helping you negotiate travel arrangements. A publisher will also generally pay you an advance, which can help you cover the costs of your project, or help you take some time off from work to finish writing your manuscript. If you’re writing fiction, you’ll be assigned an editor when your manuscript is accepted, and the editor will help you shape the finished draft into something ready for publication.

A book publisher will also take care of all of the pre-press jobs that need to be done to ensure your book is released in the best possible form. They will work with a graphic designer to produce a cover for the book, with a number of editors to make sure it is free of typographic errors, an editor to help smooth the prose itself, a layout artist to build attractive and readable pages, and many other people. They will also have a legal department look over your book to make sure there are no potential legal pitfalls or rights that need to be acquired, and if there are they will help fix those problems or acquire the necessary rights.

All of this prepress work adds up to an amazing amount of man-hours, so that anyone self-publishing may find themselves swamped, or else wind up with a sub-par product. People with large enough budgets may find themselves in a position to subcontract out all of these various jobs to experts, but this can be a costly affair. And of course, arguably the most important job of the book publisher happens after the book is printed.

Publishers have connections throughout the book world that allow them to effectively market and sell your book in a way that no self-publisher can compete with. Larger publishers have massive marketing firms working for them, ensuring they can best position books they want to promote to get massive exposure. Huge distribution networks allow major publishers to get books out to both chain bookstores and independent bookstores, and large print runs can keep costs much, much lower than smaller printings, keeping the pricing much lower. In the end, self-publishing is an excellent choice for many writers who want to see their work in print, or who want to dedicate themselves to the many facets of book production and selling, but the book publisher remains a nearly-necessary ally for those who want their books to make it big.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon289404 — On Sep 04, 2012

As a writer, a future author and hopefully a future publisher, I found this article very comforting. I really want someone who can help with all the missing holes and provide assistance in helping my book go from a simple idea in my head, to pages on my laptop, to a book in my hands.

By stolaf23 — On Nov 08, 2010

@helene55, that is also the problem I see. As an aspiring writer, I know already that trying to publish your book can be a huge challenge. However, when I reach that stage in my writing process I want to know that I can find a book publishing service that can really cater to my work- by which I mean that can help edit, advertise, and altogether present my book so that the people who would enjoy it will have access to it and want to read it, and that it might even be able to appeal to less likely audiences who might still enjoy it if they knew something about it.

By helene55 — On Nov 08, 2010

The thing about print on demand book publishers, or any sort of self publishers, is that they are just not able to give the same advice to a neophyte writer that an experienced publisher can.

By anon120456 — On Oct 21, 2010

Great article. It answered my questions about what a book publisher does precisely and comprehensively. Thanks!

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