UNDERSTANDING BOOK PUBLISHING

You wake up soaked in sweat. The darkness is impenetrable. You sense the movement again. Has someone gained access to your room? You scramble for the bed switch. 

Flick.

Nothing.

Flick. Flick. Flick.

Oh, no. Another power blackout?

Then suddenly, you are blinded by a powerful glare. The lights are back. Your eyes try to adjust as they move in different directions. The door is still closed. And there’s no one else in the room.

Book Publishing and Nationhood

Just as a small switch can set in motion and control an electrical system and take light to even remote areas, book publishing is also a “key.” Think about it: books are the basic tools for education, and education is the basic investment for economic and social development. They are also essential for cultural enrichment and for opportunities of self-expression by the nation’s writers and artists. Hence, publishing is key to the educational, social and economic development of any nation. 

The Publisher

There are several partners in the book industry, among them the publisher. It is the publisher who receives the manuscript from the author; enlists capital; engages the services of artists and other editorial specialists; commissions and supervises the work of printers; and then directs the distribution of books to the potential markets. In essence, the publisher is the grand strategist and organizer of the book undertaking.

As the focal point in the book supply chain, the publisher makes the essential decisions on what to publish. Getting the right manuscripts and illustrations for each reading level is an important skill of the publisher. The success or failure of a book depends on the appropriateness of the content, quality of editing, illustrations, book design, and the suitability of the printing specifications.

Budgeting is another important skill of the publisher—the cost of a book can be a barrier for access. So while a publishing house must be profitable to be viable, the cost of books must also be kept low in order to be affordable to those who need them. This is even truer in developing countries where people’s disposable incomes are quite low.

The publisher’s central position provides a breadth of view not easily available to the other partners, and accordingly greater responsibility for vision, imagination, long-term planning, and a spirit of experimentation. Publishing requires a business-like approach to the various stages required to bring a raw manuscript to completion as a book, and in the onward distribution to readers.

The Reader

The mere existence of a book is not enough. The publisher must also let the world know that the book exists. Equally, the book must be made available in channels accessible to readers—for example bookshops and other retail outlets, schools, online platforms.

In making books accessible to readers, publishers play the role of cultural ambassadors. Publishing is therefore as much of a cultural practice as it it a communicative art—an art that is also a commercial undertaking.

By Booktalk Africa. Photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash.

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