Learn About the Major Departments in a Publishing House

creative meeting
There are many departments in a book publishing house, all working to make books successful. Milton Brown/Getty Images

There are many different departments in a book publisher, all with different functions. If you’re looking to get your first job in book publishing, or looking to publish a book and are curious, here’s an overview of the major “moving parts” of a book publisher’s organization. Though each book publisher or publishing imprint is organized slightly differently, these are the most typical departments within the publisher, and the general duties of each.

Publisher

The publisher is the acknowledged strategic leader of the house, setting the vision and tone for the publishing house or imprint and overseeing the entire operation, the publication of a list of titles from acquisition through sales.

Editorial Department

The book publisher’s editors perform all the duties necessary to acquire and edit books and see them through to publication, including dealing with literary agents, authors, and interfacing with the breadth of the book publishers other staff. Read more about the different positions within the editorial department.

Contracts Department & Legal Department

As book publishing is a business of intellectual property, the individual author’s contracts are a critical, legal element in the publishing process and, therefore, the contracts department is key, working with the editors and literary agents to negotiate the terms. In addition, as there are liabilities attached to writing about many subjects—like celebrity tell-alls—and the legal department ensures that the publishing house is protected against potential lawsuits that might arise from sensitive material.

Managing Editorial and Production

The managing editor and his or her staff are responsible for the workflow of the manuscript and art from editorial through production. Managing editorial works with both the editors and production to keep a close eye on the schedule, for not only the finished book product but for advanced materials such as ARCs that sales or publicity might need in order to generate interest in the books from booksellers or the media.

Creative Departments

The jacket art department is critical to the book publishing process, as the art director and his or her staff of designers create the cover that, along with the book’s title, forms the first, important consumer impression of the book. In other words, they create the cover by which the book is indeed judged. Generally speaking, different designers create the book interiors. The promotion art department is responsible for designing the seasonal publisher catalogs, book marketing campaigns, and other materials.

Sales

The various sales departments are, of course, critical to getting books to market and into other formats and media and are important enough to warrant their own article.

Subsidiary Rights

The "sub rights" department sells the contractual rights to use the content of books in a variety of forms, from foreign translations to motion pictures. Read about subsidiary rights sales.

Marketing, Promotion, and Advertising

The marketing department is responsible for marketing strategy for the individual books, as well as coordinating the efforts of the promotion art department, which is generally responsible for the design and production of marketing materials. The marketing department also works closing with advertising (either in-house or with an ad agency) to create ads, as dictated by budget and strategy, for individual or lists of titles.

Social media marketing efforts sometimes fall under title marketing, sometimes in a more general online marketing department. 

Publicity

The publicity department is responsible for reaching out to the media (print, radio, television, etc.) to gain exposure for individual titles. For most houses, setting up book signings and book tours also falls to the publicity department. Outreach to bloggers sometimes falls under publicity, sometimes under marketing. 

Publisher Website Maintenance

Each publishing house and/or imprint maintains its own website with booklists, author information, etc. (Other sites maintained for promotional purposes, such as individual author sites generally fall wholly under “marketing," though note that most author websites are developed and maintained by the author). In addition to book-centric functions, publishing houses share the same sorts of departments as any large business entity, such as:

Finance and Accounting

Each book has its own P&L (profit and loss statement), and the finance department monitors this, as well as expenses, etc.

IT (Information Technology)

In today’s offices, the tech guys are indispensable, and it's no different in a publishing house.

Human Resources

The HR department assists with the recruitment and hiring of talent, as well as benefits, and other issues pertaining to the employees of the publishing house.