The Compulsive Reader: April Book of the Month: From the Author!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

April Book of the Month: From the Author!

The author of our Book of the Month, Jennifer E. Smith works in publishing, and she's here today to tell us all the details about what goes on in order to make a manuscript a book!

One of the things people find most mystifying about the publishing process is why it takes so long for a manuscript to become a book. In addition to being a writer, I also work as an Associate Editor at a publishing house, and so I get to see the process from both angles. There’s a lot that happens in order to turn a stack of pages into a hard rectangular object, so I thought I’d walk through it briefly, and if anyone has any questions, you can post them in the comments, and I’ll be happy to answer them.

Since it seems like the whole agent thing has been fairly well covered – most of you know about query letters, etc – I’ll just start with what happens once your agent has sold your manuscript to an editor. In an ideal situation, the whole process – from the sale to the shelf – should take a little less than a year. However, sometimes there are situations when books are “rushed” or “crashed” – produced on a sped-up schedule – in order to get the book out at a certain time, i.e. when there are newsworthy or timely events that might coincide with the publication. But it typically takes more like nine months to a year.

Some books are bought from proposals, some from partial manuscripts, and some from full drafts. Depending on how complete yours is when it’s sold to a publishing house, the editor will get right to work on it. It’s their job to shape the big ideas of the book, to help guide you in things like pacing, structure, and character development. They’re the ones who revise and mold the book to make sure it lives up to its potential.

Once they’re done, the manuscript gets transmitted into production, where it first gets copyedited (smaller level revisions to correct grammar, punctuation, consistency, etc.), and then typeset (so that it looks like an actual book and not a homework assignment). Once it’s typeset, the manuscript will go through several different versions or passes, some of which the author will get to see in order to make further corrections. There will be early galley copies bound from one of these passes, which will be sent as advanced reader’s editions to reviewers and booksellers and others who might spread the word about your book. Meanwhile, the art department has been working on the cover design, the interior designer has been laying out the text, and the marketing and publicity departments have been making plans to get your book out into the world. Your editor has been writing up catalog copy for the sales force, as well as jacket copy to go on the back of the book, and the sales team has been gearing up to launch the title to buyers.

So while it seems like a long process, there’s actually a whole lot going on behind the scenes to get the book off your computer and into the hands of readers!

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