The Book Publishing Process

The Book Publishing Process

(The content here is based on my work experience as a books editor and some extra reading.)

According to the dictionary, ‘publishing’ means the profession or business of preparing and printing books, magazines, the profession or business of preparing and printing books, magazines, etc. and selling or making them available to the public.

Every publisher has different processes, schedules and at times different names for its departments. However, the publishing process largely remains the same. (There are variations and exceptions to the process depending on the type of book, publisher and whether the book is being outsourced or developed in-house.)

The publishing process comprises three main stages: acquisition, development, and production. Each of these stages has many processes involved.

Acquisition: To publish a book, a publisher must first acquire a manuscript from an author. A person who solicits manuscripts from authors is known as an Acquisition Editor (AE). Mainly, an AE advises the publisher which book to publish, i.e. by

(a) generating ideas for books and find appropriate authors, and

(b) attending to/inviting new manuscript proposals.

Since an AE receives many solicited and unsolicited manuscripts, he/she evaluates each manuscript to judge its quality and revenue potential. After a manuscript is accepted, AE negotiates an agreement between the publisher and the author on purchase of intellectual property rights (including copyright) and royalty rates, a gross retail amount that is paid to the author according to book sales.

Commissioning: The role of a commission editor (CE) and that of an AE is not much different. In India, most publishers hire either of the two and the role is much the same.

Role of a CE/AE:

  • understand the book trade and potential market,
  • ensure that authors deliver manuscript to specification and on time,
  • communicate with authors/editors regarding manuscripts, layout options, and design/cover options,
  • manage ongoing projects, and
  • manage published titles, i.e., keep track of the stock levels and order reprints of books as and when required.

Development:At this stage the process of copyediting the manuscript begins.

Copyediting: Most publishers have house style and copyeditors edit the manuscript to style. Where there is no house-style, many publishers and editors follow the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) as the yardstick. A copyeditor, from here onwards called the editor, edits the manuscript in many ways during the editing phase:

  • Developmental editing: Before beginning to edit the manuscript the editor evaluates the manuscript for content structure, presentation and the need for more documentation. If the manuscript requires heavy rewriting, restructuring, or new content (tables/illustrations/documentation), the author is requested to provide the same. Usually, the author is given two weeks to do the needful.
  • Mechanical editing: Manuscript is checked for consistency of style, capitalization, spellings, hyphenation, punctuation, use of abbreviations, quotation marks, the way numbers are treated, table format, consistency between text, tables and illustrations, and for grammar, syntax, etc.
  • Substantive editing: This type of editing involves checking organization and presentation of the content, rephrasing words/sentences for clarity or to eliminate ambiguity, tightening or simplifying text and meaning, etc.
    (Source: CMS, 15th ed.: 71)

Post editing the editor sends queries to the author along with the edited manuscript. Again, minimum two weeks’ time is given to the author to send answers and any suggested changes to editor’s edits.

Production: At this stage the edited manuscript is laid out and finalised for printing.

Typesetting: After incorporating the author’s answers to queries and corrections, the editor passes on the manuscript for typesetting.

Proofreading: Post typesetting, the edited manuscript pages called the proofs are checked by a proof reader for grammatical, typographical, and layout errors. The corrections are carried out and a fresh set of proofs is sent for author’s approval and last-minute changes. Again the changes are carried out by the typesetter and a print-ready copy, known as camera-ready copy (CRC), is created.

On the design side, cover design, specification of paper quality, binding method, and casing are finalised at this stage.

Printing: Even though large publications like newspapers have their own printing presses and binderies, book publishers generally outsource it to smaller presses. The PDF and PageMaker/In Design file of the CRC is finally sent to the printer along with a copy of the cover design for printing the number of copies agreed between the publisher and the author.

Distribution: Advertising, marketing and distribution are generally done by the publisher. Book publishers generally sell their books through book distributors who store and distribute/sell the publisher’s product on commission basis.



  1. Editor reads book. Sends author a revision letter or requests revisions.
  2. Concept for cover art is discussed.
  3. Author is given two weeks to revise the manuscript.
  4. Cover design sketches are passed to the editor for input.
  5. Editor reads revised manuscript, edits.
  6. Editor sends manuscript to author for review and answering queries.
  7. Author has two weeks to answer queries and review editor’s changes and approve or disapprove.
  8. Cover changes are made and final cover design is created.
  9. Copy of the final book cover is sent to author for review.
  10. Author reviews cover and suggests changes.
  11. Author’s changes are carried on the cover design.
  12. First set of proofs is sent to the author for approval.
  13. Author has two weeks to review proofs and make any last-minute changes.
  14. Editor reviews author’s proof changes and sends to production.
  15. Camera-ready copy is created and checked for any last-minute errors.
  16. Marketing begins. Salesmen visit bookstore buyers to get orders.
  17. Final PDF and Cover Design are sent for printing and binding.
  18. Book is printed, based on number of orders.
  19. Book is distributed.