Author–Publisher Relationships: What to Expect When You’re Publishing

by Lesley-Anne Longo

Published at 2020-01-16

As an author, you probably think about the relationship you want to have with your readers. After all, you are writing to appeal to your audience, and that fact will influence many decisions you make along your writing journey. But how often do you stop to consider the relationship you may have with your publisher? What if you submit your manuscript to a traditional publisher (rather than choosing to self-publish) and are fortunate enough to land a publishing contract?What are your expectations of that publishing house?


You might be hoping that your book will become a bestseller, landing on the Globe and Mail or New York Times bestseller lists with thousands of readers picking up and loving your book. But have you thought about what a publisher’s role might be in getting your book on that bestseller list and what exactly your role as the author might be?


Here are a few insights into what to expect during the author–publisher exchange.



Publisher: Taking a Risk on the Author


As a writer looking to publish, it is important to remember that publishers are risking a lot whenever they sign a contract with a new author, especially if it is a first book and the author is not widely known. The publisher will invest thousands of dollars in the development of a new title, beginning with the author’s advance. Then there is the cost of developing and editing the manuscript, the design and layout of the interior pages and the design of the cover. This is followed by the cost of printing and binding the book itself, finally the distribution, marketing, and publicity expenses.


This investment doesn’t guarantee that your book will be a bestseller. But the publisher will do its best to market and promote your book — in exchange for which you will be expected to write an outstandingly good manuscript and deliver it on time. You will also be expected to work long hours reviewing edits and proofreading those final pages before publication. And you will be expected to honour the production and publishing schedule. The one thing you’ll want to avoid is causing unnecessary delays for the publisher.



The Publisher: Deciding Who to Publish


A publishing house sets a list for each of its publishing seasons, usually spring and fall. Most likely, it has book projects underway for a few seasons ahead of schedule, but it will always be looking for new works for upcoming seasons. Unless your manuscript is solicited by a publishing house, your manuscript submission will be put into the “slush pile” for review. The editorial department reviews hundreds and even thousands of manuscripts each year, and from this review, manuscripts that are a good fit for the publisher’s list will be selected for further consideration.


This process can take several weeks or several months. Most publishers’ websites include a note about how long it will take to hear back from them. They may also say that if you don’t hear back within six months, assume it’s a no-go. Nonetheless, if your manuscript stands out at some point during the slush-pile review, there is a chance of it being selected, even after the six-month expiry date.



The Author: Being Signed On


When you have signed on with the publisher, the publisher will provide you with an editor who will shepherd your manuscript through the process of editing. This will definitely involve copyediting but could also involve developmental editing or structural editing as needed. Once the final manuscript is edited, it is ready for design and production. At this point, the book pages are created and a set of PDF galleys will be sent to you for proofreading.


Your publisher will also provide copyright protection for your work and manage those rights on your behalf. These include negotiating translation rights, reprinting rights, film rights, and audio book rights. As well, the publisher manages warehousing, sales and distribution, and ensures you are paid your annual royalties from book sales.



Publisher and Author: Marketing the Book


In most publishing houses, marketing begins as soon as a contract is signed. This includes determining the publishing date, finalizing the book title, writing up copy for the spring or fall catalogue, preparing marketing and advertising strategies, and seeking back-cover endorsements. Depending on its size, a publisher may even provide you with a publicist or similar point person to work with you on book promotion. The marketing team’s goal is to get your book into as many hands as possible by setting up interviews, sending out review copies with press releases, or scheduling book readings. Unless you’re a big name author, a publisher may not send you on a cross-country book tour.


The extent of the marketing plan depends on the publisher and the size of the publishing house. Most will send your book out for reviews, some will place ads in magazines and newspapers. Smaller publishing houses may not be able to offer all of these in their marketing plans. But the tradeoff is that with smaller publishers, you may get to be more involved in the production and creation of your book.


Social media marketing is also a key marketing strategy in today’s world of books. Your publisher will provide some social media support; for example, most publishing houses have their own Twitter feed and Facebook page where they promote books, readings, and other book-related events. But you should be prepared to fully participate in your own social media marketing.


Many publishers will expect you to manage your own promotion on social media — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, writing blogs, creating podcasts. And it is a good idea that you start this process once you have your contract in hand. (To help you get started with this, download our Social Media for Writers guide.)  



Author: Be Ready


As an author, it is important to educate and prepare yourself for the publishing work ahead of you. Many authors don’t realize the level of responsibility that comes with publishing their work, beginning with the editing and proofreading, and ending with selling their books.


Many authors may have visions of sitting back and watching the money flow in, or perhaps being sent on an exciting and lavish book tour around the country. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case nowadays.


Today, when you are offered a publishing contract, it’s expected that you will work hard to market and publicize your book. This comes to many authors as a surprise — they may not want to do social media or start a blog, and they expect the publisher to handle that work for them. But remember, these are common responsibilities for all authors who want to publish in our current publishing climate.


For more resources on contracts, agents, submissions, and copyright, check out the Writers’ Union of Canada Resources page.