BOOK PUBLISHING OVERVIEW – A “How-To” Article on Publishing



A “How-To” Article on Publishing

By Duane Hewitt

Although there is potentially a lengthy number of facets regarding book publishing, whether as a self-publisher or small or large press, the following offers some advice on the stages to consider when undertaking the venture of book publishing. Though such a topic can be considerable in its entirety, this article will serve as a brief guideline and takes into account additional aspects of the publishing venture including touching on topics of promotions, marketing, distribution, creative aspects, and more.

Subject matter of the book: This article assumes that the author or publisher is clear on what they intend to publish and why. However, if book publishing is being approached purely for the purpose of a financial venture then research must be carried out regarding what types of books have the greatest selling prospect and staying power in the market. Poetry, fiction and biographies are typically the hardest to sell and keep in the marketplace. Business, special niche, advice, how-to, current-affairs, hot-topics, and some new age/spiritual are best bets for sales and overall staying power in the market. (More details regarding type of book and aspects regarding marketing will be covered in a separate article on book and author publicity.)

Defining the Book’s Distinctive Angle – the Unique Identity: It’s wise to give careful thought to the purpose of your book or, in the very least, the uniqueness of it and how it differs or stands out from other books in the same genre. Being critical in your assessment will help you to focus your thoughts on other important matters down the road, such as advertising, marketing, and the overall end purpose of how to sell the book. If you haven’t yet written the book, then now might be the time to define in your own mind how your book can be better and more unique than others in the same field. Some thoughts to consider:

How is your book different from all other books on the same topic?

If someone asked you what your book is about, think of a 5-second promo to describe the topic, then devise a 15-second promo;

If someone asked you why they should read your book, devise a 5-second Unique-Sales-Pitch, then devise a 15-second sales pitch;

Consider writing a paragraph why there is a need for your book; consider what the needs and wants of readers are and how this book might fill those requirements. Think in terms of your reader;

Consider how your book goes above and beyond the needs and wants of your readers and make it clear to them in your sales angle.

Establishing the Goals for Your Book: Being clear about the goal of your book should have been considered before you sat down to write it. However, before you get to the publishing process, it is strongly advisable to be clear as to what your goals are for the book. Understanding and being honest about your goals will help you streamline your thinking through some of the processes along the way and help you achieve those goals: Some thoughts on goals and purposes:

To make money;

To gain prestige;

As a personal achievement;

To further the author’s name and reputation in a given field;

As part of combined interest with other ventures;

Creating a title: Your title is of critical importance and should be thought out carefully. It creates the image and the identity of your book. It will be remembered or forgotten. It will create images and association. Readers, marketers, reviewers and book buyers will either be intrigued or dismissive. You will want it to grab attention but not appall. Following are some thoughts about creating a great book title:

A great title will create focus, energy, and excitement;

A great title will pique curiosity and interest, be distinctive, be memorable, and give the reader an idea of what the book is about;

Consider focusing the title on the book’s distinctive features;

Think in terms of zest, image, appealing to emotions, visuals, gut reactions;

Think in terms of irresistibility and of a promise contained within the pages of your book;

Consider introducing a new and intriguing word or term;

Look to other great titles for inspiration and ideas;

Make it easy to remember;

Create Impact!

Consider variations on classical, literary, or biblical themes;

Consider shocking or alarming words or concepts;

Consider words or phrases with dual or hidden meanings;

If publishing additional or future books, consider titles that have tie-ins or continuity;

The Subtitle: Subtitles are excellent by the fact they allow further intrigue and information about the book. A subtitle allows an opportunity to expand on what the book is about, making it helpful in the hands of a potential reader. The subtitle will be informative, but can also tweak curiosity about the subject matter of the book. Remember – what you have displayed on the book cover is the one chance you’ll have to impress the reader to look further into the book!

Forewords, Endorsements, and Testimonials: You need as much clout as possible to sell and promote your book. Getting supporting written endorsements that you have permission to use in your book or with your promotions will help. Consider having a famous or highly credentialed person write a foreword for your book. Testimonials help sell the book both in publicity kits as well as when contained on the book jacket itself. Consider collecting as many great testimonials as possible that will be used with the contributor’s name and title. Such people need not be known to the public if they are authorities in their fields, like doctors, for example.

Proofreading and editing the manuscript: Once your manuscript is complete, do not assume that you should edit your own book. Proofread – yes – checking for spelling, grammar and accuracy of your writing and be relentless about it. But writers frequently become blind to their own flaws and proper editing requires that you should put your manuscript in the hands of someone with a keen sense of style, form, and grammar that will view the work objectively. Picking up a book that contains errors in spelling, grammar, syntax and information will get the book binned. Errors diminish your hope of support with book buyers, reviewers, and repeat readers. Find an editor with whom you can work that has your interests at heart that will respect your style and your goals and is excellent at what they do. When choosing an editor, look to professional organizations such as The Editors’ Association of Canada Directory at the library, which contains a hotline for advice. Some editors with other publications such as magazines, newspapers and other publishers may also do freelance work that you can hire for your project.

The publishing/business trade name for the publication: If you are self-publishing or starting a small press, you will require a trade name for your publications. This is no different than starting a small business. Write a number of publication names that appeal to you and then do searches online or through search houses that specialize in running searches on similar business names (such as NUANS searches) to the publication trade name you want to go with. Once you’re satisfied that there is no conflict with other existing business or trade names, register it to protect it as your own. With the number of books currently on the market (estimates are currently over one million), it may not matter if you call your publishing house Frank’s Books, but it is likely more beneficial to the purpose of your publishing enterprise to come up with a name that is not immediately questioned as ‘amateur’ – and down the road, it is after all hoped that your venture will succeed for the long term.

Registering the Publishing Trade Name as a business: As a recap to the importance of creating a good publishing trade name, the whole idea here is that you are going into business as a publisher. You will have overhead costs and you expect to make money on your investment. Ultimately, you will want to approach the entire project as small business start up, which requires a separate in-depth compilation of information and steps for starting your business. Look to your nearest library, chamber of commerce, or local government office for advice and kits on business start-up for additional information and direction.

Creating the Business Plan: Since you will be approaching your publishing venture as a business, it is advisable that you develop a good business plan specific to publishing. In Canada, the Federal Department of Communications (Communications Canada) has a simple business plan that it recommends to publishers. Write: Book Publishing Industry Development Program, Cultural Affairs, Communications Canada, Journal Tower North, 300 Slater St., Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0C8.

Creating a logo for the publishing trade name: As with any business venture, you will have to make a judgment call about the value of having a logo for your publishing trade name. This is, in and of itself, a topic of potential depth. In short, the logo should be designed to be used in conjunction with the trade name. Specialized type fonts unique to a brand name can replace an actual logo, such as we see with the brand name Coca-Cola. The logo, and/or unique type font of the trade name, would be used on the book jacket, with promotional material, letterheads and business cards, and so on. If additional books or material follow after the first book, or there are long-term visions for additional products, it would be worthwhile to consider developing a unique image with the type font or logo for the publishing company’s business name.

Copyright: Unless you work for or have written your manuscript for a government agency or employer that holds the rights to what you have written, a citizen of Canada, the United States, and Britain and countries that abide by the International Copyright Convention, you will automatically own what you create. Often, the issue becomes one of proof of ownership. An author can mail the manuscript to themselves under registered mail as one form of proof. Do not open the package when it arrives back to you. The registration receipt is proof, as is the dated contents within the sealed envelope. Additionally, in Canada, a copyright can be registered for a fee with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, Industry Canada, Copyright and Industrial Design Branch, Tower #1, 50 Victoria St., Place du Portage, Hull, Quebec, K1A 0C9.

Securing the Copyright: Again, in Canada, the United States or Britain, you own what you create unless the work has been created for someone else, such as an employer or agency that owns the rights. Much of securing copyright really means proving that you are the creator and owner of the copyright. Government agencies allow for methods of registering the copyright of a book for a nominal fee – typically about $60. But copyright ownership and proof of copyright can enter uncertain realms if the book is optioned for movie rights or serial works such as comic books, magazine or periodicals, or film or TV shows. Arguments can (and will) be made by third parties claiming rights of ownership that your characters were not original and are therefore open game, or that the premise of your story is a common one and therefore not protected by copyright laws. Unscrupulous characters might rewrite your work and claim ownership for a potentially more successful story or book. If such scenarios like this look like they might arise, then expert legal advice in copyright and intellectual property law should be consulted for best-scenario contracts and legal protection. Imagine if, 10 years after you published and sold your book, a near identical story showed up on bookstores and in the movies worth millions and you were excluded from what you are sure was “your idea” taken by somebody else!

The Copyright Page: Traditionally, the Copyright Page appears on Page 4. If you doubt this, pick up any book be it fiction or business, old or new, and take a look. It is on the Copyright Page that the CIP information is contained, along with a Copyright notice by the author or publisher and, in many cases, contact information for the author or publisher. The type and format should be clean and simple. Limit the contents of this page to the necessary information. The Copyright Page is not the place for accolades, devotions, or special thanks. Separate pages can be ascribed for other such purposes.

Permissions: Anyone who contributes to your book must give his or her consent to have their contributions used in the book. Request a letter or supply a copy of what is used asking for signed permission before the book is formatted for publication. Permissions are not likely to be needed for a work of fiction, but in almost all other scenarios, be it a professional or technical book, cookbook, historical, etc., you walk a fine line of risk by using other people’s material where permission has not been granted to be used in what you are writing. Remember, the use of another’s work, even a few quoted words without attributing their source, would likely be copyright infringement. Do the legwork and get the permissions, in writing – and be prepared to properly attribute all works to their proper sources.

Liability, Defamation, and Slander: As owner and publisher you are responsible for what is printed. Anything that can be considered libelous, potentially defamatory, or where accuracy and fairness are in question must be reviewed – preferably by a lawyer that specializes in these fields with an expertise in publishing and copyright law. If you are in doubt regarding anything that you are printing, it is up to you to research and understand your responsibility in its use.

Jacket and cover design: An obvious topic requiring attention that should excite the author and publisher is the design of the book cover and jacket. The elements of good design will incorporate creative artistry and marketing savvy. Be analytical and be artistic. If the book is fiction and follows a literary style and you are focusing on the literary crowd, aim for a timeless, classic feel that will not look dated one year down the road. If it’s a purely commercial effort, then having as much attention-grabbing chutzpah will probably work but, again, it could look dated in a short period of time. Most bookstores and dealers like having artistic and impressive looking books that speak of high quality and can be carried for lengthy periods on store shelves without a cheesy appearance. On the other hand, the book has to catch the attention of potential readers and it has to make people want to part with their money. Enlist the talents of a good graphics artist who will appreciate your vision and the ‘feel’ of the book. Study a great number of book covers and see which ones appeal to you and why. Keep in mind the reading audience you are targeting as well as the genre of your book. And remember – just as clothes don’t make the man the cover may not make the book but it will contribute significantly to your total sales as well as to the distributor and bookstores that are prepared to represent it. Aim for class with an understanding that different types of books and genres require an approach intrinsic to that specific niche. Remember also that sales are the endgame!

The Author Photo + Publicity Photos: It will be your decision whether or not you include a photo, even a thumbnail size photo, on the back of the book jacket. Here is where you have to be honest about your purposes and the importance to you of whether or not a photo has a place on the book jacket. A single small professionally shot photo can say a lot about you. Just make sure the photo does you justice. Candid photos can work splendidly well but, just as with professional shots, they should be critiqued and short listed so that the photo is sure to add to the book and doesn’t detract. If you’re a professional in any particular field and your book is part-and-parcel of your promotions, your image, and your other business interests, a photo may be highly recommended. Publicity photos, which are a part of your media kit to promote the book, can follow later if and when you make the decision that promotional photos and the cost involved are warranted for promoting the book to its best success.

The Book Format: Paperback, Trade Paperback, or Hardcover? You will undoubtedly find it of some interest looking forward to deciding the format of your book. But much of the decision will be made for you by i) cost, and ii) practicality in selling and marketing your book. Hardcover books tend to look quite impressive and attractive. But the cost of hardcover, particularly in areas regarding difficult sales realities such as fiction, make hardcover an unwise venture for any new publisher that does not have unlimited funds. Hardcover are best left to major publishing houses that can afford the outlay of money and use the first printing as a market-fetching tool for the inevitable paperback that follows, which is where real money can be made in the mass market for well-known and big-selling authors. Hardcover is expensive, but you needn’t feel deflated because you can’t afford it. Much of the book publishing industry has been taken over by what is known as Trade Paperbacks. They are printed in a long list of genres and for many top literary and commercially-oriented authors. If you are publishing fiction, or poetry, or even first-time books such as science, politics, current events or other mainstream topics, Trade Paperback is likely the way to go for first time publishers and authors. Most book printers are well-equipped to handle this format. And – Trade Paperbacks still offer plenty of room for elegant design and formatting, making them a further ‘plus’ in the potential shelf-life of the book. Paperbacks are at the bottom of the list in a case of new publishing ventures. Yes, it is understood that we all see them everywhere, but that is because they are mass-printed for high-selling authors, making the overall printing cost low when compared to the expected profits in mass markets. But for new-comers to the publishing industry, they can be the kiss of death because they lack real staying power on book seller shelves, whereas ‘literary’ styles, typically in Trade Paperback format, are viewed with an almost limitless life if they are written, designed, and formatted well.

Book design: Format, layout and typefaces: When it comes to the actual formatting of type fonts and page-layout for the book, it is highly advisable to contract the services of a talented and experienced graphic artist to design all details of the book. Type fonts, page layouts (including proper word breaks and paragraph and sentence breaks) are a vitally important element in book design. Such software programs as PageMaker or QuarkXPress will likely suit the graphic artist’s needs, but the most current software programs should be researched. One of the best sources for answering questions on proper software is from actual book printers – the people you will pay to print and bind your book into the final product. When it comes to book formats, this is where you should pick up a multitude of books and study them critically for design elements that you either like or dislike for ease of readability and marketing purposes. Line spacing, word spacing, proper pagination, squaring the text on each page with sufficient space around all borders to allow for the gutter – that area near where the pages are bound – are all critically important to the end result. Start thumbing through a lot of books, particularly those in your field, and scrutinize for stylistic elements that you like and guffaws you need to avoid. Then, find a reputable graphic artist and start the ball rolling, being sure that at all times you are aware of and in-charge of each and every design element. Nothing can be left to chance.

The ISBN: The International Standard Book Number identifies the book as a unique publication in the world market. An ISBN can identify and locate any book in the world. Even if the title or author’s name on the book is the same as another, the ISBN identifies each book uniquely. It is absolutely critical to have an ISBN number on your book or most dealers, retailers, and book stores will not even consider carrying it.

In Canada, the ISBN is ordered from the National Library of Canada. There is no charge. An ISBN can be ordered individually or in blocks of 10 and 100, thus providing prefixes and sequential coding for books in a series or from one press. For U.S. publications, contact the Library of Congress.

When self-publishing, consider the pros and cons of using another publisher’s supplied ISBN or acquiring your own. There may be matters to clarify regarding bookkeeping, royalties, etc. Confirm who supplies the ISBN if working with another publisher. POD (Publishing on Demand) publishers might insist that their ISBN be used; meaning that they are the publisher, not you, and then this could open some legal matters that need to be addressed in advance. On the other hand, for a small print run, accepting someone else’s ISBN may not matter and might help make that part of the process easier.

The ISSN – An ISSN is an International Standard Serial Number and is used to identify a print or electronic periodical or serial publication such as magazines. Additional information can be found at

The CIP: The CIP is the Cataloging In Publication record, which is a cataloguing reference number supplied by the Library of Congress (in the U.S.) or the National Library of Canada (in Canada) to record and log an upcoming book that has not yet been published. The supplied CIP number should be included on the Copyright Page (traditionally Page 4) and assists in helping dealers, distributors, and libraries with identifying and processing the bibliographical record of the book.

Contact information for author and publisher: Contact information for the author and/or publisher should be contained on the Copyright Page (Page 4). In addition, you as the publisher might want to add a separate page for contact purposes, which would normally appear on the inner last page.

Distribution: The question of how you expect to have your book distributed to bookstores is of natural critical importance to the whole purpose of publishing. This is another pinnacle issue because you’ll be dead in the water if you can’t find anyone to get your book into bookstores. As publisher, you are not necessarily in a position to distribute your book across the city or the nation. You’ll need to research the names of book distributors and understand their terms for doing business with you. Depending on the topic of your book and how well it is written and packaged will be a deciding factor to most book distributors. Some will require prepayment from your for their services. Others may take on your book with the hope or expectation that they’ll stand to make money on its sales, since that is why they are in business. It’s best that you begin this process of securing a distributor well prior to publishing your book, because the distributor is bound to have some very good questions and even advice about the criteria of your book that will have to be met for them to carry it and promote it for you. Along with the terms of the agreement between you and the distributor, you are likely to be asked how you expect to market the book, since the advertising and marketing stand to have a significant impact on total book sales. One note, if you are a Canadian publisher that expects to have your book distributed in the U.S., be sure to include the words “Printed and bound in Canada” on the Copyright page.

Catalog Copy: The book distributor is sure to ask you for catalog copy once they have agreed to carry your book. The distributor’s catalog is used by their sales force to market and sell books to all book stores and retailers. Most catalogs will have a picture of the cover of your book and room for a small amount of text, including testimonials, as well as pricing and a small blurb about the author. Be sure to keep the copy you write for the catalog intriguing and clear. Remove yourself from the equation when doing the actual writing and think in terms of how a book buyer at a major book outlet might think when seeing your book in a catalog and deciding whether or not to carry it. Be critical of what you write, and think in terms of the genre you have written and the niche you are targeting. Short quotes of testimonials recommending the book to readers are extremely valuable, and should come from notable sources. Some tips and advice on writing good promotional copy can be garnered from the article “Promotional Writing Basics” contained on this website.

Promotions, Publicity and The Sales Process: As with most facets of book publishing, certain key elements that contribute to the success of your publishing venture can be quite extensive and detailed. How to promote and sell your book is a crucial component that requires a fair bit of work and planning. Ultimately, it will require 100% of your effort. Essentially, you must plan in advance and allow for opportunities that come your way to increase sales opportunities. Following are just a few, basic points to consider. This topic will be reviewed in greater detail through a separate article:

Plan a media kit: this should contain testimonials and letters of recommendation for your book, information about the author and his or her credentials and background, highlights of the book and a brief outline, why it will interest readers, what is new and unique about it, photographs, and other hooks to entice reviewers and buyers alike;

Research available book fairs, such as BookExpo and Booksellers, by which your participation might help you to sell your book. You will likely need to register well in advance. Think in terms of association events, industry specific trade shows, and corporate and club events in specialized fields related to the nature of your book. Then be prepared to get out there in person and promote.

Book signings: Book signings should be in conjunction with a sale opportunity for your books. The most obvious being that you will want to contact book stores that carry your book, set up a table, and be a shameless self-promoter of what you have just written. Be prepared in the beginning to give away a number of your books as promotional copies – it can help create the buzz you’re after that can lead to actual sales for the bookstore, and the store will love you for that.

Other revenue streams: It is sometimes possible to promote and sell a book, or portions thereof, through other avenues that create additional and alternate revenue streams for your book. If you have written a technical manual or book that would be of use to certain niche markets, you may consider promoting certain chapters to periodicals and magazines. Contacting certain associations or corporations directly that may benefit from your book is simply a method of direct sales, but potentially invaluable to your potential success. Look into related businesses, clubs, and possibly even through your local chamber of commerce or library for potential resources from which to expand your sales.

The ongoing sales process, short and long term: The best model to follow for the sales process is typically that which has worked for others. Research other authors and publishers, and brainstorm to come up with a list of methods to promote and sell your book. You need to look at this for the long term, and be prepared to continue generating steam and interest for the book you’ve created. This topic will be covered in more detail in a separate article on this site.

Pricing: The pricing of your book will appear on the back of the book jacket. Be certain to calculate and state the pricing for different markets such as CDN for Canadian and US for the United States. You will need to calculate the price of the book based on your total costs and any additional costs you might be expected to assume, such as with distribution costs if it applies to you. In addition, you need to know what other like books in your genre are being priced at and then you need to be competitive. If the average 250-page fiction trade paperback is selling for $17.95 and you’ve priced your book at $32.95, you’re going to have a problem. Affordable, appropriate pricing is the retail side of your business and you need to make your product on-par with other like books. One obvious point: if you publish a large book, say 400-plus pages, the heavy weight of the book for shipping and distribution plus the total volume of paper used in printing will take your costs up considerably.

Bar codes: Bar codes, such as UPCs (Universal Product Codes) found on retail items, are methods for retailers including book sellers, to catalog, price and sell a book through the use of scanners, which are now commonly found in the majority of retail and book stores, and even grocery stores. Bar codes should be included on the back of the book jacket along with the price. Once laser-scanned, the register usually notes details of the book such as publisher, author, price, and ISBN. Bar codes, which are not the same as UPCs, are normally produced from the ISBN. The bars themselves must be produced by a competent printer that specializes in this area. The codes are important to log the total number of sales, both for book sellers as well as for the publisher, which in this case is assumed to be you. UPCs, on the other hand, might also be necessary if you expect to sell your book through retailers such as Wal-Mart or other mainstream retail stores that also carry books and magazines.

The Production Process – Choosing a Printer: Book printing is a specialized process and it will be necessary to find a printer that specializes in all production necessary to print and bind the book as well as the cover or jacket, which is treated as a separate entity in the process, and then put it all together. Regular mainstream printing firms are NOT normally equipped or skilled at book printing and should be avoided. A good, reliable book printer will be able to offer a series of quotes based on 1) the type of stock paper you wish to have the text printed on; 2) the dimensions of the book cover; 3) the total number of pages in your book; 4) whether the book jacket will have color; 5) the total number of books being printed, and; 6) how the manuscript and cover art will be delivered to the printer. Such information will normally be enough to secure a reliable quote. Good printers will also be good communicators, they have to be because it is necessary for them to understand every detail of what you want created and how you are supplying the material to them. Be sure you understand if you are seeing proofs prior to the actual printing. Most printers supply something called ‘blue lines’ – an actual version of how your text will appear that offers you a final opportunity to create minor editing glitches that you may have missed in the proofreading. As well, you are to see the actual version of how the book cover will look on a color proof, allowing you the opportunity of making corrections before the job goes through. If proofs are not supplied, buyers beware! Even reputable book printers can make errors. The purpose of having proofs supplied to you for approval prior to printing is to avoid error. Be sure to research and collect information on all available book printers and take a close look at their printing history.

Legal Deposit: Countries like Canada have a method of cataloguing published books and other material as a way of collecting data and preserving records of the national published heritage, which is referred to as Legal Deposit. It has nothing to do with Copyright, or the CIP or ISBN information. Normally, once the book has been published, two copies of the published book should be forwarded along with the publishing record as required to that country’s legal deposit division.

Income Tax: A simple short note: As with any business venture, keep all records of your costs, including what it took to write the book. Photocopies, computer software, paper and ink all goes into what you claim as overhead at tax time. In some cases, where you haven’t kept receipts, the published book will likely be sufficient proof for expected costs in the venture – but check with your accountant.

In conclusion: As with any new venture, hobby or undertaking, in the end the final responsibility for quality rests with you. Publishing a book for the first time can feel overwhelming and is often quite the learning curve, so it is important to pay sharp attention to all aspects of the process every step of the way. From every nuance of the writing, through the selection of a competent editor, to the choice of type font, layout, book cover design, and through the printing process – everything must be carefully scrutinized. It’s a lot of work, particularly if you do it well, but in the end it’ll be worthwhile if you pace yourself and aim for excellence in all aspects of the project. If in doubt on any topic, there is an enormous amount of information available at libraries, on the internet, and through government agencies that will be more than happy to assist you.

Legal note:

This is copyrighted material. Should any of this material be reproduced, published, or distributed, it must remain in its original form with no changes made and credit must be given to its author, Duane Hewitt.

COPYRIGHT 2004-2017 Duane Hewitt. All rights reserved.

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