Book Market

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Summary of a paper presented in 2007-08 AM Zadie Smith's Multicultural World by Hete Möller 13:40, 6 December 2007 (CET)

  • An author writes a script and can now send it either directly to a publishing house or to an agent, hoping that he will agree to represent him. If this should be the case, the agent will now send the script to a number of publishing houses.
  • At the publishing house, all scripts by unknown authors are put on the so called “slush pile”. It is now the job of assistants and interns to look through these scripts and check whether anything promising can be found. If this is the case, the assistants will try to catch the attention of an editor.
  • The editor then checks the script himself and either rejects it and sends it back to the agent, or he accepts it and starts negotiations with the author’s agent.
  • These negotiations concern the rights (Intellectual Property) and royalties (money paid to the author each time a copy of his book is sold – usually 10% of the price), but also the way of publication (hardback, paperback), the price of the book and, very important, the advance payment.
  • Advance payments can differ considerately, depending on the author’s popularity. The publisher has to calculate the potential sale numbers and predict the production costs. Usually the advance payment of an author equals 1/3 of the royalties of the first number of copies printed. However, very famous authors can ask for large advances.
  • Once all these issues are resolved, the script might be sent back to the author for some changes. This goes hand in hand with editing. Editing not only deals with the correction of spelling or grammar, but can also include changes on the structure of a book, helping the author with his style, checking facts (for example when the novel is set in a historic background). The editor also makes sure that a book answers to the house style of the publishing house. Most publishing houses have a publisher’s style guide, setting the standards for design, but also for writing, which must be met with if an author wants to publish his work at that particular publishing house.
  • After editing, when the written form of the future book has been decided on, the next step of production is design. Design deals with the exterior appearance of a book and concerns the typesetting, the layout and the cover design. The design department also decides which kind of paper and what binding method shall be used in order to produce the finished book.
  • At this stage, design might already work together with the printing company. The printing companies, which are concerned with the “actual” production of books, are usually individual companies that are appointed by the publishing houses to print the book.
  • Before a book is sold to the reading public at a bookstore, the publishing house tries to make sure it is in fact bought, by employing marketing strategies. These may include posters and advertising but also sending copies of the book to review magazines and TV-shows. When a book is available at the bookstores, the author might also be asked to give interviews or readings and appear at certain events.
  • The selling of books to the bookstores is today carried out by individual, specialised companies, hired by the publishing houses.
  • When the publishing house has successfully sold its copies to the different book-selling stores, the public can then finally buy the book.

Example: Zadie Smith


  • Hamish Hamilton (belongs to Penguin Books since 1986)
  • Authors published include: J. D. Salinger, Raymond Chandler, Truman Capote, Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, John Updike, William Boyd, Jonathan Safran Foer, Kiran Desai and others
  • In the 1990s Hamish Hamilton Books decided to reduce the number of books published each year to about 25 or 35 titles. The aim was to be able to pay more attention and energy to each author and his work.


  • A. P. Watt Ltd.
  • This is the longest-established literary agency in the world, it was founded in 1875. The agents of this agency are assigned to certain fields of work, such as Books, Foreign Rights and Media. Agents working in Books are specialized, for example paying particular attention to authors of fiction, non-fiction or children’s books.
  • Authors represented also include Nicholas Evans and Giles Folden
  • Zadie Smith’s agent is Georgia Garrett. She joined A. P. Watt Ltd. in 2000 and she specializes in fiction, well-written commercial fiction and narrative non-fiction.