7 Things About Publishing You Didn't Know

If you read this blog, you probably know a lot about publishing, since we’re all about pulling back the curtain and showing you what the publishing process is like. But here are seven things that I didn’t necessarily know before I started working in publishing, and that you probably don’t know either:

There are lots of people behind the scenes


Usually the only thing that book lovers see when they look at their favorite books are the authors’ names (unless they read the acknowledgments—but even then, the author may not know all of the different people who work to make their books the best they can be). That’s a little odd, when you consider how every person who helped out (including drivers and caterers) are credited in films. That’s not the industry standard in publishing. One awesome thing about Swoon Reads’ “parent” imprint Feiwel and Friends books is that they all include colophons to credit the staff, so you can see who helped out with the production of the book.

Want to learn more about some of the behind-the-scenes people? Check out our past blog posts about Swoon Staff!

Many books are published by imprints of larger publishers
Unless you work in publishing or are a hardcore reader, you might not know the complex layers of companies, departments, and imprints that make up the world of publishing. For example, Swoon Reads is under the purview of the imprint Feiwel and Friends, which is under the umbrella of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, which is part of Macmillan Publishers. Confused? Don’t worry, everyone is (even us industry people). 

There’s lots of jargon
Here in publishing, we have our own special language! Here are a few terms you can use to impress your book-nerd friends at book-nerd cocktail parties (that’s a thing, right?):
Frontmatter: This is all those pages in the front of the book, before the text (half title page, title page, copyright page, dedication, etc.)
This is all those pages in the back of the book, after the text (interview with the author, glossary, excerpt, etc.) AKA Swoonworthy extras.
Trim size:
The size of a book. There are standard trim sizes, like 5-1/2” x 8-1/4” for our YA titles (including Swoon Reads titles) and 5-3/16” x 7-5/8” for our middle grade titles. Paper comes in standard sizes, so we have to trim the paper (hence the term) to match whatever trim size we want. Some odd trim sizes require trimming off and discarding larger amounts of paper (which is bad for the environment!), so we try to stick to standard sizes whenever possible.
Case: The hard, cloth- (or sometimes paper-) covered part of a hardcover that you see when you take off the jacket.

Editors have to be able to do lots of math


Think the primary skill needed to be an editor is literary prowess? Think again. There’s lots of math involved in the job. Editors need to be able to create and analyze P&Ls (profit and loss statements), read estimates (which say whether books’ unit cost is over or under margin based on the quantity we’re printing), assess sales figures, and more. As you can see from my clumsy sticky-note-and-Sharpie math above, sometimes we editors even need to convert decimals into fractions. (Though right after doing this by-hand conversion, I remembered that Excel does these sorts of conversions too. Duh.)

Of course, lots of folks across publishing have to be able to do math—I just mention editors because it seems to be a common misconception that literary folk don’t need to know math. So, PSA to any aspiring editors: Pay attention in math class! Everything you’re learning is very important and you will need to know it later!

Book pages are printed in multiples of sixteen


In speaking of math. . . . Fun fact: Book page numbers are almost always in multiples of sixteen (with some special exceptions, like picture books.) That’s because books are printed in signatures of sixteen pages. Don’t believe me? Grab the closest book and check (remember to count blanks, backmatter, and unnumbered frontmatter.) That means that if a book is, say, 210 pages when typeset and we can’t cut the two pages to get down to 208 pages (13 signatures), we have to use 14 signatures (14 x 16 = 224 pages) and then figure out how to fill the extra 14 pages. It’s like a puzzle!

Wondering what printed pages look like before we slice them up? The picture above gives you a behind-the scenes look. Before they’re trimmed, books basically look like newspapers!

Some books are strippable (warning: this is sad)
Did you know that books are returnable? Unless you’ve worked in a bookstore before, this is probably news to you. If a retailer doesn’t sell enough copies of a book, they can ship extras back to the publisher for a refund. But shipping is expensive, and some books (like chapter book paperbacks and middle-grade paperbacks) don’t make sense to mail back to the publisher. So they have barcodes printed on the inside front cover, so that way if bookstores want to return them, they can tear off the front covers, ship the covers to the publisher, and recycle the rest of the book. (I told you this was sad!)

Note: Swoon titles are not strippable. :)

We want to publish your book! And we’re nice people, really!
OK, you guys probably know this, because you read our blog. But there’s a common misconception that publishing folk are scary, harsh, fancy folk who love rejecting things. We’re actually just a bunch of nerds who like reading. Rejecting manuscripts is the worst part of the job! Really, all of us want to bring lots of amazing books into the world, and we want to read and fall in love with your book.

Do you have any specific questions about publishing that we haven’t answered yet? Sound off in the comments!

Author spotlight

Christine Barcellona

Editor / I blog and edit for Swoon Reads, plus I'm the editor for our paperback line, Square Fish. Find …

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