Specialising in award-winning books on art, design, photography, architecture, fashion, gardens and interiors, Merrell Publishers has established itself in the world of publishing. Hugh Merrell of Merrell Publishers knows far too well the question almost every publisher gets, that being what a publisher actually does. Setting the record straight and taking us on an in-depth journey into the world of publishing, Hugh elaborated on the industry that he believes has far too many misconceptions…

”I am often asked what it is that a publisher actually does. After all, the author writes the text and can run a spell-check and then format it, and subsequently the photographer or picture archive provides the images. They can even output the whole thing using a self-publishing platform and sell it on Amazon. So, what’s the big deal about a publisher?

There are some one million new books published in English each year. Of this number about 600,000 are ‘self-published’ with an average sale of no more than 125 copies – the rest are published by publishing houses like mine. Each week, I receive 15 to 20 book proposals. This week I’ve received, amongst others, proposals from a foundation in India, two photographers in the US, an interior designer in the US, a fashion writer in London and an architect in Tehran. I prefer to publish no more than 15 or so new books each year, and yet, I’m receiving upwards of a thousand proposals every year. Therefore, there is evidently an enormous number of new books being published and an even greater number of books looking to be published.

I specialise in books on art, architecture, photography and design, so in other words, I publish books that are best consumed as physical, printed books. E-books don’t work in my sector. The amount of investment required is considerable and so I have to be sure that I can sell sufficient numbers of copies within a certain period of time so I can recoup my investment, make a profit and then publish more books. It is imperative, therefore, that I am confident that each book is the right book for its target market. And it is this single, crucial element that defines the role of the publisher.

As a publisher, there are various decisions I have to make for every book, which include the style and angle taken by the author and the number of words that need to be written, what type of images are used and how to source them, the title and sometimes sub-title if that’s necessary, size of the page, type of paper, the way in which the book is bound, overall design direction and the book’s selling price… just to name a few! The publisher even takes into consideration how to pitch the book to the sales representatives and hence the book trade in a very competitive industry.

All these decisions are the responsibility of the publisher and if even one if one of these elements is wrong, the book’s success is jeopardised. It’s not rocket science by any means… but it’s far from being simple. And these factors also apply to books we make for what I term ‘strategic distribution’, which is when an organisation comes to me asking for a book on a particular subject for gifting to their membership, clients or employees. As a publisher, I would work through the same process in order to produce the right book for that organization’s target market.

There’s one other important aspect of the publisher’s role and that is curiosity. It is the desire to find out about things, to explore, to want to learn and then share the excitement of that new knowledge with others (whether it be Hells Angels or Indian stepwells) by publishing a perfectly crafted book that will be appreciated and that will last for many, many years to come.”

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