It Takes a Village


I hear an awful lot about self-publishing these days.  For some, it works great, like those who have a solid platform and built-in audience, especially if they excel at writing, revising, copyediting, designing covers and lay-out, marketing and all those other things that go along with successful publication.  But who among us is talented enough to do all that =and= find time to write?

There was a great op ed piece in The Huffington Post a couple of days ago by Phillip Goldberg on “Who Needs Publishers?  We All Do!” I’d like to add my two cents with a list of all the people who  contribute to the success of a book and what they do, because it really does take a village.

Agent: Your agent is your champion, your first sounding board for ideas, and your first editor—beyond a critique partner or group.  I could do a whole post on what agents do (what any of these people do, actually), but in brief: an agent helps you hone your ideas,  keeps abreast of trends, pitches and submits your work, negotiates deals, vets and haggles contracts, exploits subsidiary rights and generally acts as your business manager and go-between with the publisher, especially when the going gets tough.

Editor: Editors are indispensible.  They make you look good, catch things that you can’t see, call you on things you’re hoping no one will notice and make suggestions for improvement.  They’re also your point people for dealing with the rest of the company and most of the others on this list, though you will have some direct contact, especially with publicity and a few other peeps.  At some houses, you might have more than one editor.  A different person might do the line edit or continuity edit. Good editors help you achieve your vision rather than impose their own.

Contracts Department: After the editor makes an offer and the author and agent accept, the deal memo is off to the contracts department to draw up the agreement between all parties.  It’s now down to the agent and contracts department to iron out any additional bumps in the road and come up with a mutually acceptable document to be signed and abided by.

Managing Editor: A managing editor does a lot of coordinating efforts and trafficking manuscript materials, sending it out to copyeditors, making sure covers in a series are consistant, getting books ready for publication….

Copy Editor: Copyeditors are your last line of defense against typos, misplaced commas, run-on and nonsensical sentences, etc.

Copywriter: You know the teaser copy on the back of paperbacks and inside the cover flap of hardcovers?  You know who writes it?  Well, in some cases it’s the author or editor, but more often, it’s a copywriter.  It’s a special skill.  If you’ve ever tried to sum up your own work in a paragraph or two, you’ll appreciate exactly what I mean.

Art director: The art director hires artists and works with cover designers to  develop the look of your book.

Artist: Artists are commissioned by publishers to create an original piece for a book cover, though often these days, covers are developed from stock photography manipulated for your enjoyment.

Production Department: Estimates the cost of printing and deals directly with the printers and the nitty-gritty details of actually getting books produced.

Publicity: The publicity department at the publisher sends your work out for reviews, does press releases, sets up tours, pitches you for interviews, and various other things that go into publicizing your work.

Marketing: The marketing department arranges and designs ads and other promotion, which comes out of their budget.

Subrights Department: The subsidiary rights department submits work and negotiates deals for any rights external to print publication rights that are granted to the publisher and not exploited in-house.  For example, publishers often hold onto book club rights, and any arrangement for book club publication will be made via the subrights department.

Sales: Sales is in charge of marketing the books to retailers and the ID markets.

Bookstore reps: Individuals who liaise with booksellers within  their territories.

Booksellers: How would we live without booksellers?  Knowledgeable and enthusiastic booksellers can hand-sell your books, assure prominent placement (although often prime placement is paid for by the publishers), and really help spread the word.

Librarians: How many of your favorite authors have you discovered at your local library, maybe at the suggestion of a helpful librarian?

And, finally, we would be absolutely nowhere without the readers, but in order for the books to get into their hands, it takes a village, a very wonderful community of book people and promoters all working together.


18 comments to It Takes a Village

  • Lucienne, this was great! Yesterday, Scion (commenter on MW)found a self-published book and read part of it, noting how poor it was and how much it needed, not just an editor, but an entire pubilshing village.

    Admission: I did not know what a copywriter did! I’ve always worked directly with my editor on this. You *larned me somethin’*.

  • Great list, Lucienne. The one thing I would add is that copyeditors — good ones at least — will also catch inconsistencies in your work. If you say on page 67 that a character has blue eyes, and then change that to brown eyes on page 543, a good copyeditor will alert you to the issue with a query and ask you which one is right. Same with worldbuilding or plotting discrepancies. A good copyeditor is worth his or her weight in gold-pressed latinum….

    The same can be said for a good agent. And Lucienne is a very, very, very good agent.

  • Thank you Lucienne for the great post. Like anything else that is consumed by the masses there is a process. Even small independent films have a crew and a cast. Rarely is anything a one-person show.

    Occasionally, my curiosity gets the better of me and I’ll follow a link to a chapter of someone anonymous person’s self-published novel and wonder if this will be the one that is different–and so far, they’ve all been pretty dreadful. I can see a good idea underneath at times, but the rest of it can be so painful.

    These self-published novels(at least the few I’ve peeked at) definitely needed a village.

  • Leigh Caron

    Hey, Lucienne! Lori & Tony said to say, “Hey!” I’m here by way of their FB suggestion to check out this blog today because you’re guest blogging. Great post. Also, great blog. Hope many unpub’d authors take your words to heart. I for one will. Don’t want to be another village idiot.

  • Refreshing post. It does seem to contradict the common comment ‘even with a traditional publisher, you are on your own for marketing’. From everything else I’ve read, the actual publisher adds value in the print market by providing the distribution connection.

    It is not true that all self publishers finish the first draft and throw up their book with cover. A lot of them work with critique groups and editors to polish their books before launching them.

  • Hi Lucienne! Thank you for this post. I’ve been reading so much about the wave of authors/agents going to self-publishing or e-publishing, it’s sometimes hard to recognize all the back-office value that traditional publishers add to the creation of a beautiful book. I recently reviewed a self-published book for a friend, and while the underlying idea was great, there were a number of areas that could have used help from an editor, copy-editor, and copywriter.

    However, what do you see as the future of publishing? Is there any move by publishers to offer services a la carte for those authors that want to handle their own art direction, marketing, publicity, etc.?

  • Lucienne Diver

    Hey, all, thanks for stopping by and for your kind words. (And, David, you make me blush .) I’ve added a couple of things, like the all-important contracts department above.

    Megan, there are companies now that offer a la carte services for authors. I guess the point I’m making above is that a mainstream publishing contract comes not only with an advance, but a village…so they pay you =and= everyone associated with making your book a success. It’s certainly possible to do things on your own and pay others to do whatever you can’t, but it’s an expensive proposition, and brick and mortar stores are very loathe to shelve or arrange events for self-published works. That said, it appears that on-line venues are taking quite a bit of the market share away from physical shops, so this may be mute at some point in the future (not any time soon, I hope!). I think that publishing will change and evolve along with the new landscape, but I can’t see a time in which publishers’ roles will change much from acquiring and aiding in the success of new and established authors.

  • Thanks, Lucienne, for another wonderful post I’m sure our readers will gain much from. Thought I should add that besides brick-and-mortar stores, another group loathe to deal with self-pubbed books is reviewers. For several years, I reviewed books for a few magazines and though I started out trying to read the self-pubbed stuff, they were all so bad that I eventually decided I was wasting my time. I know there’s good stuff hidden in there but it’s near-impossible to find. As much as we writers complain about the “gate-keepers”, man-o-man, do we readers need them!

  • Thanks, Lucienne. Excellent take on the process books go through before publication (or don’t, in the case of self-pubbed books). There’s a lot of work represented here that all goes to improving the overall quality of the finished book.

  • Thanks Lucienne! I appreciate the insight!

  • Young_Writer

    Thanks, Lucienne! I’ll admit to not knowing about Art Managers, Managing Editors, and Book reps. Hehe. Thanks again for your time and insights.

  • Are there any editors at major publishing houses who do their traditional job anymore? By evidence of the horrible, bloated prose and illogical, hole-filled plots that get published in the SFF field, it seems as though there is nobody in the role of – you know – actually doing anything to improve an author’s text.

  • Lucienne Diver

    While it’s true that some editors seem to send things straight through to copyediting, most editors I know are very serious about their jobs. I can’t speak to the plot holes, but one person’s idea of “horrible, bloated prose” is another person’s idea of perfection. Just like with any art, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Lucienne,

    This was a great reminder about why NOT to self-publish. Every so often I wonder if I should “give up” and try that route … but the fact that it would be giving up, in a sense, is exactly why I shouldn’t.

    One thing I’ve been wondering about: I often hear the tale that “Well, there isn’t much budget to market this book” for books that have just come out or are about to, so some of the marketing *does* fall to the author. Are there any taboos? For example, I think of all the websites that I spend time at (mostly online comics) and they often have advertising slots, usually extremely-reasonably-priced through Project Wonderful. If, hypothetically, I was to find out that the publisher didn’t intend to spend much on my book, would I be allowed (if I wanted) to invest a little? Or is that something that is just not done?

  • Lucienne Diver

    Moira, That’s a great question. It’s always good to coordinate through your publisher to make sure that you’re not duplicating efforts or stepping on any toes, but there’s a TON that author’s can do to aid in their self-promotion. The Knight Agency’s Publicity/Promotions Manager, Jia Gayles, did a guest blog on this topic here a bit ago: . You can also check out the article on my blog here: .

  • Sarah

    Moira – I think you hit the nail on the head with the phrase “give up.” The more I talk to self-published people, the more it seems that they have, consciously or not, given up on improving/succeeding as writers. Whether their attitude toward traditional publishing is hostile and defensive or sad and defeated, a thread of “I give up. I’ll never be a real writer, so I might as well pay just to see myself in print,” runs through their comments. A colleague of mine recently went this route and it saddened me because he is an amazingly talented poet. But he was just worn down by rejections. And he didn’t want to take editor’s suggestions for changes. Like I said, this guy is very, very talented. But he gave up. That’s what keeps me out of the self publishing websites – I may not make it to pro status as a writer, but I’m too (#$#$# stubborn to admit defeat. (And I know I have a lot of work left to do before I have any right to cry about how hard the industry is.)

  • I would like to start up a new business for publishers. It is called self-writing. An publisher desperate to publish a particular type of novel can pay me to send them their own writing. They can pay extra to get their friends writing too. Finally a way to do away with authors! Editors can be free!

  • […] Lucienne Diver had on her blog yesterday a great post on all the different people who contribute to the success of a book and what they do. I thought it’d give you pre-published writers out there a preview of all the people […]