How publishing works

Have you ever wondered how a book goes from being an idea to sitting on a shelf in a bookshop (or an audio file on your phone)? If you have, you have come to the right place!

Welcome to our overview of the journey (most) books go on and the people who make it happen…

1. An author finds an agent to represent their work

Agents read a lot of manuscripts (unpublished books) and decide which ones they think they will be able to sell to a publisher. Some authors don’t have an agent but most major publishers find the majority of their books via literary agents. To find out more about what literary agents do take a look here.

2. An agent offers the book to editors who work at publishers

The agent will negotiate the terms of the contract with the editor. Sometimes several editors will want to buy the book and the author and agent will visit the interested publishers and decide which is the best fit – or there may be an auction and whoever offers the most money wins.

3. An editor buys the book and works with the author to edit it

Editing a book usually takes around 18 months (but this can vary hugely). Editors may suggest significant changes to a book eg. removing a character or altering the ending. The editing process also includes checking grammar and spelling. You can read about different roles in an editorial department here.

4. The production team prepares the book to be released

The production team is responsible for making the actual book, whether it’s a printed book or an ebook. This includes managing the overall schedule that all the other departments must stick to! For more of an idea of what the production department is responsible for check this out.

5. The design team will design the cover

This is an incredibly important stage of the process. The cover should convey what the book is about and appeal to the right readership. If the book is illustrated, a designer will also commission an illustrator and work with them to produce images for the book. You can find out more about what designers do here.

6. The sales team convinces bookshops to stock the book

The sales team will pitch the book to all the retailers that they think will have success selling it. These could range from supermarkets to museums, independent bookshops to online retailers. An international sales team will sell to retailers in other countries. The sales team also need to make sure that shops have the right amount of their books in stock. If you want to know more about what the sales team do, take a look here.

7. The rights team sells the book to foreign publishers and also TV and film production companies

If the publisher bought rights for the book from the agent then they will sell the right to translate the book to foreign publishers. They will also sell the rights to production companies that may want to create a film or TV programme based on the book. Rights sales can be a significant source of income for publishers and authors. For more information about what working in rights involves check this out.

8. An audiobook publisher produces the audio version of the book

If the book will be released on audio then an audiobook publisher will create a schedule, cast the narrator and make sure the book is available on audiobook retailers (like Apple and Audible). We have more information about working in an audiobook team here.

9. The marketing and publicity teams run a campaign for the book  

The campaign will be focused on driving sales. Marketers tend to look after advertising and paid-for promotion. Publicists work on getting media coverage as well as organising events that promote and sell the book. Marketing and publicity work closely with sales to make sure retailers are aware of what promotion is happening. If a publicist has managed to get the book talked about a lot in the media, bookshops will want to stock more copies so they don’t run out! The campaign may start long before a book is released and may continue after it is published but usually most of the activity is focused around a book’s publication date. More information on publicity and marketing roles.

10. The book is published!

Readers will now be able to buy the book.

Getting your first job in publishing

If you would like to work in publishing, we have lots of resources to help:

  • You can read more about roles that exist within the publishing industry here.
  • We have links to publishers’ job pages where you can check for vacancies here.
  • Check out our advice on how to write a great CV and cover letter here.