What Does a Publisher Do?

publishing Oct 31, 2020

Self-publishing is an option if you’re an author these days, so you might be wondering:

  • what exactly does a publisher do?
  • is it really worthwhile going it alone, especially if you’re a first-time author?

A publisher generally has three major roles:

1) editorial review of author manuscripts,

2) production of print books, e-books (or both), and

3) sales and marketing.

Let’s look at each of these roles in a bit more detail.

Editorial review

An independent editorial review of your manuscript is crucial. A good editor will be able to assess and improve its quality on several levels.

Firstly, they can assess its general marketability and provide feedback.

They can also perform a copy edit (to fix any grammar, punctuation, spelling and typo issues etc), as well as a developmental/ structural edit (where they’ll look at the general writing style and flow, making suggestions to improve the overall quality and structure of your content where necessary).

A good editor will liaise heavily with you to ensure a high-quality final manuscript.


A good editor can also prepare your book for the production phase.

This can be quite fiddly. It involves ensuring that the final manuscript is in an appropriate format to be typeset and laid out in either print or e-book formats, or both.

Final manuscript preparation often requires editors to liaise with graphic designers to ensure that a book and all of its features have the appropriate look and feel. For example, its cover, its internal images or diagrams, and the type of font to be used.

Print books obviously have a physical production cost that e-books don’t. However, there is still cost involved in both formats in terms of the time it takes to edit and prepare the final manuscript.

Print books also require a decision to be made in terms of print runs. The lower the print run, the higher the cost. The higher the print run, the greater the risk they you or your publisher will be left with unsold stock.

Sales and marketing

The sales and marketing phase can begin while your book is in production (pre-selling) or when it publishes. Some publishers will take care of the sales and marketing efforts, while others will either work jointly with you or provide tips to help you.

The promotion and distribution channels for books have been greatly impacted by technology. Print books were traditionally sold via bookshops, rather than by publishers or authors directly. Bookshops receive a percentage of the sale from each book for providing this channel. They can also generally return any unsold stock to the publisher for a refund.

However, some publishers and authors now bypass the traditional bookstore distribution channel entirely, promoting their books on their websites and via social media. e-books especially are increasingly being promoted and sold directly online.

Should you go it alone?

There are many facets to publishing a book. It’s smart to use the services of a publisher, especially if you don’t have any book publishing experience.

If you’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into your manuscript, you owe it to yourself to get a high-quality book at the end of it all!

Should you go with a small publisher?

The reality is that if you’re a first-time author, a small publishing house is likely to be your only option other than self-publishing. It’s very hard to get a manuscript accepted by a big publisher unless you’re a proven author.

Your chances of getting published are much better with a smaller publisher. You’ll also be more likely to receive much more personalised service and advice.