What is the Role of a Publisher?

A publisher is responsible for all aspects of acquiring, preparing and managing a book, magazine, or newspaper as it is edited and printed for sale. The term "publisher" may refer to the individual project manager or publishing organization as whole, and publishers are found on every level of the business ladder, ranging from large corporate conglomerates to independent of entrepreneurial efforts.

Acquisition and Contracting

An important daily job of most publishers is to locate and acquire a worthwhile item to print. Publishers look for work that they believe will sell well and bring in profit for their company above breaking even with production costs. One way a publisher finds potentially successful material is to solicit it from established writers or famous and newsworthy members of society. Another way to find material is by reading through submissions and queries sent to them by authors. Unrequested manuscripts sent by authors are placed in a “slush” pile that is reviewed when there is time or an opening in an upcoming catalogue. Once they find a piece they are willing to print, publishers then must oversee the licensing and contracting of the work, which includes managing royalty rates for authors and the number of first edition prints.

Timeline and Project Management

After a work is contracted, the publisher is responsible for projecting a completion timeline and holding other team members accountable to it. This includes managing the editors who correct grammatical and content errors in the work and authors who are revising or finishing the work, as well as the layout designers, artists, cover printers, page printers, and book binders. A publisher also oversees these individual entities to ensure visual and textual continuity is maintained throughout.

Distribution and Marketing

Once the physical book is printed, it is the publisher’s responsibility to market it. One facet of book marketing includes the publisher’s relationship with book distributors, such as local sellers, wholesale buyers, bookstores and online sites like Amazon.com. The publisher needs to sell the book to distributors as a worthwhile and money-making entity and help the distributor market and promote the book to the public. Another facet of marketing is generating “buzz” around the printed work through advertisements, video spots, promotional items and book tours.

Digital Competition

Publishers have started to face brutal competition from non-print sources over the last five years as digital media gains popularity. Reader devices like the iPhone and Amazon Kindle allow users to download book or newspaper text and access it anywhere without purchasing the physical book. To deal with this market threat, many publishers such as Simon & Schuster and Doubleday have begun to produce new books in both print and digital reader formats.


Due to increased financial pressure on the print business, a publisher’s role in the promotion of a book has been scaled back as a way to cut costs. Now, instead of the publisher managing every aspect of the promotional circuit, they will give a small amount of promotional funds to the author and lay the burden of promotion on them. This strategy is increasing used with new, unpublished authors.

About the Author

Nacie Carson is a professional development speaker and author who focuses on career evolution, entrepreneurship and the Millennial work experience. Carson's writing has been featured in "Entrepreneur," "Fast Company," "Monster" and "Chicken Soup for the Soul." Her book on adapting your career to the changing job market, "The Finch Effect," was published with Jossey-Bass in May 2012.