What Does A Publishing House Look Like?

16th September 2020
3 min read
4th February 2021

Ever wondered how a publishing house is structured? Alysoun Owen explains all in this extract from the Writers' & Artists' Guide to Getting Published.

Hachette Overview

Each list is run by a commissioning or acquisitions editor, or a body of smaller imprints might be grouped under a master imprint and this is likely to be overseen by an Editorial Director or Publisher who has a strategic role in managing the lists and their future development.

The Hachette Livre example in the diagram above illustrates how many different lists or imprints some of the larger companies consist of. These will have been added over time as small, often after independent publishers have been purchased. Each acquiring or commissioning editor is on the lookout for new books that will fit their publishing programme.

In some publishing houses, these imprints act completely autonomously, and even in direct competition for authors. They each contract authors, for fiction and much narrative non-fiction via literary agents, or may commission an author direct so their lists can develop and grow  –  and make money. List management includes planning for the future  –  as in any business  –  looking at three-year plans and schedules and plugging gaps, avoiding duplication, extending successful series or encouraging bestselling writers to turn in another title. 

The commissioning editor works as part of a wider team of publishing professionals, who together decide if a book is viable and should be published and when and how. Collectively, they then shepherd the book through its various stages from manuscript to final book and beyond. These people include: 

  ● Desk editors, copy-editors, proofreaders and indexers  (the latter three roles usually done by freelancers) 

  ● Designers and production controllers 

 ● Publicity and marketing managers 

  ● Rights, contract and financial experts 

  ● Sales representatives and managers 

As you can see, there is a long line of individuals who  –  along with your agent, if you have one  –  will influence how your book reads and looks, and how it is promoted and sells.  

As an author you don’t need to have intimate knowledge of the ins and outs of the publishing industry, but it is useful to familiarise yourself with some of the processes and terminology and to know the latest trends and which books are doing well. You can do this by reading the book pages in the media, following Twitter, book blogs and news in The Bookseller or Publishing News  (magazines to the book trade in the UK and US). 

Writing stage