So, what is a book producer?
Someone asked me recently why I call myself a book designer.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “I design books, don’t I? What else should I call myself?”
“But you don’t just design books, Joel,” was the reply. “Look at all the other things you do for people who want to publish a book.”
And you know, it was true. Based on the variety of services I provided for my clients, book producer would be a more fitting term.
Depending on the professional you hire, you’ll find that many have a wealth of book publishing knowledge that goes beyond the standard services they provide. Below we’ll look at the different types of book publishing professionals, or book producers, what they do, and which one can help get your book in shape for publishing.
We’ll Consider the Following:
The World of Book Professionals
Having that earlier conversation got me thinking about book producers, consultants, designers— or book professionals. These are the experts who are hired by authors to aid them in their publishing journey. Each of these occupations is a bit different, and each has a slightly different slant on the service they provide.
Because their titles aren’t fixed by any licensing body, the roles each plays are loosely defined, with lots of overlap. In the interest of consumer education, I thought it would be a service to give you my own take on these roles and how they differ.
As the name implies, a book designer is a skilled graphic artist specializing in book design. This can be interior (formatting) or exterior (cover) book design. Because design is linked to the way the book will be printed, book designers can also deal with book production—the physical manufacture of the finished volumes. Professional designers also understand marketing issues, since book covers are crucial parts of the positioning and marketing of books. Designers may be hired just to perform the cover design or the interior design, or they may be given an entire project to coordinate.
Book shepherds (also called consultants) are experienced guides who help authors through various stages of the book production and publication process. Shepherds may do some of the work on the book themselves or may hire out parts of the project. They will help directly or indirectly with the author’s needs for design, editing, marketing, forms filing, print brokering, distribution, and publicity.
A book doctor is usually called in by a publisher or other party to help “rescue” a manuscript that is otherwise publishable. Similar to a developmental editor, a book doctor looks at the big-picture elements of a book to see what’s not working, but unlike a developmental editor a book doctor will also step in and help with rewrites.
This is a catch-all term I used for many years, although I finally abandoned it. It seemed that my actual role in getting a book to press was something like a producer, or perhaps a general contractor. When working with clients, hiring illustrators, indexers, editors, proofreaders, and layout artists just came with the territory. I eventually stopped using the title. Why? No one else was using it, and I constantly had to explain what I meant.
This is the bonus round. A packager (also sometimes called a book producer—yes, industry terms do overlap and can be quite confusing) is a company that offers book outsourcing services to publishers. They produce an entire book including hiring all the writers, editors, and other professionals.
A book packager is to a publisher what a ghostwriter is to an author. They take the weight of creating the book off the shoulders of their clients. Once the book is finished, the publisher steps in and handles distribution, marketing, and publicity. Perhaps one of the earliest and most well-known examples of book packaging is the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries, written by ghostwriters under Stratemeyer Syndicate.
Which Book Producer Do You Need?
Ultimately, the job of book producers is to help authors navigate the sometimes rocky journey of getting a book from idea to print. If you can find a book professional who has a breadth of knowledge about book publishing that extends beyond their main service, snag them quickly. They are probably a keeper.
As Judith Briles, an author and long-time publishing guide, puts it on her and Katherine Carol’s website, The Book Shepherd:
You need experienced shepherds and guides to partner with you as you create, strategize, develop, publish and achieve your publishing goals. You can’t do it alone without paying the price . . . you can spend your money creating a book that turns out to be so-so; or you can create a book that looks and feels classy, builds your brand and is a financial success.
Savvy authors are looking for the expert guidance necessary to make the most of their publishing opportunities. They want someone with the experience to know if what they are planning for their book won’t work and the insight to help clarify and realign their plans and make their dreams of publishing a book a reality. When you are searching for book publishing support, don’t settle. Find someone with the experience and expertise to give your book the support it needs to thrive.