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Must-have fundamentals for publishing projects

When you publish a book (or anything book-like), you have an infinite number of choices to make. One reason people hire Electric Book Works is that we help them make the appropriate choices for their project, drawing on decades of publishing experience.

Despite all these options, there are certain building-blocks that are fundamental to the publishing process – they appear one way or another in every effective publishing project. No matter what you’re publishing, if these fundamentals are in place, you are on solid ground. And if you miss any of these, your project may falter, often in unexpected ways.


Why are you doing this? You’ll need:

  • A mission: a clear explanation of what your project aims to achieve. This includes both the change you want to see in the world and how you’ll measure it. For example, you might want ‘graduates prioritising climate change in their job choices’, measured as ‘the number of students completing a course based on our textbook’. In a commercial venture, you might simply want ‘a profit from sales’, measured as ‘a 15% net profit in one year from ten titles’.
  • Market validation: evidence that others also think your publication could achieve this. For example, feedback from independent readers, testing a chapter with a class, or email signups based on a first chapter posted online.
  • A sense check: should this be a book? Make sure you’ve interrogated this with yourself and your team. Book people can think books are hammers and everything is a nail. Once you’re sure this is a book, you can also decide what formats it really needs to be in. For example, a web book, print book, ebook, app, or audiobook.


Who is doing this? You’ll need:

  • A leader: a single, final-decision maker who feels a sense of personal ownership and accountability for the project, and is present and attentive throughout the process. Very rarely, this sense of personal ownership can be shared among two or three close colleagues. In a publishing company, this leader is usually the commissioning editor. For self-published books, it’s usually the author. This role is often neglected in organisations where the publication is seen as a box to tick, rather than someone’s personal mission.
  • Systems-oriented thinkers: the project needs a team who can see the connections between the project’s purpose and the many micro-decisions they will make as they work. These are systems thinkers. The quality of the people determines whether your purpose is baked in at every level.


How will you make it? You’ll need:

  • Appropriate tech: a deliberate choice of technology that weighs cost, time, quality, and flexibility over the short and long term. This will be influenced by your project’s purpose and strategy, including whether you are publishing in print, to the web, or as an ebook, app or audiobook.
  • Editing: while authors are best at creating from scratch, it takes fresh eyes and publishing experience to refine a text through editing. Professional, independent copy editing takes an author’s work to the next level. Manuscript development or developmental editing are valuable, but not necessarily fundamental.
  • Design: professional product design defines both visual form (branding, typography, colours, images) and the overall experience of discovering and using the product. This might include how packaging affects where people first see the book, what it feels like to hold it, and what owning it says about you. Every aspect of the design should support your purpose.
  • Quality assurance: usually and crucially, fresh-eye proofreading of the text in its final layout. If you don’t have the text professionally proofread, there will definitely be errors in your text that will damage its credibility. Even the most organised publishers find about one error per page during proofreading.
  • Version control: a sensible, collaborative filing system that makes it easy for the team to find and work on the master files.


How will you spread the word about it? You’ll need:

  • A web presence: a dedicated address on the Internet for your project. This might be a self-standing website, a dedicated page on an existing website, or a page on a social-media platform. This is where you’ll send people, and what they’ll share with others.
  • Outreach: a mechanism for reaching out to potential customers and supporters. Common mechanisms are a newsletter, social-media posts (if you have existing followers), or a series of events or appearances on others’ platforms.
  • Credibility: at least one, primary mechanism for gaining people’s trust, with an ongoing programme for growing it. For example, you might focus on getting customer reviews, winning awards, or creating videos of the authors to encourage a personal connection with them. Being associated with a strong existing brand can also be valuable.
  • A user journey: a clear path for anyone arriving at your web presence, or any marketing asset, so that they know instantly and instinctively what to do next on their path to becoming a supporter or a customer. You should be able to write this path down in a few bullet points.
  • Easy transactions: a frictionless way for fans to reward or support you, whether that’s in money, behaviour, or evangelism.
  • Web maintenance: a plan, with ongoing implementation, for improving the usability and discoverability of your web presence – especially its search-engine ranking.
  • Metrics: a concrete way to measure progress and gather feedback. For example, you might use web analytics, frequent user surveys or interviews, or detailed sales data.


How will you ensure it sticks around? You’ll need:

  • A succession plan: ideally, the leader who oversaw the publication process remains its primary champion indefinitely. That’s often not feasible, so a succession plan for individual leadership is crucial.
  • User support: a mechanism for dealing with ongoing, incoming queries. These queries are always opportunities to inspire users to become your champions.
  • Storage: infrastructure for version control and storage of all project assets.
  • Funding: a mechanism for paying for ongoing services. These are inevitable, and include things like domain-renewal fees, print-on-demand listing fees, server-update costs, and tax-reporting obligations.
  • Legal ownership: an entity for holding copyright and making copyright-related decisions.

Every experienced publisher will have their own list of fundamentals, and if yours is different, I’d love to hear more. The best way to do that is to tag me on LinkedIn, where I engage with other publishing professionals. My team and I will continue to develop and refine this list, and we hope it helps you get the most out of your publishing projects.

Arthur Attwell 7 July 2023
The card for this post shows a poster from the 1920s by Ethel C Taylor titled ‘Why not books?’.