When most writers think of getting published, they imagine slaving over a manuscript with a whiskey glass in one hand and a cigarette the other. Then they pull the final page from a typewriter, put the entire manuscript in a thick envelope, and send it off to the publishers – their job is done! Time to wait for the royalties to come!
Now, don’t feel bad, because most of us think of it this way. However, the process of publishing becomes more scientific and less artistic the moment the book is done. Having a thorough understanding of what it entails could be the difference between a good-selling book and a great-selling book.
So let’s break it down. First, you have to finish your manuscript in its entirety. You get to keep your typewriter and your cigarette for this part, but things change from the moment it gets put in the thick envelope onward. Let’s start here.
Publishing houses are extremely busy. You’ve heard how everyone wants to publish a novel someday, right? Publishing houses have heard it too and they can attest to its truthfulness. This means they have more manuscripts than they know what to do with and while some are the next best seller, most of them are the literary version of crayon sketches on the walls. So they rely on agents to fish out what truly is the best, on a smaller scale. This brings the publishers a few thousand manuscripts instead of a few million. It’s common for publishers to not accept queries from anyone but agents.
Generally, a book needs an agent before it can be accepted into a publishing house – this is not always the case, but it is usually.
This part happens behind closed doors. Once the agent has convinced a publishing house to take the book under consideration, the editor makes the calls from there on. Editors do more than just edit; they are basically the chief in this equation. They decide whether to keep the book once they’ve been pitched it and they are the ones who pitch it to other members of the publishing house to see if it has potential. They contact the marketing division and the artists, and all the worker bees of the publishing hive to get the ball rolling. If the editor decides it’s good, then you’re pretty much sold.
Now the process takes a turn and comes back into the writer’s view, and this can be the last time it does until you see your book in print. This is where the actual deal is struck; it will be the determining factor in how you and your book are treated, or whether you’re kicked to the curb. With your agent present, you’ll meet with the editor and go over the details of the contract, determining royalties, what can be changed, and all that jazz.
This is still a teetering edge because while the book has now caught the publisher’s attention, it is only one of many that have. Several hundred books are published by major publishing companies each year. So while you’ve stepped out of the league with the millions of aspiring authors, you’ve stepped into the league of hundreds (or thousands) of first-time published authors.
So a deal is struck, and once the contract is signed, the book is officially property of the publishing house – not the author. The copyright stays, but the ownership does not. The author has now been paid for their time and will be paid in royalties at a later date. There are occasions, mostly with more well-known authors, where they have a say in the process (choosing a cover, rejecting alterations, etc.), but it’s not common. When this happens, they’re usually allowed to offer suggestions, but not decisions.
Sinking back out of the view of the writer, the book is taken and tossed into the grinder. Metaphorically.
If there are plot inconsistencies, scenes and characters that need to be added or cut or any other amendments; the book will generally be sent back to the author for these revisions. At this point, the editor will be working very closely with the author to see these alterations through.
The writer is usually required to make these corrections whether they like it or not, as it is a term agreed upon in the contract. However, very few authors make a fuss and usually, the changes are not drastic. Some publishers will be harsher than others, but for the most part, an editor would not accept a book that is in need of an entire rewrite. Meaning what does need changing is relatively unimportant.
For example, JK Rowling originally made Ron Weasley (from her series, Harry Potter) a lot more vulgar, cursing far beyond his iconic “bloody hell.” The editor insisted Rowling change it to better suit the younger age group her book was targeting which Rowling did without complaint.
Likewise, things like character names and the book title can be altered at the advisement of the marketing team (which will be covered later, but the marketing team is working at the same time as the editorial team.) Publishing is a science, not an art, so an editor will be inclined to adjust things to benefit the marketing and, inherently, the sales.
After the structural editing has been finished, a team of copy editors will go over it with a fine-toothed comb. Copy editing is one of the most intense parts of the editing process as it evaluates the actual readability. They will fix sentence structure, take out typos and misspells correct punctuation and grammar errors and generally polish and refine it. Usually, the process is not too laborious as error-filled books are stopped at the door with the editor or even the agent.
Back behind closed doors, this portion usually takes place at the same time as the editing. Cover designers will be busy with the artistic science process of creating a cover that will be both visually appealing and wise for sales. The latter requires them to work closely with the marketing team so that their creation zeros in on the targeted audience. Sometimes covers are commissioned from outside artists or photographers, but other times the designers are in-house.
Meanwhile, the book will be undergoing a formatting process known as typesetting. This prepares the interior to have the proper indentations, font, font size, centering on the page and things of that nature, so the book looks like… a book. This is usually a straightforward process if the manuscript is purely text, but if images are included a plethora of other factors must be determined.
Creating a dust jacket comes after along with deciding on the quality of paper – stark white or cream, thick pages like hardcovers or thin like short stories? The penultimate stage is the binding and casing process, which puts the book into an actual book-like form.
The marketing process is arguably the most important part of publishing a book because it determines whether or not all the hard work of the editors, designers, and the authors has been worth-while. If the book doesn’t sell, then no money is made and no fans are created.
The marketing team will be working hand in hand with almost all the departments to ensure the best marketing plan is created to match the best book manageable.
The team starts from the beginning, determining the targeted audience and the best release dates. For example, a romantic comedy would have its highest sales on Valentine’s Day and the marketing team will be the ones to determine this. If the romantic comedy is centered around a Christmas vacation, then the team will determine whether releasing on Christmas or Valentine’s Day is the most profitable. They’ll bring in the statistics that decide if the title should be changed, what the cover art should resemble, what genre the book is best suited for, what sort of readers to target and things of that nature.
Additionally, as the release date grows nearer, the team will be using all the resources available for promoting the release, drumming up excitement and attention with potential fans. Social media is a ragingly popular platform for advertising; the marketing team will be reaching out to possible readers and gaining attention by showing off the cover, revealing chapter sneak peeks and creating book trailers. Book trailers offer excerpts, music that matches the tone of the book, relevant scenery, and sometimes actors representing characters to grab readers’ attention.
As part of the marketing plan, publishing houses will often send out early or pre-proofread editions of the book to reviewers. At this point, the book is bound, edited and has a cover that may or may not be the official version; however, it may still contain the stray error here and there. Most reviewers are understanding and excited to have an early peek, so they will overlook any small infractions. This spreads positive advertisement for the book, as reviewers will (hopefully) be giving positive reviews, encouraging attention from potential readers.
Finally, the final eyes go over the text to make sure it’s perfect. Once the book has been bound, it has an entirely different look to the reader. This makes it easier for editors, authors, and the official proofreaders to catch any small errors the copy editors may have overlooked.
With all the corrections made and all the details finalized, the book will finally go to print. Automated machinery will print text onto paper, bind paper into book form, place the printed cover onto the book, and make it official.
Most publishing houses determine a number of books needed to be sold in order to turn a profit and will print out the amount required for the initial release. This creates the “first edition”. Should more be needed, a “second edition” will be printed to meet the demands.
Now the book has been officially “published”, having gone to print, and will be distributed to bookshops or other stores that sell books. The marketing team’s efforts come into full swing in determining which bookstores should carry it, the pricing, what sort of sales it should offer, and if the author should make an appearance for a signing or an interview.
Now the process comes back into the author’s vision, as they can walk into a store and see their finished book waiting on the shelf.