The Fifteen-Person Publishing House
In this sequel to the now-legendary series ‘Small Press Publishing for Profit’, Valley Press founder Jamie McGarry shares his answer to a rarely-asked question: if your publishing house had fifteen full-time staff, what would they all do?
Last year, when I wrote ‘Small Press Publishing for Profit’ (see parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5), I was looking back to the birth of Valley Press, focusing on how to make a reliable living as a one-man band ‘indie publisher’. For this article, I’m racing to the other end of the spectrum — sharing my suggested model for a publishing house with fifteen full-time employees.
I should start by confessing that I’ve yet to actually run such a company (or even work within one), but I can also assure you this outline hasn’t been generated through dreaming and guesswork. The team at Valley Press are currently equivalent to three full-time staff — working a cumulative 15 days a week — so to create the structure below, I divided our combined efforts into 15 equal pieces and assigned a job title to each.
An important note: we are outsourcing all of our copy-editing and proof-reading, so none of these fifteen imaginary people are actually sitting down and working on text line-by-line. This is a vitally important part of the process, of course, but as our editing costs (and needs) vary so wildly project-to-project — we currently publish a wide range of poetry, non-fiction and fiction—I find it best to deal with edits on a case-by-case basis, like printing.
Oh, and if you’re waiting for the article on going from a one-man band to a three-piece, I’m afraid there isn’t one: it took a chaotic few years involving dozens of freelancers, some extreme luck (both good and bad), and a helpful one-off grant from Arts Council England. I emerged from this period, blinking into the light, with a fantastic team. Here’s hoping our journey to the situation described below will be smoother!
It’s convention in this industry for the ‘chief executive’ role in a publishing house to be simply called ‘Publisher’, and though I normally frown at convention, this one I quite like. So the head of our fictional publishing house is ‘Publisher’, and in all honesty, I’m intending to hang onto this role myself for the next sixty years or so.
I see the Publisher’s job as something like steering the ship, looking at the ‘big picture’: setting a tone, formulating business strategy and so on. The thinking that went into this article would definitely be a job for the Publisher, and so would filling the other fourteen positions on the list.
#2: ‘Commissioning Editor’
For the reasons I explained above, this is the only position in my imaginary publishing house with the word ‘Editor’ in the title. This is the person who gives the green light to new projects, having been presented them by another member of the team (or they might seek out new work themselves, or even commission it). Obviously, the importance of this job can’t be overstated: the books that are (and aren’t) published give a publishing house its identity, its purpose, and so on. You won’t be surprised to hear this is currently my responsibility; it’ll be tough to give up, but unlike #1, I can imagine doing so.
#3: ‘Chief Operating Officer’
A fifteen-person company is still fairly small, so this role will encompass day-to-day financial decisions, budgeting, payroll, HR, and probably a bit of legal stuff too (like making sure we have the right insurance). To be honest, I’ve bored myself just typing that — but this stuff has to be done, and some people really enjoy it! At the moment, this work takes up one of my five days a week, but I’m hoping to see the back of it soon. (Not too sure about the job title here, may have just heard it on some glitzy drama series. Any other suggestions?)
#4: Production Manager
This is a crucial job, managing the progress of each book through our ‘workflow’ — from signing, to editing, to design, to print — making sure each stage happens on schedule, and without any author panics. Great organisational skills are needed, and a calm disposition; finding a Production Manager last winter was one of the extreme bits of good luck I mentioned in the intro. However, managing the flood of production-related emails is a job too big for one person to bear, hence the appointment of a…
#5: Production Assistant
…to be the extra oil on the wheels of our Production Department. As every author has my email address on speed-dial, I find myself filling this role at present (that’s day four for me, if you’re keeping count). It’s not a complete pain, though this is another area of responsibility I’m trying to escape.
#6: ‘Head of Design’
Or maybe ‘Design Chief’? I quite like ‘Art Director’ too. In any case, the job here is to supervise the design decisions for each book; particularly the covers, but the insides as well — make sure the typesetting is up to scratch. At the moment, this job takes up my fifth and final working day (I seem to be wearing a lot of hats). When the fifteen-person company becomes a reality, the Head of Design will be keeping a close eye on the next two staff…
#7/#8: ‘Design Assistants’
The truth is, a lot of the design work within a publishing house doesn’t require any awesome skills or creativity. With the right templates, I’ve discovered that the job of typesetting (formatting the text for print) can be taught in a day and mastered in a week; so at the moment, this is being done by our interns (we usually have at least one in the office on a weekday, fully paid of course. Hi interns! Big shout out!) It is time-consuming though, hence why two Design Assistants are needed to support one of everyone else.
#9: ‘Submissions Coordinator’
This role is a ‘Coordinator’ because one cannot really manage submissions — to be honest, you probably can’t coordinate them either, but ‘Submissions Tamer’ wouldn’t quite set the right tone. I don’t think other publishers have this role, but it’s essential for us with our open submissions policy and new manuscripts flooding in every day… someone needs to keep track of them.
As with #4, I have been unbelievably lucky to find the ideal person to fill this role, currently working just one day a week.
#10: ‘Submissions Assistant’
This role, currently filled by the plucky interns, involves taking some of the administrative burden from the Subs Coordinator, and also being a valuable ‘second opinion’ when the SubCo is too overwhelmed by incoming literature to tell if a manuscript is good anymore.
From the subs department, the best manuscripts go out to a group of volunteer readers, who then feed back to employees #9 and #10. In this model, they would present their findings to #2, the Commissioning Editor, and if they approve then the Production Department would get to work.
#11: ‘Director of Publicity’
This involves communicating with media contacts, persuading them that our books are currently HOT and should be getting lots of coverage. A bit of a Sisyphean task, really. This role is currently filled by a freelancer on retainer, working a few hours on and off during the week (without a single complaint, god bless her!)
#12: ‘Social Media Manager’
I always get a bit grumpy about spending any money on social media, but all evidence suggests I’d be a fool to neglect it. At the moment this comes under #11’s jurisdiction, but we all have a go from time to time — and we all dabble with a bit of publicity too, come to think of it.
#13: ‘Events Manager’
As with #12, I’ve only recently come round to seeing the need for this department; but there’s no-one so zealous as a convert, as they say! The Events Manager keeps the authors close to the public, and in the genres we work in, there’s no better way of selling books. Currently, this is another freelancer, working a few hours throughout the week; a recent recruit, full of enthusiasm for her craft!
#14: ‘Direct Orders Manager’
This title seems a bit clunky… will work on it. In any case, the role involves recording and dispatching orders placed through our website, and any that come in directly from authors. This is currently being taken care of by the Production Manager, who is therefore carrying the unusual title of ‘Assistant Publisher’ to cover both jobs (and lots of other stuff).
#15: ‘Executive Assistant’
Finally, we come to the title currently held by my wife, a.k.a. Mrs McGarry — and considering she’s also responsible for a rather active nine-month-old child eight hours a day, she’s not doing too badly.
In the company of the future, this is the person manning the phone, keeping the office organised and taking some of the email strain off the other staff (we each get hundreds a week now, so I can only imagine the horrors to come). This requires a kind soul and a patient heart, which of course Mrs McGarry does have in great supply (that should make up for the earlier slight!)
That’s all fifteen then; I hope you found this interesting or useful. If you work in publishing, perhaps in an even bigger company, I’d love to know how this matches up to your experiences — what, or who, have I forgotten? And don’t forget to wish us luck, in our efforts to make this a reality…