You’ve done it: You’ve written a novel, pitched it to a publisher and earned a positive response. Congratulations! Now what happens?
Manuscript Review and Contracting.
The process starts with a successful query. That query leads to a solicitation of a complete manuscript. If the publisher likes the work in its entirety, then the author and publisher develop a mutually agreeable publishing contract.
It can take 90 days or more to review a manuscript. And then, the publisher will schedule the project in light of the company’s other obligations, so it’s possible an accepted/contracted manuscript won’t even begin the production process until many months later.
The next phase is developmental editing. Different publishers call this part of the process different things, but in a nutshell, staff editors review the manuscript and offer revision notes to the author, and the author is expected to revise the manuscript in light of the notes. This process can be quick and painless, or a long and drawn-out drama, largely dependent on the personalities of the author and the assigned editor. But, conservatively, figure 90 to 180 days. And that assumes only one pass through the dev-edit cycle.
Production & Marketing.
When a manuscript is considered finished to both the author’s and the publisher’s satisfaction, the marketing team will work with the author to develop the project’s marketing plan. This plan includes getting the author ready for release — e.g., performing sample interviews, setting up relevant social-media presences, getting a professional headshot, paring down an author bio, etc. Then the marketing discussion pivots to particular places, dates and people associated with a launch celebration. Or more than one, as the case may be. It can take about two weeks to get the marketing plan and author prep complete, depending on schedules, and it usually helps to have roughly 45 days of lead time for booking venues for a release event.
Depending on the book and the book’s schedule, the publisher’s marketing team may also solicit testimonials or reviews.
Meanwhile, the publisher will also:
- Assign ISBN numbers. One per format (i.e., a novel released in print and ebook requires two ISBNs; add a third for an audiobook). This process of ISBN assignment requires the all-important “metadata,” or the technical details and content summaries of the book. Metadata feeds online directories.
- Set a price for each version of the work. This price is included in the barcode, which is based on the ISBN.
- Request a Library of Congress Control Number.
- Develop, with the author, a back-of-the-cover teaser and one-sentence book summary. The sentence is for metadata; the teaser is, obviously, for the back cover.
- Add things to the book that weren’t there from the beginning — typically, “about the author” pages and the copyright page.
- Create book documents. Different publishers may use different software, but an industry standard is Adobe InDesign. The interior is one document, and the cover is a different document.
- Proofread the final documents. Sometimes a manuscript is proofread before layout; sometimes proofing is done as part of inspecting the final laid page.
- Circulate the complete cover and interior for a final set of checks by the author, the editor and others at the publisher less familiar with the work.
- Produce final printer documents (or EPUB files) as required. These documents are transmitted to the printer/distributor, and often entail their own metadata.
The publisher will order an initial supply of books and make them available for purchase at the launch event. The publisher also ensures that the book is successfully released in relevant online catalogs.
When the party’s over, sales begin. The publisher will continue to sell the book, and should register the book’s copyright within 90 days of issue. Authors should get periodic statements indicating sales and royalties. These statements should continue until the book goes out of print and off the publisher’s active catalog.
Wow. That’s a lot of work. And it’s worth it. But realize, dear authors, that it may take even a small, nimble publisher nine months or longer to transform your query into a wine-and-cheese launch event where you read from your shiny new book.