Publishing: from the publisher’s POV
Publishing houses tend to have a lot of disparaging things to say about authors. This is slightly ironic, since the author is the reason the publishing house exists in the first place, but the vast majority of authors do make the process more difficult than it needs to be, simply because they are protective of their work and feel like they need to be involved in every stage of the process. While publishers do enjoy working with authors, sometimes, we just want to strangle you.
Self-publishing is becoming a greater attraction to new authors, but there are benefits to still being traditionally published. The publishing house has a larger budget to spend on marketing and a larger audience to attract. The publisher does have the author’s best interest in mind, and will work very hard to make sure the author is getting the best product out there and the most returns on his or her hard work. However, the traditional process is rather lengthy. Some would argue that it’s still absolutely worth it.
This is the process of getting a book published traditionally:
- Author writes a proposal to the publisher. Usually this is sent to the publisher via an agent, though it is not impossible for an author to contact the publisher directly. This is especially true when the author has been previously published by the same publisher. The proposal contains a description of the book concept and more importantly, the reasons why this particular publisher should publish this book. Usually it’s because this publisher publishes similar books or subjects. Even if your book is the next Great American Novel, a university press that publishes primarily books on spaceflight won’t agree to publish your novel about two fictional sisters growing up during the Depression. Nor will a publisher in Italy. Just like you spent so much time crafting your words for a specific audience, now you have to send your proposal to publishers who would consider your novel worth publishing from a business standpoint.
- This proposal is given to an acquiring editor who will review it for the intention of publishing. If it’s a scholarly work, sometimes the book hasn’t even been written yet, and the author is looking for a contract to publish so they can get funding for research and a guarantee that all the work they put into this book will see the light of day. If it’s a work of fiction, it’s almost always written before the proposal is submitted to the publisher. The exception is subsequent books in a series.
- The acquiring editor reviews all the available elements of the book and will draft a contract and a Decision to Publish, and will send this back to the author. The publishing date (referred to as the pub date) is determined at this time. This date can be as far in the future as three or four years, and generally not sooner than one year.
- Any art for the book is reviewed to make sure the quality is good enough to publish and the correct permissions have been acquired. If art needs to be changed or swapped out, the author must find suitable replacements and change any text (also known as copy) necessary.
- The author submits all elements of their book (images, text, bibliography, notes to the text, etc.) to the acquiring editor. Once the information has been completely submitted, the project is “launched” and a timeline for completion is constructed. The book price is determined, and bids for printers are sent out (asking for estimates, or quotes, on how much they will charge to print an edition of the book). Then the project is “transmitted” to the project editor for editorial review.
- Marketing receives a copy of the book as well, and begins writing jacket copy (the summary on the book cover) and creating a marketing campaign for the book.
- The book is copyedited. This means that grammar, consistency, and flow are edited. The copyedited version is sent back to the author for review to approve or decline changes to the manuscript.
- A cover is created. This undergoes internal approval, sometimes involving several iterations of the cover, and then in-house approved covers are sent to the author for final approval. Cover image permissions are finalized and appropriate payment (if necessary) is made. Whether the publisher or the author pays for the permissions is established in the contract.
- The manuscript is sent back to the publisher with all changes made from copyediting. The project editor then finalizes the document and sends it to the designer to create an interior book layout.
- The design and manuscript are then sent to the compositor (also known as a typesetter or image setter), and the book is set (laid out as it will appear in print). These page proofs are proofread for accuracy against the manuscript, and sent back to the author.
- If an index is required, the index is made at this time. The book may also be sent out to be reviewed at this time. This is where “Advance Copy” books are produced.
- The author makes any additional changes. At this point, the publisher hopes that there are very few changes left to be made, but usually the author finds a lot of corrections (and we’re talking about manuscript corrections… ones that theoretically should’ve been taken care of during the copyediting stage). This is called the red line stage, or red lines.
- The marketing campaign generally launches around this time. Any reviews that were made are added to the cover copy.
- The page proofs are sent back to the publisher, and final changes are made and the index is set. The page proofs and cover are prepped for printing and sent to the printer.
- The printer sends back sample pages, also called the blue line stage, or blues, and any final adjustments are made. Generally, corrections are avoided at this stage, as they can be quite costly.
- The book is printed and shipped to the publisher. The author receives gratis copies of the book and the rest are sent to the distributor warehouses (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, libraries, etc).
- An e-book version may be created at this time, either in-house or through a third-party.
- The book is distributed on its release date, and readers flood in to throw money at the greatest book ever published.
- The publisher is the one who technically gets paid by all these generous readers, though the contract with the author will specify a certain amount of royalites to be paid (generally a percentage of the total). This money is split between the author and the agent.
Depending on the size of the publishing house, some of these jobs may be condensed into a singular process, for example, the designer may also typeset the book, or the acquiring editor may also be the project editor. Or, in a really large press, these jobs could be split up. There could be a dedicated copyeditor or assistant project editors who also contribute to this process. And these days, almost the entire process is done digitally.
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