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What Makes You a Publisher?

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by Jan Nathan

Executive Director, PMA


What Makes You a Publisher?


Publishing is more confusing
today than it was years ago for many people entering our community. In part,
this is because of all the technological changes that make entry into the world
of publishing seem easier and easier.


Every day at the PMA office, we
find ourselves explaining to people who are new to the industry that even
though they have a product that looks and feels and sometimes reads like a
book, they are not really ready to enter this world as publishers. In fact, in
many cases these people don’t own their books’ ISBNs, which tell booksellers
who the publisher is. Yet they still think they can assume the publisher’s


Acting on many conversations, the
PMA board developed a statement to help define the role of the publisher. That
statement bears repeating. As publishers, we are the bearers and the
repositories of information. We have responsibilities to our investors, our
authors, our suppliers, our customers, our readers, and to ourselves as prudent
business people. We also have a strong commitment to uphold rigorous publishing
standards—those required to produce quality books—and working
toward these standards is our goal.


Publishers put book projects together,
from start to finish, an endeavor that includes many different


The most basic requirement for
becoming a publisher is purchasing a series of ISBNs from the R.R. Bowker
Company and making sure that your company is the publisher of record for them.
These numbers must be purchased in blocks of 10 or more, and each version of
your title must have a separate ISBN identifying it as the hardcover, trade
paper, or other edition of this book. If you do not own a book’s ISBN, you are
not the publisher of that book.


Beyond that, though, a publisher
must either take all 10 sets of steps summarized below or cause these actions
to happen. If you are not involved in all 10, you may not be the publisher of
your title:


Defining a Publisher: A
Ten-point Checklist


style=’font-size:11.0pt’> A publisher acquires property either through purchase
of manuscripts or personal development of a manuscript or manuscripts.
Depending on the size of the company, the publisher pays authors advances
against future royalties as designated by contract, or makes specified payments
in a designated period after production.


style=’font-size:11.0pt’> A publisher or the publisher’s publishing company is
financially responsible for the production and promotion of books under the
company imprint. A publisher provides or arranges funding for the company’s
publishing program; develops a budget for each book acquired, looking carefully
at the costs of production and the costs of promotion and publicity; makes
longer-range plans for keeping the book on the active list; and allots funds
for those tasks.


style=’font-size:11.0pt’> A publisher develops a business plan, including a
budget and a timeline for each publication from acquisition through production.
A publisher also develops and implements a sales, marketing, and production
plan for each book.


A publishing company
works with its authors to develop a manuscript so that it will be in optimum
condition for production and publication. In self-publishing, the author and
publisher are synonymous. A publisher oversees, or has someone within the
company oversee, the editing of each manuscript prior to publication, as well
as all the exterior and interior design elements, to produce an attractive and
marketable product.


to authors.
A publisher issues an
author contract that recognizes the author’s contribution to the enterprise and
outlines the responsibilities of both the author and the publisher. Terms and
expectations for royalties and other payments should be clearly stated.


style=’font-size:11.0pt’> A publisher stays up to date on the newest printing
and production technologies to ensure that a finished book will be competitive
in the current marketplace. A publisher fulfills all technical elements (ISBN,
cataloging, advance book announcements, and so on) in a timely fashion.


style=’font-size:11.0pt’> A publisher stays abreast of industry standards and
adheres to them. Today, a publisher understands how and when to use the new
ISBN-13 standard as well as how to deal with standards such as LCC numbers
issued by the Library of Congress.


A publisher deals
fairly with vendors, and aims to establish long-term, rewarding relationships
within an industry. A publisher states clearly what is expected of a vendor and
enters into contractual agreements with stated goals and objectives that will
be adhered to by both parties.


A publisher produces
a well-edited, well-designed product that can compete with similar products,
and develops a marketing and promotion plan for distribution to both trade and
consumer markets through wholesalers, distributors, and/or the Internet.


style=’font-size:11.0pt’> A publisher bears total responsibility for everything
from the selection and acquisition of books to be published under the house
imprint through their production, promotion, and marketing.




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