Many authors write their first novel without much insight into the publishing process. They have worked long and hard writing their story, and they are ready to send it out into the world. But it’s not that simple. Publishing a book can take as long or longer than writing it! The process varies, of course, depending on how an author chooses to publish their manuscript, but the basic elements remain the same. Here’s a brief and general overview to help writers take a step back, and understand the path their manuscript takes to becoming a book and eventually a best-seller.
Acquisitions – If you are self-publishing, you can skip this step. But for all other types of publishing, there is some type of acquisitions process. A publisher, whether hybrid or traditional, must decide whether or not they will publish an author’s work. For publishers who accept the financial risks of publication, there are many factors to consider. For instance, does the work align with the values and mission of the press? Is the subject matter or genre marketable? Does the work meet the high-quality standards of the industry? If a publisher, after asking all these questions, decides to publish an author’s work, then the manuscript moves on to the next step in the process.
Contract – Before a manuscript can become a book, the publisher and author must come to an agreement on the terms of publication. The contract is an outline of the services the publisher will provide in exchange for the rights to sell (and profit from) the author’s work. Some contracts require the author to pay for publishing services. In other contracts, the publisher agrees to take on the financial risk of publication. In both cases, the publisher and the author agree to a certain percentage of royalties paid to each party for future sales.
Editing – Whether self-publishing, hybrid publishing, or traditionally publishing, editing is probably the most important—and can be the longest—part of the publication process. No author writes the perfect manuscript the first time around. In order to be ready for publication, a manuscript must go through multiple rounds of editing, first by the author her/himself, and then in collaboration with an editor. Editing is broken down into three major phases that include developmental editing, copy editing, and proofreading. The developmental edit is a broad, overall evaluation of the structure of a manuscript and its effectiveness as a narrative. The copy edit examines syntax, grammar, and punctuation. The proofread is a careful examination of all spelling and punctuation to ensure the manuscript is clean and ready for the public eye.
Set a release date – Because the length of time for developmental editing varies greatly, most publishers will not choose a release date for the book until developmental editing has been completed. But once it has, the release date will be set—usually, six to eighteen months later to allow for design, marketing, and any potential delays. Additionally, it is important to set an “on-sale” date. This is the date the book will become available for retailers and for pre-order. The “on-sale” date can be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months prior to the release date.
Cover Design – Every book needs a great cover because, honestly, most people judge a book by its cover. In order to get a great cover, it’s wise to hire a professional. The designer will ask the publisher to complete a “design brief” which gives the designer all the information they need such as a synopsis, the target audience, and a list of comparable titles. The design process could take a month or two depending on the number of revisions the designer is asked to make.
Page Design – Once the cover has been designed, the designer will go to work on the interior page design and layout. This is the process of choosing a font, creating a copyright page, and formatting the paragraphs, chapters, and any illustrations or photographs. This generally takes a few weeks.
Proofing – Once the interior of the book has been designed, it’s important to review and proofread the entire book. First, this will be done by reading an electronic version of the book. Any errors the publisher finds will be communicated with the designer who will incorporate any final edits.
Distribution – Every book needs a distributor. In the case of large presses, they will contract with a printer first who will then coordinate with a warehouse distributor. For smaller presses and self-published authors, distribution and printing is usually handled together through Print-on-Demand or Digital-first publishing. In either case, the digital files of the cover and interior will be uploaded to the distributor/printer who then prepares the files for printing as well as distribution to numerous online retailers.
Galley – A galley is a proof copy of your book. After the electronic files have been uploaded to the distributor, a copy must (or should) be printed and examined for any potential errors. The publisher will read and evaluate the galley to ensure that the book is ready for wide distribution.
eBook – If you are publishing strictly as an eBook, this process has already been completed by the designer. But, in most cases, after the print version of your book has been approved, the designer will format the eBook version, making it compatible as a PDF, ePub, MOBI, and other file formats.
Review Copies/Advanced Reader Copies – Gaining reviews for your book is essential for fueling sales. Once the galley is ready, publishers will send the book to media and book reviewers for consideration. Most reviewers are overwhelmed with requests, so there is no guarantee that sending your book to a reviewer or media member will result in a review. Additionally, publishers will send what is called “Advanced Reader Copies” to influential readers who, in exchange for the book, will post an honest review to their platform of choice. Influential readers may include book bloggers, social media influencers, well-known and respected authors, or authorities related to the content of the book.
Marketing – Marketing a book is difficult to quantify. It begins before a book is ever written and ends…well, it doesn’t end. Nevertheless, the publisher should create some form of a marketing plan that builds awareness and enthusiasm for the release of your book. The plan generally starts three of four months prior to the release date and continues for a short period thereafter. The plan includes things like giveaways, advertising, content creation through blogging, author interviews, author events, direct mail marketing, email marketing, pre-order announcements, and various other marketing strategies. The goal is to create as much anticipation as possible for the release of your book.
Book Launch – The day has finally arrived. Your manuscript has become a book and it is now available for purchase through countless distribution channels. Time to celebrate! But only for a moment, because after you celebrate all of your patience and strenuous efforts, it’s time to get back to work. If your marketing was successful, you should have interviews and events lined up. If not, you need to continue to reach and let people know that your book is out there and that it is great. If you work hard enough, it could just become a best-seller.
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