*by which I mean “books.”
No, books are not babies, but the title was too much fun to resist.
Okay, we’re going to discuss where books come from. See, sometimes when a mommy and a daddy love each other very–oh, I just slay myself, seriously. And I can see you laughing hysterically too, right? That rolling your eyes and checking your watch that you’re doing, that’s laughter, right? That’s what my parents always told me.
No, seriously, we are. Occasionally I do like to go all publishing wonk (I love publishing, I can’t help it) and write long detailed posts about things no one except other publishing wonks really care about. It’s my little way of driving people away, like all emotionally healthy people are known to do. But no, I do hope the wonk stuff is fun anyway, and that it might actually be interesting to other people.
So. How does a book go from manuscript to finished book, in stores, on shelves? (The process is different for epublishing; a lot of the steps are the same, but this post is specifically about printed books with NY houses [although printed books with small presses are made exactly the same and have the same steps, they just might possibly occur a little faster], and more specifically about mass market paperbacks. I imagine it’s the same, basically, for trade paperbacks and hardcovers, but mmps are what I have experience with.)
I’m going to use my books as an example, of course, and we’re going to start with the fourth Downside book, so we can really get an idea of time frames (UNHOLY GHOSTS, for example, was sold to Del Rey in June or July 2008, set for publication in October 2009, but of course was delayed so they could do the consecutive releases. So it’s not as good for demonstrative purposes).
FOUR–I have a tentative title, of course, but until I see if it actually fits the book and it’s all approved I don’t want to mention it, so we’ll call it FOUR here–is not yet written. I wrote about a page of it last night, that first page that’s so terrifying and awful and looks so lonely. But that’s it; it’s not even a thousand words yet. I have submitted a short synopsis of it to my editor(s), so they have a general idea what to expect, but that could change quite a bit. I don’t plan my books in advance; this makes for more work in editing but if I plan it ahead of time the book feels written and I lose enthusiasm. So all FOUR is at the moment is a paragraph or two of plot details, a single page of writing, and a few scenes in my head, only one of which I know where it goes (Chapter Two).
I have to finish FOUR and hand it over to Shauna, my editor at Del Rey (fabulous woman she is), by November 15th.
Now, if this was not the world of print publishing, she would put it in her queue to do a round of editing, then edit it and send it back to me. I’d look at her requested changes, approve them or not, make them or not, and send it back; we may do two or three rounds of that before she declares herself satisfied. At which point, for an epublisher, it would sit in a digital queue waiting for cover art and a release date, and would then be released. It usually takes about 4-6 months, roughly, depending on the size of the publisher and their exact routine. Some set release dates soon after acceptance and use that as a deadline for edits; others don’t set a release date until the edited ms is approved. Either is perfectly legitimate.
But this is the world of print publishing. FOUR needs to be in Shauna’s cute little hands, in readable, decent shape, by the fifteenth of November. You will probably be surprised to learn that if the release date is in fact planned for sometime in fall 2011, we are cutting it close with that date.
Why? Here’s why.
1. I am not Shauna’s only author. This is a big reason, but not the biggest by any means. When FOUR lands in her Inbox, she will, of course, want to open it, lock her door, and read straight through, because she is awesome like that. But to do so would be impossible. Shauna may be in the middle of another ms by another of her authors. She may be in the middle of edits for four or five of them. And not only does she have to edit those–through several rounds, which I will detail–she has to check on the progress of all of the other steps. She has to answer my occasional questions, some of which are probably stupid, and the undoubtedly much smarter questions of her other authors. She has meetings to attend. She has phone calls from writers and agents and all sorts of other people. She has manuscripts to read to see if she wants to offer for them, and if she does she has paperwork to do and meetings to attend about those. She has to talk to her bosses about whether or not they’re going to buy more books from her other authors. That’s not four or five authors total, btw; I’ve never asked Shauna, but I wouldn’t be surprised to discover she had four or five times that many, if not more (I wouldn’t be surprised to find she has less, either, but I’ve been to her office and seen all the books there, and they’re all hers, so to speak).
Editors don’t read at work, on the clock, so to speak. They read at home, or on the train, or during lunch, or whatever. All that reading has to be done on their own time, because their work hours are too busy.
2. When Shauna finishes her first read of FOUR, or possibly after she reads it two or even three times (reading in between everything else, remember), she’ll send me an editorial letter. This delightful little missive is designed to crush my hopeful writerly heart into the sand, by coldly and systematically detailing everything that’s wrong with my book and how Shauna wants me to fix it OR ELSE. (I hope you realize that’s a joke; not only do I love editing and editorial feedback, Shauna would never ever write a cruel or cold editorial letter. I don’t know any editors who would [although I’ve heard of one or two]. Most editors even do something amazing, and include comments on stuff they like as well). Anyway. An editorial letter may be a page long; it may be only a few sentences. It may be eighteen pages. None of those are any bearing on what the editor feels should be done; that one line might be “the ending doesn’t work, please completely rewrite and find a way to make it realistic,” and the eighteen pages might be mostly compliments.
3. I read the editorial letter, probably a few times, and probably while drunk at least once. I think about them. Then I think about them some more. Then I obsess and call my BFF and make her listen to me talk about them for a few hours. I repeat this process with several other people. Finally, around the time my husband is ready to throw me out the next time he hears the word “edits.” I start them (this entire drinking-whinging process only takes a couple of days, usually, btw). I have a deadline for those; usually a couple of weeks, maybe a little longer. If you’re keeping track, even if Shauna picked up FOUR the second it arrived, read it and wrote her letter, sent it to me, and I got the edits done in, say, a week…we’re now around the middle of December. Of course the chances that that happened are so slim as to be nonexistent, so it’s more likely early-mid January.
4. After Shauna has read my new version, she sends me more edits. They may be little tweaks, they may not. Certainly both she and I are happier when they are. This may take her another couple of weeks, at least.
5. I do Shauna’s new edits. Maybe that takes me a week or two.
6. Line edits. These are specific sentences n the ms, or paragraphs, that Shauna feels could use rewording or whatever. Sometimes these are included as part of the editorial letter or the second round of edits; that depends on author and editor.
7. Line edits done, FOUR is now declared “accepted.” We discuss the title and see if we think it fits and is the way we want to go. Marketing may have a say in this, too.
8. The accepted version of FOUR is now reformatted and sent to the copyediting department. While I am certain this is not remotely the case, I like to picture this process as a combination between the mine in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, and those cool chutes at the bank where you stick your plastic tube in and it sucks it up and into the building. Also, in my head, the copyeditors wear those green visors under sepia-tinted lamps and hunch over row after row of desk in the basement. Or, you know, the mine. Either way, I know this isn’t true, but it makes me giggle.
9. Not long after this or around this time, I’ll be given the back cover copy, which was written by a copywriter (as opposed to a copyeditor). I generally have a small tweak or two to make; for example, the wording about “the two men in her life” on the back cover of UM was mine. Yeah, well, it’s not earth-shaking but it’s the only bit I absolutely remember contributing. Is that okay with you? Sheesh. You’re so picky. Anyway, that usually happens quickly; we may discuss back-cover copy for a day or two tops, and usually it only takes that long because people are busy or we want to give it some time to soak, as it were.
10. Now we wait. Again, at this point, if we’ve gone lightning-fast, the very earliest in time we can possibly be is the end of January or early February. Chances are it’s closer to late March or even early April. And yes, the book is edited–mostly–but there’s still more to do! (Remember, we’re looking at a fall publishing date, and it is now almost spring. We have, at most, let’s say eight months, but more likely about six, and we’re about to get into some of the really time-consuming stuff).
In fact, I think we’ll do that next time, because this is already very, very long. Okay? So more next time.