Publishing III

Explore what to publish, how to publish, and where to sell what you publish. Raise your awareness of publishing to the next level for business or career success.

Course CodeBWR303
Fee CodeS3
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

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This course will help you understand business requirements and practices in the publishing industry. 


  • Understand the important considerations that affect the decision of what to publish.
  • Prepare a plan for developing and producing a new publication.
  • Manage financial requirements for the production of a new publication.
  • Develop procedures for management of staff and other resources in a publishing business, small or large.
  • Demonstrate insight into the different types of potential risks in a publishing business, including legal, financial and health risks.
  • Develop an improved capacity to work effectively with authors
  • Develop procedures for the management of production, and distribution of a publication.


Some of the activities you will be required to do in this course are:

  • Research the kinds and styles of works produced by three different book publishers;
  • List market research strategies that a publisher might use to decide which proposal to develop;
  • Research the percentage of publication given to advertising and graphics in three e-zines or books;
  • List the information that a publisher might want to research before either (i) commissioning a new children’s book (choose the topic), or (ii) starting up a new magazine aimed at 8-12 year old children
  • Investigate the costs involved in cash and/or in resources in producing a particular publication
  • Write up a budget for the publishing of one issue of a local newsletter in two colours
  • Identify factors that contribute the very different retail prices of books and magazines
  • Prepare a draft business plan for a publishing business of your choice.
  • Investigate insurance policies that would be relevant to the publishing industry
  • Define publishers’ responsibility in regards to copyright
  • Explain how a publisher would find a freelance writer and the process for contracting them
  • Briefly explain the importance of a photo library.
  • Track the process of a best seller and collect information on the marketing/advertising/selling process
  • Write different procedures which would be relevant to management of the production and distribution of a new e-zine, new magazine or new industry newsletter.

Lesson Structure

There are 7 lessons in this course:

  1. What to publish?
    • Nature of publishing enterprises
    • Deciding what to publish
    • Commissioned work
    • Uncommissioned manuscipts and proposals
    • Factors influencing the decision of what to publish: Genre or type of writing, News value,
    • Storyline, Cost and profit potential, perceived need
    • Guidelines for writers
  2. Planning a New Publication
    • The publication plan
    • Publication process
    • Editing and proofreading
    • Designing the document and preparing the art work
    • Typesetting, printing, desktop publishing
  3. Costing a New Publication
    • Cost components: Staff, Production resources, printing, quantity, distribution, etc
    • Why some publications fail
    • Sponsorship
    • Creatation costs
    • Production costs
    • Marketing costs
    • Distribution costs
    • How royalties work
    • Income sources
    • How to prepare a budget
    • Collecting from debtors
    • Cash budgets and decision making
  4. Resource Management
    • Managing publishing
    • Nature of management
    • Different resources for different publishers
    • Printing: print run, binding, cover, paper, etc
    • Analyzing the market
    • Developing procedures
    • Developing a business plan
  5. Risk Management
    • Legal risks
    • Financial risks
    • Sources of finance
    • Health issues and risks
    • Duty of care
    • Safety audits
    • Managing risks
  6. Managing Writers
    • Scope and nature: publishers, writers and illustrators
    • Support role of literary agents
    • Support role of publishing staff
    • Photo libraries
    • Copyright free material
    • Benefits an author gets from a book
    • Style: variations, page set up, formatting etc
    • Guide to good writing
  7. Managing Production and Distribution
    • Timing production and distributionQuality control during production
    • Quality control during distribution
    • Marketing and distributing a publication
    • Sales procedure
    • Managing the marketing process: step by step
    • Merchandising
    • Publicity and public relations
    • Managing distribution
    • Distribution channels: retail sales, direct sales
    • Physical transportation and stock control
    • Remaindering stock

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.

How to Decide what to Publish  

Publishing is a business and, like any business, can be either profitable or unprofitable. The initial choice that faces any publisher is what to publish. This relates not only to the content of the publication, but also size, format, quantity and commercial potential. Most publishers apply restrictions on what they will publish, minimising the danger of over-extending their resources (physical and intellectual) or harming their reputation by producing inferior products in some areas. Some choose to focus on certain categories of writing, and to build their business by producing a limited but quality range of products (such as children’s books). There can be considerable market value in growing a reputation as a publisher of a certain kind of book (or journal or newspaper).

Each time a publisher confronts a new manuscript or idea for a publication, he or she must decide whether or not to publish it, even if it was commissioned. While personal taste will probably influence the publisher’s decision (consider how many best sellers were repeatedly rejected by unimpressed publishers), the decision will also be based on some basic, practical questions; among them, how closely the manuscript (or article) aligns with the publisher’s standard criteria and requirements. Market analysis helps a publisher make these kinds of decisions.

Commissioned documents
While many publishers will accept proposals or manuscripts to consider for publication, most non-fiction and educational publications result from publishers’ suggestions or commissions. One of a publisher’s chief duties is to find new titles or ideas and to commission writers for them. These may be ideas or titles consistent with the publisher’s established identity, or may contribute to the gradual development of a publisher’s identity as their reputation for producing particular kinds of works grows. In acknowledgement of this seeking role, the publisher is sometimes called the ‘commissioning editor’, and larger publishing houses may have more than one commissioning editor to help create its list of titles and preferred writers.

To carry out their commissioning role, publishers must engage in research and development of potential ideas and needs for publication, and the authors to fulfill them. The research part involves identifying public interest, potential markets, and niche areas, such as the need for educational books, or interest in gay or feminist writing, do-it-yourself home improvement, or a particular style of writing.

Market analysis
Successful commissioning is based on a good knowledge of the current market and market trends, which requires careful market analysis.

To analyse the market, a publisher should:

a) Investigate competition from other publishers. Determine what else is currently on the market, and how successful those publications are.

b) Research reader demand. What do readers buy, what are they looking for, and what are they prepared to pay?

c) Exploit niches (small specialist areas) and under supplied markets. The best success stories in publishing are those where publishers were prepared to take risks and go out on a limb.

The marketer (and/or publisher) gains knowledge of the market by:

  • talking to bookshop staff, editorial staff, and technical and educational experts, as well as target readers;
  • keeping in touch with popular trends (through newspapers, popular magazines and television shows);
  • reading relevant trade, technical or popular magazines and books;
  • visiting trade shows;
  • attending publishing fairs.

The development part involves finding the right authors with the skills, expertise, or public recognition to write the document.

Once the publisher has decided to commission a particular kind of work from a writer, the publisher provides the author with a contract that both parties sign to prevent misunderstandings at a later stage. The contract specifies the method of payment to the author (royalties or lump sum) and the treatment of subsidiary rights (the author’s and publisher’s rights with regards to publication in other works, including films, videos and translations).

Uncommissioned manuscripts and proposals
Most publishers will at least consider uncommissioned manuscripts or articles submitted by hopeful authors, to meet the enormous demand for interesting reading. Publishers are always on the lookout for innovative and appealing ideas that will stimulate reader interest in a world of television and video movies. With an increasingly discerning readership in an increasingly competitive field, publishers must be visionaries, willing and able to see the potential in an idea or manuscript in the hope of publishing the next great book or bestseller.

In addition to the many unsolicited complete manuscripts that are submitted by hopeful authors, many non-commissioned publishing projects begin with an idea that is presented to the publisher in the form of a proposal. Usually, a book proposal contains:

  • a description of the book
  • a table of contents
  • a chapter or two chapters (usually the first and another) to give the publisher an idea of how the book will be written.

A proposal allows the publisher to determine whether a writer’s ideas and skills might result in something worthwhile (to that publisher), without having to read through a complete manuscript.

Because publishing is, in the end, a business, when deciding what to publish, a publisher must balance the desire to produce quality, creative, aesthetically appealing, hardback books or beautiful, informative magazines and the need to publish and sell a sufficient volume of works to remain viable and produce a profit. It may be, after all, the sale of large numbers of medium quality paperbacks or magazines that largely funds the risky, brilliant, quality projects that may not sell.

Factors that influence the decision of what to publish
Some of the factors that a publisher might consider when deciding which proposal to act upon or which manuscript to accept are discussed below.

Genre or type of writing
Some questions that publishers ask when deciding what to publish are related to genre: What is the purpose of the publication …to entertain or inform? What is its subject? Is it:

  • fiction or non fiction?
  • written for adults or children?
  • popular or academic writing?

Within these broad categories are more specialised categories of writing or genres and their different sub-categories. For instance, under the genre “novel” are included historical novels, romance novels, westerns, fantasy novels, science fiction (sci-fi) novels etc. Some questions a publisher might need to answer when choosing what to publish are:  Is this genre relevant to our organisation? Is it consistent with our image and our overall goals? If it is, does this particular work meet our standards and criteria for that genre? If not, what are the risks and benefits of going outside our usual boundaries, and is this work worth the risks?

Most publishers are involved in several genres, especially as publishing becomes a multimedia industry. This kind of diversification can be quite profitable, as it spread the potential risks over a wider area. Eventually, most publishers will develop a list of publications consistent with their overall image and style. Other publishers will concentrate their resources on one genre, such as romance novels, text books, or news, meeting the needs of a particular niche market. Some may focus on quality publications, others on quantity, producing lots of low-quality, low-cost books, while some very large publishers may produce different kinds and qualities of publications.

Fortunately for the reading public and for many writers, publishers are often on the lookout for titles outside their usual repertoire that might have potential. Because one can never really predict what will succeed, and many best sellers were initially rejected by more conservative publishers, there are always publishers who are willing to take risks, though these may be shared with the author by making him or her bear part of the costs. (See lesson 5 – Risk Management).

Publishers of news magazines or papers recognise different kinds of stories, some of which are understood and accepted as having greater news value than others at any one time. Some widely recognised news stories are:

  • murder stories
  • weather stories
  • fire or disaster stories
  • accident stories,
  • speeches,
  • international relations stories
  • government and politics stories 
  • law and trial stories
  • business, industry stories
  • sports stories
  • investigative or analytical stories
  • entertainment and arts stories
  • science, education, knowledge stories
  • religion, spirituality, philosophy

(Source: Leiter, Harriss & Johnson, The Complete Reporter, Allyn and Bacon)

Reader interest and expectations
There is no single guideline for determining what is desirable content. However, it can be very useful to examine general guidelines by which news publishers choose what is or is not newsworthy (worth publishing). While the criteria may be different, in many instances, the factors that make for newsworthy items may also help determine what makes a good novel or magazine article.

There is no agreed-upon definition of ‘news’, for what is news is determined by many factors, including:
  • The people who publish it
  • Social values and expectations concerning news
  • The political and economic environment
  • Information-gathering and reporting technology
  • Reader interest.

When deciding what is newsworthy, publishers look for articles that will take and hold readers’ interest, and stimulate some kind of dialogue or debate. Reader interest is said to be the main factor determining what news is published. However, there is some debate as to whether the media respond to reader interest, or create it.

News values
Factors that the news industry generally agrees stimulate reader interest are called news values. These include:

  • Conflict – riots, wars, violence, assaults etc that upset social order and arouse emotional responses;
  • Radical changes – progress, successes, developments, rapid or unexpected gains, or failures, disasters, sudden losses of wellbeing or fortune;
  • Consequence – the degree to which events or people affect us or a community, or the perceived importance of the effects;
  • Prominence – fame, infamy, popularity, influence, authority attached to a person, event or place;
  • Sex – private details of a sexual nature, exposes, romances, deviations etc, especially in regard to prominent people or groups;
  • Timeliness – current events are considered more newsworthy that previous or possible future events. For instance, events that provoke great public controversy one week may not be considered newsworthy a week later, though the issues have not been resolved;
  • Proximity – our geographical closeness to the events. For example, a strike in our small community might feature on the front page of our local newspaper, and not even get a mention in the nearest large city;
  • Novelty – anything that deviates (is different) from the norm: Siamese twins, multiple births, unusual practices etc.;
  • Human Interest – these are stories about individuals or communities that may not have any of the above factors, but appeal to our emotions or curiosity (elderly lady forced out of her home because of council fees; hospital for injured wild animals; community support for a burned-out family etc);
  • Special interest – any topic that interests or informs readers: animals, fashion, alternative health etc.

Many of these news values are also relevant to creative writing. Stories that feature a strong storyline will be more warmly received by a publisher than those that lack a good story line. Again, there is no general agreement on what makes a good story.
However, it is generally agreed that a basic storyline contains conflict (internal and between individuals or groups) and changes (developments, reversals, growth and resolution) that are seen to have consequence for the main character or characters. 

Good non-fiction can also contain a strong storyline, which the writer creates by careful  selection and organisation of information. In fact, in many ways, non-fiction writing such as biographies, auto-biographies, histories and news features can be considered as created as fiction writing. Publishers (or editors) select from the many bits of information what is to be included, what overall tone or mood will be developed, even what meanings are to be drawn from that information.

Perceived need
Based on market analysis and simply keeping attuned to what’s happening in publishing and society, publishers can often identify specific needs, such as the need for quality text books relevant to students in their own country, or self-help articles in magazines.  Learning the market - what is wanted, what is lacking – is essential to developing special or niche markets in response to need.

Cost and profit-making potential

In the end, most publishing decisions end here.  Even the most brilliant and exciting concept and most skillful writing might not be sufficient to outweigh financial considerations. Every innovation, every branch into new areas by a publisher, every exciting project must be weighed against the publisher’s evaluation of the risks involved, the cost, and the continuing financial viability of the enterprise. (More will be said on this in lesson 3.)


Who can benefit from taking this course?

People looking to put out their own publication, online or in print. This may include everything from a newsletter through to a glossy magazine.

Freelance writers, authors, and illustrators seeking a better knowledge of the industry and its ethical and legal considerations.

Editors wanting to improve their specialist knowledge of publishing or shift into producing publications.

At the end of this course you will:

  • Understand the scope and nature of the publishing industry
  • Have an understanding of how to identify publishable material and manage writers
  • Understand a standard publishing workflow, and details of marketing and distribution systems including publicity and quality control

Next steps:

Want something more in depth? Learn about our certificates and higher qualifications in writing and journalism here.


• Reputation: well-known and respected in publishing and writing
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  editor of national magazines; many of the staff are published authors)
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John Mason

Writer, Manager, Teacher and Businessman with over 40 years interenational experience covering Education, Publishing, Leisure Management, Education, and Horticulture. He has extensive experience both as a public servant, and as a small business owner. J
Rachel Syers

Rachel has worked as a newspaper journalist for the past 15 years in a range of roles from sub-editor and social columnist to news reporter, covering rounds such as education, health, council, music, television, court, police, Aboriginal and Islander affa
Rosemary Davies

Businesswoman, Journalist, Editor, Broadcaster, Teacher, Consultant for over 30 years.
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