On the Publishing Process

I attended the Baker Publishing Group Sales Conference yesterday.

One of the perks for working for an indie bookstore that is owned by an indie publisher is that a few of us from the store get to sit in on these quarterly events. If you are scratching your head as to what a publishing sales conference is, let me start at the beginning.

An author writes a manuscript (okay, that isn’t the very beginning, but let’s start from there). The manuscript is submitted to an acquisitions editor at a publishing house. Sometimes manuscripts are submitted by authors, sometimes by agents, and sometimes they are requested from authors by publishers. Once the editor has the manuscript, he or she reads it. Of the many manuscripts that are read, only a few are selected to be presented at a pub-board meeting. Of the few presenting, fewer are approved by the pub-board. Those lucky few are given a good editing, cleaned up by the authors, and placed in the publishing queue. The art department starts designing the manuscript’s interior and cover. The marketing department starts getting to work on endorsements, reviews, ad placements, book tours, social media promotions, and print promotional materials. Once designed, the finished manuscript is sent off to the printer. The number printed is estimated by similar projects. All the bills are paid by the accounting office. Sales people sell the book into the retail channels (online retailers, big-box retailers, chain retailers, and indie retailers). The books are delivered to the publisher’s warehouse, where they are separated into the quantities ordered by the different retailers and shipped out by the publisher’s shipping department. The books find their homes in stores (etc.) where booksellers like me hope someone will pick them up off the shelf, read the back cover (written by a copywriter from the marketing department), and buy the book. The reader reads the book and lends it to his or her friends who all decide that they need a copy of their own. Books that don’t sell at retail are returned to the publisher and resold to select retailers (like the Bargain Books chains) to be sold as remainder copies for a fraction of the original price. Once all book sales are tabulated for a given time, royalty checks are cut to the authors. Sometimes this amounts to the equivalent of a low-paying job, rarely it amounts to much more (for every Harry Potter, there are ninety-nine books that don’t sell).

So, I kind of went off there about the entire publishing process (and even then, I’m sure that I missed quite a lot), but I wanted you to see all of the hands that touch a book before it even gets to the store bookshelf. The sales conference that I got to sit in on yesterday happens after the manuscript is sent off to the printer but before they are sold into the different retail channels. The conference exists to showcase the publisher’s offerings for that quarter to the salespeople so they can knowledgeably sell their products. The books that were presented yesterday won’t be showing up in stores until next summer and fall.

Why do I go to these sales conferences? I go because I work in marketing and church relations for the bookstore. By being there, I can make plans as to how to market them in my store and which books I will make sure to present to my church accounts. Plus, it is fascinating to see the publishing world from the inside. And it is encouraging. I have confidence, after seeing some of the things that are being published, that my writing stands a chance. I know that there are many rounds of elimination before publishers settle on which books to publish, but even then some stinkers sneak through. I just need to be better than those, right?

I love working for the bookstore, and I love being a step in the process to getting good books into people’s hands. I can’t wait until one of those books being presented in meetings like yesterday’s is mine.