The Top Departments of a Publishing House

Learn What Each Department Does in a Publishing House

creative meeting
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If you’re looking to get your first job in book publishing or want to publish a book and are curious about how publishers work, here’s an overview of the major moving parts of most large book publishing companies. Though each book publisher or publishing imprint (trade name under which a book is published) is organized slightly differently, these are the most typical departments within the publisher, along with the general publishing staff duties of each.

Publisher

The publisher is the acknowledged strategic leader of the house, setting the vision and tone for the publishing house or imprint. It oversees the entire operation and the publication of a list of titles from acquisition through sales.

Editorial Department

The book publisher’s editors perform all the duties necessary to acquire and edit books, seeing them through to publication. It also deals with literary agents and authors, and interfaces with the breadth of the book publisher's other staff. Within the editorial department, there are myriad different positions, from developmental editor to editorial assistant.

Contracts Department and Legal Department

As book publishing is a business involving intellectual property, an author’s contract is an important and critical part. This legal element in the publishing process makes the contracts department key in working with editors and literary agents to negotiate terms, such as publishing rights, advances, royalties, due dates, the scope of the book, and other legal issues. In addition, as there are liabilities attached to writing about many subjects, such as celebrity tell-alls, the legal department ensures that the publishing house is protected against potential lawsuits that might arise from sensitive material.

Managing Editorial and Production

The managing editor and his or her staff are responsible for the workflow of the manuscript and art from editorial through production. Managing editors work with both the editors and the production team to keep a close eye on the publishing schedule, for not only the finished book product, but also for advanced materials, such as advanced reader copies (ARCs) that sales or publicity might need in order to generate interest in the books from booksellers or the media.

Creative Departments

The jacket art department is critical to the book publishing process, as the art director and his or her staff of designers create the cover that, along with the book’s title, forms the first, important consumer impression of the book. In other words, they create the cover by which the book is first judged. Generally speaking, different designers create the book interiors. The promotion art department is responsible for designing the seasonal publisher catalogs, book marketing campaigns, and other materials.

Sales

The various sales departments are, of course, critical to getting books to market and into other formats and media. It's important to note that publishers focus is on selling books to bookstores and other distribution outlets, not readers. The sales department, therefore, may work with a bookstore not only to get their books in stock but also where they're placed in the store, such as on the front tables.

Subsidiary Rights

The "sub rights" department sells the contractual rights to use the content of books in a variety of forms, from foreign translations to motion pictures. Publishers don't get all rights unless you give them. Publisher rights are determined in the contract. For example, some agents might suggest you withhold foreign or movie rights and negotiate them separately if there is interest.

Marketing, Promotion, and Advertising

The marketing department is responsible for the marketing strategy of individual books, as well as coordinating the efforts of the promotion art department, which is generally responsible for the design and production of marketing materials. The marketing department also works closely with advertising (either in-house or with an ad agency) to create ads, as dictated by budget and strategy. Social media marketing efforts sometimes fall under title marketing or in a more general online marketing department.

If you're an author, it's important to note that, unless you're a best-selling author already, or a celebrity, most publishers will expect you to carry the bulk of the marketing work.

Publicity

The publicity department is responsible for reaching out to the media (print, radio, television, etc.) to gain exposure for individual titles. For most houses, setting up book signings and book tours also falls to the publicity department, although this might be something you're expected to set up as well. Outreach to bloggers sometimes falls under publicity, but can also be covered by the marketing department. 

Publisher Website Maintenance

Each publishing house and/or imprint maintains its own website with booklists, author information, and author submission guidelines. Other sites maintained for promotional purposes, such as individual author sites, generally fall under marketing, with many author websites being developed and maintained by the author.

In addition to book-centric functions, publishing houses share the same sorts of departments as any large business entity, such as those below:

Finance and Accounting

Each book has its own P&L (profit and loss statement), with the finance department monitoring this, as well as expenses, etc.

Information Technology (IT)

In today’s offices, the tech guys are indispensable, and it's no different in a publishing house.

Human Resources (HR)

The HR department assists with the recruitment and hiring of talent, as well as benefits and other issues pertaining to the employees of the publishing house.