From Manuscript to Bookshelf: How a Book Gets Published
When you work in publishing all day long, you come to think of the process of making books as being this natural and organic thing that everyone understands just as intuitively as you do. But alas, many of the processes of book publishing are not familiar to the general public, or are cloaked in industry jargon, or both. Let’s demystify some of this stuff, shall we?
This is a general overview of some of the most usual publishing practices that we use around here—of course, there are always exceptions and other possible scenarios that come in to play from time to time, and other publishers may do things differently. But here are the basics of how it works here at Chronicle Books, in a dozen simple steps.
Step 1: Book Proposal
To kick things off, you send in a book proposal. Publishers have submissions guidelines telling you what to include in your proposal and how to send it. Chronicle’s submission guidelines live here. (And a handy post I wrote about how to propose an art book lives here.)
Step 2: Initial Conversations and Approval
First, there are some initial conversations between you (or your agent) and your would-be editor. If the editor likes your proposal and wants to publish it, he or she takes it to an acquisitions board meeting for official green-lighting.
Step 3: Offer
The editor is now empowered to make you an offer. This is a formal letter outlining the materials you will deliver, due dates for those deliverables, how much the publisher is offering to pay you, and other details.
The financial piece of a standard publishing offer takes the form of an advance against royalties. An advance is a sum you are paid upfront to help offset your costs of working on your book. Royalties are the percentage of the sale of each copy of the book that you earn. Down the road, when your book starts selling, the royalties on each copy go towards earning out the advance you were already paid. When enough royalties have accrued to zero out the advance, you start getting royalty checks. But even if your book never sells enough copies to earn out your advance, the advance is still yours to keep—you do not have to pay the balance back to the publisher.
Step 4: Contract
You (or your agent) negotiate a deal with your editor. Once you’ve reached an agreement you both are happy with, you virtually shake hands and you have a book deal. A contract follows several weeks later. Since the contract contains a good deal more detail (and a lot more legalese) than the offer letter did, there may now be some new points for negotiation. Once that’s done, the contract is signed and everything is official.
Step 5: Writing/Art Making
You go write a book. Or, in the case of many of my authors since I work on art books—you go make the art for a book.
Step 6: Final Draft
Your deadline rolls around and you turn in your final art and manuscript to your editor. Art takes the form of high-res reproduction-quality digital art files. A manuscript is your clean final draft of the text for your book in a Word document.
Step 7: Editing
Your editor edits your delivery. For text this means marking up your manuscript with questions and suggested changes, most likely using the track changes feature in Word. For art this can mean discussing the matters of the image edit and image sequence. Once the editor has done his or her big-picture edit, the manuscript will also go to a copyeditor to catch the smaller stuff (spelling, grammar, typos, etc.).
Step 8: Galleys
The final clean manuscript and art go to the design department to lay out the book. You, your editor, and a proofreader all review galleys. Galleys are the book all designed and laid-out, viewed either on-screen as a PDF or as paper print-outs. This is the time we all make sure no mistakes have slipped though, and that everything is making sense on the page.
Step 9: Proofs
Once we’ve gone through several rounds of galleys to make sure everything is just as it should be, we send the book files to the printer and they output color-accurate proofs. Our production department reviews the proofs in a light booth to make sure the color looks great. With my authors who are artists, I send proofs with them as well to confirm color accuracy.
Step 10: Advances
The book is printed and bound at the printer. Your book is finished! We receive advances. Advances (not to be confused with an advance) are a small number of copies of the book that are air-freighted from the printer to the publisher so that we can see the finished book as soon as possible—we send a couple of copies to you the author, and our publicity department uses advances to pitch the book to long-lead media (aka glossy magazines that determine their content 4-6 months in advance).
Step 11: Marketing and Publicity
Our publicity department and marketing department coordinate with you to make plans for the book’s release and promotion. Just like the publication process outlined above is a collaboration between author and publisher, so too is the execution of the book’s marketing and publicity plan. We reach out to the media, you reach out to your fans and followers, we work together to coordinate promotional activities specific to your project.
Step 12: You’re a Published Author
The book comes out. The world is astounded by your brightness.
PS—A word about timelines: all of the above typically takes about 1-2 years total. This sounds like a long time until you get down in it, and then the time flies by like the wind.
– – –
To learn more about the nuts and bolts (or backbones and headbands) of the publishing business, you can read about…
- How to submit your children’s book
- What your art book proposal needs
- An editor’s thoughts on how to get published
- More thoughts on how to get published
- What it’s really like to be a cookbook editor
- The surprisingly complex principles of a successful picture book
Photography by Irene Kim Shepherd
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