Publishing Roles

20th February 2018
9 min read
4th October 2023

In this extract from The Publishing Business, Kelvin Smith and Melanie Ramdarshan look at who does what within the departments of different book publishers...

The Publishing Business

Publishing is a 'people business', and to understand book publishing you need to know about who does what within the publishing process. You can view an introduction to different types of book publishers here, but here we will look at some of the jobs within publishing. However, job titles are not always used in the same way, and it's often better to look at what people do rather than what they are called. Most people start their career in publishing as an assistant in one of the departments discussed below. In smaller companies, some of the roles may be undertaken by one person, and many jobs are outsourced to freelancers (proofreaders, indexers, picture researchers) and other service companies who can more cost-effectively fulfil specialist functions (software design, distribution, promotion).


Publishing departments

All publishing companies have their own organisational structure, but the following gives a flavour of the way in which the departments might typically be set up, and the roles within them. All of these departments report to the Managing Director (UK); Publisher or Chief Executive Officer (CEO) are among the titles used in the United States. This person is ultimately responsible to the owners or shareholders for the continued success and profitability of the company. Not all the publishing companies will include every job role and many publishers, particularly small companies, will have overlapping roles e.g. if you work for a small independent publisher your job might include both editorial and marketing aspects.


Editorial department

The editorial department manages the acquisition or commissioning of new publications, liaises with authors and controls the development of a project into a finished book.

  • The Editorial Director or Publisher (often the same person) manages the editorial department and is responsible for the overall success of the list, and the financial viability of the publishing programme
  • Commissioning Editors (UK), Acquisitions Editors (United States) or Sponsoring Editors (North American educational publishing) are responsible for identifying authors and developing projects with them. They play a central role in defining the development of the publisher's list, and negotiate the terms of the author-publisher contract with the author or agent
  • Senior Editors in the tertiary (university and college level education) and STM (science, technical and medical publishers) sector (also called Publishing Editors or Product Managers) manage publications in a particular subject area, such as journals, monographs and digital resources. They work with external Journal Editors, Series Editors and other Editorial Advisors, drawn from academic departments and research institutes
  • Managing Editors look after schedules and costs, and may also manage the work of other in-house editors, freelance copy editors and proofreaders
  • Development or Project Editors work closely with the author during the writing stage to ensure that the work is progressing to schedule, in the format agreed and to the required standard
  • Educational and ELT Editors often have teaching experience, and tend to have a hands-on approach to the development of the publishing projects under their control. Their knowledge of the curriculum and teaching practices is vital to success
  • Production Editors are responsible for taking the book through the design and production process, working closely with the Production Department
  • Copy Editors prepare the text for production according to an agreed house style. Proofreaders check the work for errors and omissions
  • Picture Editors/Researchers (often freelance) source pictures for the work, and ensure that permissions are obtained and appropriate fees negotiated


Design and production departments

The design and production departments look after the production of printed books and e-books, and now also often have a vital role in digital file management and digital distribution.

  • The Production Director is in charge of this department and is ultimately responsible for all issues of production quality, schedules and cost
  • Production Managers and Production Coordinators plan and control the production process, and liaise with internal and external suppliers. Their job is to make sure that every publication is produced on schedule, at the best price and at the quality required
  • Designers are responsible for the visual impact and effective use of design features in any publication. This includes page layout, cover design, use of illustrations and other non-text elements. As well as being creative, designers must work to the house style and to a brief developed to fulfil editorial and marketing requirements
  • Production Editors in STM or scholarly publishing may have responsibility for digital workflow from author to publication 


Marketing department

The marketing department is responsible for the branding, packaging, publicity and promotion of the firm's output, and has input into what a firm publishes.

  • The Marketing Director is in charge of this department and is responsible for developing and protecting brand value
  • Marketing Managers prepare and manage campaigns for imprints, series and individual titles. They work closely with editors preparing sales copy and providing metadata (e.g bibliographic data) to Nielsen BookData and retailers such as Amazon
  • Promotion Managers prepare physical and digital promotion materials, such as catalogues, brochures, content through platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram
  • Publicity Managers deal with the press and other media, and arrange special publicity events and author appearances
  • SEO and Social Media Managers manage social content through the corporate social media accounts. They manage and develop social media campaigns, research keywords and link-build campaigns, and build online communities


Sales department

The sales department is responsible for ensuring the publications move profitably through the channels of distribution to the end user.

  • The Sales Director runs this department and his or her detailed knowledge of what is selling through various channels -e.g. chain bookshops such as Waterstones or Barnes & Noble, supermarkets such as Tesco or Walmart, independent bookshops, online channels etc. - is vital to the commissioning process
  • Sales Representatives work with major trade customers, pushing new titles, negotiating special promotional deals and handling a wide range of customer service functions
  • Education, ELT and Academic (UK) or College (United States) Representatives visit appropriate institutions to discuss the adoption, i.e. the inclusion of the titles in the curriculum, of the company's titles with teachers  


Distribution and order fulfilment

  • The Distribution Manager is responsible for managing the storage and distribution of the company's publications
  • The Warehouse Manager and Stock Controller look after the warehouse and the company's stock of publications. As more of the company's 'stock' is in digital forms, this role is changing and is often more closely integrated with the production function
  • Order Processing or Fulfilment Managers handle all customer orders and make sure they are processed accurately and in a manner that leads to customer satisfaction
  • Customer Services Managers look after individual customer accounts, handle queries and complaints, and work closely with the finance department 


Rights department

The rights department is responsible for fostering content across as many territories, formats, and languages as possible through selling rights such as translation, audio, and film and TV rights. This not only maximises income, through rights sales, but it also increases visibility of the titles to different territories and audiences.  

  • The Rights Manager is in charge of the department and coordinates the whole process of selling rights to maximise the financial profit of a book, from initiating the sale of rights to negotiations over the contracts


Finance department

The finance department looks after the company's economic affairs. It also includes the team that track sales and ensure that sales and rights income are collected when due, and that royalties to authors and commissions to sales agents are paid accurately and on time.

  • The Finance Director runs the finance department. He or she is a key member of the senior management team, and ensures that individual departments prepare and keep to budgets, and manages all payments and receipts 


For an overview of the different types of book publishing available across the current publishing landscape, read Different Types of Book Publishers


The Publishing Business is an invaluable guide to understanding what book publishing is and what it might become. Using popular and current examples, the second edition of this guide demonstrates that, to succeed, publishers must prove their commitment to producing accurate, attractive and well edited content, their ability to innovate pioneering digital technologies and their dedication to promoting their titles to new audiences.


Explaining the responsibilities at each stage of the publishing process, The Publishing Business describes current roles and practices, and provides much food for thought on how publishers can ensure their skills remain relevant in the digital age. Fully updated to take into account recent developments in the publishing world, it also includes additional real-world examples from a variety of publishing sectors, insightful interviews with industry experts and new and updated activities. Order here

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