Publishing House Tour

Welcome to a brand new series debuting here today on Three Houses Press: The Ins and Outs of Publishing. We at Three Houses Press had a meeting a while ago and collectively realized that to outsiders, or even semi-outsiders, the publishing industry is kind of…wild. It is an intricate business, and one that often does not run like the outside world expects it to (i.e. it is s l o w in a world that expects things now, now, now.) 

So, we’ve decided to break things down a bit. At the end of every month for the near future, you can expect an article that will help you better understand this crazy business we find ourselves in. 

Let’s dive in, shall we? 

As this is the beginning of the series, we’ll start with a very broad overview. There are many different kinds of publishers—traditional, independent, commercial, big, small, self, academic, hybrid…basically, you name it and there is probably someone publishing that way. For the beginning of this series, we will mostly be focusing on traditional, larger publishing but we will eventually get to the other means of publishing as well (so stay tuned!!) 

In publishing, you will hear the phrase The Big Five (formerly the big six). They are Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin Random House (which used to operate separately, as Penguin and Random House, but joined forces in 2013). It is important to note that it actually goes quite a bit further than this—Hachette is fully owned by the French conglomerate Lagardère Group, while as of December 2019 Penguin Random House is controlled by the German conglomerate Bertelsmann. Think of it a bit like Procter & Gamble, a corporation that owns other enormous companies such as Gillette, Oral-B, Olay, and Mr. Clean. Beneath many of the big houses are divisions and smaller companies, or imprints, that work like teams within the larger group to publish more targeted works. So if you were to ink a deal with Anchor Books, you would actually be under the roof of Penguin Random House—Anchor is an imprint of Knopf Doubleday, who are in turn a division of Penguin Random House. A bit convoluted, eh? 

Rather than exploring the entirety of Simon & Schuster, for example, we will just discuss the inner workings of say a mid-size imprint. Remember, this is truly an overview. We will be going in depth about each department and role as the series goes on. 

Starting at the top, we have the President, or the COO. Working with the Vice President, they will oversee everything and make important decisions for the entire imprint. Then there are many people underneath the president in the following categories: Financial, Editorial, Production, Sales, Marketing/Publicity, Rights, and Legal. 

In the Editorial department, there are then the following chains of command: Publisher, Editor-in-Chief, Senior Editor, Editor, Associate Editor, Editorial Assistant. In some houses, there are also Acquisition editors, who work with Literary Agents to acquire the manuscript to the house in the first place. 

Over in Production you would find the Production Manager, Designers, Purchasing Manager, Project Managers, Production Controllers, and Copy Editors. 

For Marketing, there are Marketing and Publicity Directors and occasionally Assistant Directors. Next you would have Marketing and Publicity Managers, Associates, and Coordinators. At small to midsize publishers, the marketing department is generally also home to the public relations department and press officers focused on corporate communications. At larger publishers, PR is generally handled at the corporate level for all divisions and imprints. Marketing works closely with Sales, and though sometimes people mash the two together, though they do very different things.

While Sales may seem like a cut and dry department–their job is to sell books–the sales staff at a midsize imprint can be rather complex. Due to the various sales channels, most sales positions are market-focused. For example, most publishers will have a Director of National Accounts, Director of Special Markets and Proprietary Sales, and Director of Library/Educational Sales all with a sales manager, sales associate or sales assistant reporting to them. There is also a Director of Field Sales (independent bookstores) with a sales assistant and a team of either in-house field reps or commission field reps reporting to them.

Rights are those who work to find what else can be done with a novel—when it will be an ebook, in paperback form, sold in other countries/foreign languages, etc. They also look into things like optioning television/movie rights. Legal is involved in this, and also in the contracts the house makes with its authors. 

Finance ties it all together, with a CFO and loads of accountants who work out things like how much money should be given to a particular title in way of marketing, and how much Profit & Loss should be expected. 

With all of this going on, you can start to see why it might take so long to get a book published from start to finish. One department might make a start on something and then have to check with another, who disagrees or says no, making the first department start over again. Before a book makes it into your hands, hundreds of people have worked hard to get it to you. Next time you hold a novel in your hands, take a moment to appreciate how many people worked to get it there, and this upcoming series will help you understand that so much more.