This unit gives the basic understanding of book publishing, as well the steps involved. The unit is subdivided as follows:

  1. Origin and concept of books 
  2. Understanding book publishing and its terminologies 
  3. Steps in book publishing 


At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1. discuss the origin and concept of book 
  2. explain the process of book publishing and its terminologies 
  3. enumerate the steps in book publishing. 


3.1 Origin and Concept of Book Publishing

Long before the coming of the printing press, books were made of vellum (calf or lamb skin) because of its durability. In San Simeon (also known as Hearst’s Castle), there are lampshades that William Randolph Hearst had made from 15th century Gregorian prayer books and the vellum is still in excellent condition. For books that took more than a year to produce, paper was too flimsy. However, for print books, vellum was too costly to produce.

One notable historical figure in the printing world was Gutenberg. In 1452, Gutenberg conceived of the idea for movable type. In his workshop, he brought together the technologies of paper, oil-based ink and the wine-press to print books. The printing press was not a single invention. It was the aggregation in one place, of technologies known for centuries before Gutenberg. One thing to remember is that Gutenberg got credit for an invention that was thought to have been developed simultaneously in Holland and in Prague.

Below are other inventions brought together by Gutenberg in his pursuit of a printing press:

  1. The adaptation for printing, of the wine or olive oil, screw-type press that had been in use for hundreds of years, throughout Europe and Asia. 
  2. The adaptation of block-print technology – known in Europe since the return of Marco Polo from Asia at the end of the 13th century. 
  3. The development of mass production paper-making techniques. Paper was brought from China to Italy in the 12th C. but was thought too flimsy for books. 
  4. The development of oil-based inks. These had been around since the 10th century, but smeared on the vellum used to make books. The religious manuscripts used an egg-based tempera. This was unsuitable for printing with type. 
  5. Gutenberg’s contribution to printing was the development of a punch and mold system which allowed the mass production of the movable type used to reproduce a page of text. These letters would be put together in a type tray which was then used to print a page of text. If a letter broke down, it could be replaced. When the printing of the copies of one page was finished, the type could be reused for the next page or the next book. 

These technological improvements stretch across five centuries. They do not cluster around Gutenberg’s time. The first books to show up in print shops were bibles and religious tracts. The next books to attract publishers were the “humanist” texts brought back from Byzantium by the Crusades, and other texts of antiquity but there was little or no printing of new ideas.

Many people went into the printing business and went out again. The reason was that the distribution of books was poorly organized. The

market was there, and the potential for filling the demand, but the transport and control and “advertising” mechanisms were not in place.

In addition, there was still a low literacy rate in Europe. Most people did not know how to read at all. But non-literates were still affected by the book trade because the elites, who controlled society, were affected by books. And people who could not read still had access to book culture because there were traveling raconteurs who stood in the market and read from books as a means of making a living as entertainers.

3.1.1 Four Important Periods in the History of the Book

1. 7th to 13th Century This is the era of religious publications; the age of religious “manuscript” book production when Bibles and other religious publications were made. Books in this period are entirely constructed by hand, and are largely religious texts whose creation is meant as an act of worship.
2.13th to 15th CenturyThis is the era of secular book production; the secularization of book production. Books are beginning to be produced that do not serve as objects of worship, but that try to explain something about the observable world. The difficulty with the spread of such knowledge is that production is still taking place via pre-print – manuscript – methods. The production of secular books was driven by two things:

a. The rise of universities in Europe, spreading from Italy.
b. The return of the crusaders in the 13th century, who brought with them texts from Byzantium. These books, written during the Greek and Roman periods in history, focused on this-world concerns.

3. 15th to 16th Century The first printed books. These are print versions of traditional works like the Bible, books of hours (prayer books) and the religious calendars.

4.16th to 17th CenturyNew information is put into books that have important consequences for European life and society.

3.1.2 Definition of Book Paper

Paper is a general term used to describe a type of paper suitable for printing, especially offset printing. Below are more specific definitions of various kinds of book paper.

Book Paper

This can have many different finishes and may be coated or uncoated. Premium book paper is also called Bible grade. More opaque than bond paper and good for 2-sided printing, book paper is also characterized by excellent folding qualities and durability. Book paper has a basic size of 25″ x 38″ and the basis weights range from 22 to 150 lbs. Offset papers are especially suitable for offset printing due to increased resistance to water and picking.
Bible PaperThis is a thin, lightweight, opaque printing paper with a basic size of 25″ x 38″. It is generally made from 25% cotton and linen rags or flax in combination with chemical wood pulp. Bible paper typically has a long life. Bible paper is a premium grade of book paper. The name of Bible paper comes from it being the type of paper commonly used for Bibles.

It is an inexpensive paper made primarily of mechanically ground wood pulp rather than chemical pulp. Newsprint has a shorter lifespan than other papers but is cheap to produce in bulk and is the least expensive paper that can withstand normal printing processes. Newsprint has a basic size of 24″ x 36″. Newsprint is the type of paper used for newspapers and may also be used for comic books, some newsletters and trade magazines and buy/sell/trade classified ad weeklies.
Cover PaperIs the term for a heavy, stiff paper with a basic size of 20″ x 26″. Some cover paper may have matching book paper with the same colours and finishes. It is also known as card stock. Cover paper is used for book covers, file folders, presentation folders, greeting cards, business cards, postcards, and brochures.


This book in your hand is made up of which paper? Give reasons for your answer.

3.2 Understanding Book Publishing and its Terminology

3.2.1 Understanding Book publishingBook Publishing could be defined as a professional activity involving the selection, development and editing of manuscripts; contractual agreements with authors or copyright holders; production and marketing of printed books under the firm’s imprint; and the assumption of the risks associated with these activities.

Wikipedia (online dictionary) defines publishing as the process of production and dissemination of literature or information – the activity of making information available for public view. In some cases, authors may be their own publishers. Traditionally, the term refers to the distribution of printed works such as books (the “book world”) and newspapers. With the advent of digital information systems and the Internet, the scope of publishing has expanded to include electronic resources, such as the electronic versions of books and periodicals, as well as websites, blogs, games and the like.

Publishing includes the stages of development, acquisition, copyediting, graphic design, production – printing (and its electronic equivalents), and marketing and distribution of newspapers, magazines, books, literary works, musical works, software and other works dealing with information, including the electronic media.

3.2.2 Book Publishing Terminologies

Is the person, organization, or company that finances the book and controls the editing, designing, printing, and marketing of it. The publisher is the risk taker and owns the physical books. Money flows in one direction and one direction only: from the publisher to the author, normally in the form of royalties on sales.
Self-PublisherThis is when the author doubles as the publisher. Authors who choose to self-publish do so because they want more control over the process, or because they can (with certain kinds of books) make more money than they would receive in royalties if someone else published it. Of course some have to self-publish because they can’t find someone else willing to publish their work. If you are paying for the production and printing of your book, you are the publisher. Anyone else involved, regardless of what they refer to themselves as, is merely a contractor.
ProducerA book producer handles any or all aspects of putting a book together and getting it printed. This includes editing, design, typesetting, scanning and image preparation, digital page composition, obtaining printer quotes, and working with the printer. Often the publisher performs these functions, but there are companies, such as Fox Meadow, that produce books for other publishers (including self-publishers) on a contract basis. Many book publishers with in-house design and production staff will also produce books on the side to bring in some guaranteed income. The important thing to remember here is that the producer doesn’t own the books. The publisher does: he paid for them. After they are printed, the books are delivered to the publisher, who handles marketing and distribution and receives all income from sales.
Vanity PublishersA vanity publisher is a company that puts out books under its own imprint but actually requires authors to pay the entire cost of production — in advance. The royalty rate to the author may be higher than what true publishers pay, but of course, having all its money up front, such a firm has little incentive to market a book, and you may see little return. You may also have trouble getting possession of the books. Beware! Self-publish instead. It will probably cost less, you’ll be in complete control, and you’ll get all the revenue.
Subsidy PublishingThis is a grey area between true publishing and vanity publishing. Here the author makes a contribution to the cost of publishing the book. Although the author and the publisher are really co-publishers, usually only the publisher’s imprint appears on the book. The author normally receives a higher royalty than in the true publishing model, but without knowing exactly what the publisher’s actual costs for producing and marketing the book are, it is a safe bet that the publisher will establish a royalty that short-changes the author. If you as an author wants to participate in a subsidy publishing arrangement, get all the facts you can and make sure you have a detailed contract.
The PrinterIs he who prints and usually binds the book. At one time, publishers had their own presses. Today, most book printing is done by specialized book manufacturers who have no other involvement in the project other than providing technical advice on how to prepare material for them. You pay them to print it. Some printers provide design and typesetting services as well. Generally, specialized book manufacturers provide better pricing and more options than general commercial printers can on a book.
Book DistributorIs the one who acts as the link between publisher and retailer in cases where the publisher does not want to be involved in shipping books and collecting money from retailers. The distributor receives orders from retailers, ships books, invoices and collects revenue, and handles returns. This is normally done on a commission basis. It is quite a costly service, but almost essential for a small publisher who wants to sell books in stores all across the country, or in a different country. Some large book retailers unfortunately will not even purchase books directly from small publishers. A distributor usually handles books from several publishers. Large national publishers may do their own distribution, or own a separate distribution company. The publisher is still responsible for marketing the book that is, creating a demand for it through advertising, promotion, author tours, etc. The distributor merely fills the resulting orders.
Book PackIs an eligible trade book packaged and sold together with a non-book item, such as a CD or a toy. Exception: books sold with a CD inside the cover that is not visible from the outside are not considered book packs, but as regular books.
Children’s BookA trade book published for the children’s or young adults’ markets, including picture books, easy-to-read books, chapter books and young adult books. Educational books intended for elementary school students are also considered children’s books.
Co-publishingIs a joint financial investment by two or more publishers to conceive, produce and print, under their respective imprints, individual titles or collections to be sold in their respective markets. Provided all other eligibility criteria are satisfied, co-published books are eligible, but applicants may claim as eligible sales only their portion of the total revenue. The partner publisher of the applicant may be foreign-owned.
Educational Book Are instructional materials, such as textbooks, teachers’ guides and eligible learning kits designed for the primary, secondary or post-secondary school markets.
New EditionIs the publication in modified form of a book previously published by the same or a different publisher. In contrast with a new title, a book is considered a new edition if more than 50% of its content is taken from the previously published book. In contrast with a reprint, a new edition must have at least one of the following: substantial changes in the format or binding; reformatting of at least 50% of the text; either substantial changes to at least 25% of the original written content or at least 25% new written content; or substantial changes to the illustrations, other than on the cover.
Non-Print MaterialAre audiotape, audio CD, CD-ROM, e-book, or similar product.Own Titles
Are titles for which the publisher holds publication, development and marketing rights for its own market.
Reference YearIs the publisher’s financial year that its Aid to Publishers application is based on and which is used to complete the application form.
Scholarly BookA book based on research that makes a significant contribution to the development of knowledge in a given field and is subject to peer review prior to publication. Together with trade books and educational books, scholarly books are one of the three Book Publishing Industry Development Programme (BPIDP) commercial categories.
Self-Published TitleA publication written by authors who are shareholders or owners of the publishing firm.
Trade BookA book intended for the public in general, including literary works, how-to books, dictionaries, encyclopedias and reference works intended for professionals. Any title that is not an educational or a scholarly book is considered to be a trade book.
Vanity TitleA publication dependent on a financial contribution from, or an initial purchase by, the author.


What are the challenges facing book publishing in Nigeria?

3.3Steps in Book Publishing

Below are the steps in book publishing as enumerated by wikipedia: Submission by Author or Agent
Book and magazine publishers spend a lot of their time buying or commissioning copy. At a small press, it is possible to survive by relying entirely on commissioned material. But as activity increases, the need for works may outstrip the publisher’s established circle of writers.Writers often first submit a query letter or proposal. The majority of unsolicited submissions come from previously unpublished authors. When such manuscripts are unsolicited, they must go through the slush pile, in which acquisitions editors sift through to identify manuscripts of sufficient quality or revenue potential to be referred to the editorial staff. Established authors are often represented by a literary agent to market their work to publishers and negotiate contracts.

Acceptance and Negotiation

Once a work is accepted, commissioning editors negotiate the purchase of intellectual property rights and agree on royalty rates. The authors of traditional printed materials sell exclusive territorial intellectual property rights that match the list of countries in which distribution is proposed (i.e. the rights match the legal systems under which copyright protections can be enforced). In the case of books, the publisher and writer must also agree on the intended formats of publication -— mass-market paperback, “trade” paperback and hardback are the most common options.

The situation is slightly more complex if electronic formatting is to be used. Where distribution is to be by CD-ROM or other physical media, there is no reason to treat this form differently from a paper format, and a national copyright is an acceptable approach. But the possibility of Internet download without the ability to restrict physical distribution within national boundaries presents legal problems that are usually solved by selling language or translation rights rather than national rights. Thus, Internet access across the European Union is relatively open because of the laws forbidding discrimination based on nationality, but the fact of publication in, say, France, limits the target market to those who read French.
Having agreed on the scope of the publication and the formats, the parties in a book agreement must then agree on royalty rates, the percentage of the gross retail price that will be paid to the author and the advance payment. This is difficult because the publisher must estimate the potential sales in each market and balance projected revenue against production costs. Royalties usually range between 10-12% of recommended retail price. An advance is usually 1/3 of first print run total royalties. For example, if a book has a print run of 5000 copies and will be sold at $14.95 and the author receives 10% royalties, the total sum payable to the author if all copies are sold is $7475 (10% x $14.95 x 5000). The advance in this instance would roughly be $2490. Advances vary greatly between books, with established authors commanding large advances.
Editorial StageOnce the immediate commercial decisions are taken and the technical legal issues resolved, the author may be asked to improve the quality of the work through rewriting or smaller changes, and the staff will edit the work. Publishers may maintain a house style, and staff will copy edit to ensure that the work matches the style and grammatical requirements of each market. Editing may also involve structural changes and requests for more information. Some publishers employ fact checkers.
PrepressWhen a final text is agreed upon, the next phase is design. This may include artwork being commissioned or confirmation of layout. In publishing, the word “art” also indicates photographs. This process prepares the work for printing through processes such as typesetting, dust jacket composition, specification of paper quality, binding method and casing, and proofreading.

The activities of typesetting, page layout, the production of negatives, plates from the negatives and, for hardbacks, the preparation of brasses for the spine legend and imprint are now all computerized. Prepress computerization evolved mainly in about the last twenty years of the 20th century. If the work is to be distributed electronically, the final files are saved as formats appropriate to the target operating systems of the hardware used for reading.


The period between the 13th and 16th centuries saw the rise of a print-dominated society, one that moved away from the Church’s monopoly of information that existed during the manuscript book period. This was initially fueled by the reproduction of classic texts of antiquity. It was further fueled by the development of new kinds of books in science.

These factors led to the development of books as elements of propaganda and religious education. There were social and political and economic changes that made print important. Those changes might not have happened as quickly or perhaps at all without print.

On the academic front, the development of the printing press represented a revolution for communicating the latest hypotheses and research results to the academic community and supplemented what a scholar could do personally. But this improvement in the efficiency of communication created a challenge for libraries which have had to accommodate the weight and volume of literature. Today, publishing academic journals and textbooks is a large part of an international industry. The shares of the major publishing companies are listed on national stock exchanges and management policies must satisfy the dividend expectations of international shareholders.


The book publishing industry has become a big business the world over. The Unit examined in great detail book publishing, right from its origin to its present state. The publishing terminologies and types of book papers were equally examined.


The reading culture of Nigerians especially, students are dying. This has negative effects on the book publishing business. Critically assess this statement in the light of the prevailing circumstances in Nigeria.


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