*books. It’s just a joke.
(Part One of this little series can be found here.)
So, where last we left our manuscript, sweet little FOUR, it was making its dark and lonely descent into the hands of a copyeditor, where it was placed on the bottom of a stack of perhaps five or ten other manuscripts just like it, to be gone over with the dreaded green pencil, and it was early February at the very earliest (but more likely at least March).
While I’ve been piddling about with words, a few other things have been happening. Shauna will come up with a few thoughts or ideas about what she might like to see on my cover; what the concept is. She presents those to the cover people, and the Publisher in a big meeting that takes place three or four times a year (this is the way it’s done at Random House, anyway; it may be different at other houses). What sort of model, background, pose, etc? One person or two? That sort of thing. They decide on a concept, or maybe a couple, and the whole thing is sent on to a cover artist person.
That person finds and hires the necessary model(s) and takes numerous pictures in various poses and outfits. They show those to Shauna and/or someone else, but I do know for a fact Shauna sees the poses and selects the one she likes best. If the meeting took place immediately after FOUR was turned in, or right after the contracts were signed, it may be only January or so, but chances are it’s closer to March or April.
Then the cover artist starts, well, being artistic. They draw or digitally create backgrounds, or manipulate existing art or backgrounds. They do whatever else it is that artists do; I have no idea, frankly. All I know is, a cover generally takes at least a couple of months, and the cover art usually starts being discussed almost immediately. Yes, writers are asked for input, and yes, if it comes down to what we like vs. what Marketing likes, we’re going to lose. We’re asked for input, but “input” is all it is. And honestly, well, Marketing’s being doing this a lot longer than we have.
And really, they want us to be happy. No editor or publisher has ever cheered and high-fived when an authors bursts into tears at the sight of their cover. They want to please us. It’s just sometimes we can’t be pleased. And sometimes Marketing is totally right, and the cover we don’t particularly care for is a cover that readers seem to adore. That happens a lot.
So. Cover art may take anywhere from 2-6 months. Which means that cover art may come in for FOUR anywhere from January-March. Because the sales people are going to need a finished cover when they start soliciting orders, it will pretty much have to be in by May at the very, very latest, but April is a much better deadline.
11. While the cover artist has been working, the copyeditor has been viciously marking up the paper manuscript of FOUR. They check to make sure there are no typos, that facts are consistent, that all proper nouns are consistently spelled (I spelled Baldarel as Baldaral several times; I’m honestly not sure I spelled it right here and I’m too lazy to check. This is a fun blog post, not a scholarly essay. I’M ONLY HUMAN, WHY CAN’T YOU UNDERSTAND?!). They may suggest different wording for some phrases to make them read more smoothly; putting “twisted just a little” instead of “just twisted a little,” for example, or eliminating “just” altogether because, um, some writers tend to use that word a lot. Never mind who, it’s not important. Copyeditors make sure everything else is consistent, too; if I mention a character’s blue eyes on page 103, and then mention that same character’s dark eyes on page 297, the copyeditor will catch that. If I forget it’s supposed to be Tuesday in dramatic time and start talking about Wednesday, they catch that. They’re like cobbler’s elves in that way. (I don’t know why I’m picking on copyeditors, I really don’t. They’re lovely in general, honestly. Occasionally you will get a bad one–I’ve heard stories that would turn your hair green–but in general they’re great.)
The copyeditor will also look for repeated words. Like if I use “jerked” to describe a certain motion (ahem) three times in a row, they notice. if I use a long, unusual word–like one of my favorites, “deliquescent”–to describe something, and then use it again thirty pages later, the copyeditor will flag it. If I use the same analogy twice in one book, they’ll mark it. It’s pretty cool.
So at some point, usually about two months after the final round of edits, I get a large, heavy package containing a printout of my manuscript (the ms for CoG weighed over seven pounds), bound by a single rubber band, with lots of little notes and bizarre alchemical-esque symbols all over it (you’ll see several pages of these when we do the editing series). If FOUR was a human, it would be returned to me as if it had undergone the Death of a Thousand Cuts. Luckily, it is not.
I have a deadline for the copyedits, and it’s usually two weeks at the most. I actually love copyedits. I get to re-read my book, okay changes or refuse them (when I refuse them I write “STET” in big letters next to the suggestion), make any little changes that leap out at me, and generally enjoy myself. Enough time has passed since writing that I can enjoy the story, and enough time has passed since editing that I’ve forgotten some of the changes so it’s a surprise (you may remember I disliked UM until I read it again in copyedits and found it wasn’t as awful as I remembered). It’s pretty pressure-free. I like to do my copyedits in one or two big hits, maybe two hundred pages one day and the other two hundred+ the next, but some writers do a few pages a day or whatever else. I send those back when completed.
12. While all of this is going on, the Big Stuff starts. The Sales/Marketing people begin doing their jobs, strong-arming bookstore buyers into ordering large quantities of FOUR to meet what will undoubtedly be an unprecedented demand (hey, it’s my series, I can dream if I want to). They begin doing this anywhere from 3-6 months before the anticipated release date. Yes, these meetings happen with the genre buyers for the big stores (Borders, B&N) but they may take place with indie stores or online venues as well; I’m honestly not sure. What I do know is this is the step that actually gets books onto shelves, and if the book doesn’t get onto shelves it’s pretty much dead in the water.
The sales/Marketing team also tries to purchase co-op space from the bookstores. Co-op space is stuff like the front tables and towers at bookstores. Publishers pay money for those, which is why it’s a mean thing to do to take someone’s book off those tables/towers and replace them with someone else’s book (not to mention it only creates more work for the booksellers themselves). This may have an effect on other things as well; for example, the release date for UNHOLY MAGIC was delayed a couple of weeks, if you recall, because the co-op Del Rey wanted for it (tower placement) wasn’t available on its original release date; the tower was full. By delaying the release two weeks, we were able to get tower placement, which is really cool, because while it’s exciting to see my books on the shelves, it’s really really exciting to see them on the tower, just like books people actually might want to buy.
13. Meanwhile, I’m probably contacted by my publicist, which feels very Hollywood to say. Yes, I have a publicist. She’s a total sweetheart and her name is April. Now, since FOUR is, well, the fourth in a series, April already has a lot of information about me. But if it was my first novel, I would have been sent, several months before, an enormous long questionnaire covering anything and everything April might be able to use to sell my book. Where I was born, hobbies, etc. April takes a look at that and thinks of some ideas. She may also call me; she’ll probably email me, to discuss anything she wants to set up or I want to set up, like signings or whatever. You guys might know that the idea of a solo signing scares me to death, because I’m convinced no one will show up, but if I were inclined to want to do a signing, April would set it up. Right, not me. April. The publisher does that. She talks to the bookstore, she makes sure enough books arrive for me to sign, she may arrange to have posters or fliers made up and given to the bookstore for them to post around to advertise my signing.
She may do other things, too. She might contact national magazines and ask them to review my book, and send them copies. She might encourage certain publications to feature my book as a “Hot Commodity” or whatever the particular publication calls its recommendations (I deliberately made it one I’ve never heard there). I’m a piddly genre author barely staying afloat, but if I were a bigger name April might set up TV/radio interviews for me.
April is in charge of sending my ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies; sometimes called AREs, for Advanced Reader Editions) to anyplace that reviews books. This includes various online review sites. If I’m contacted by a site who wants to review my books, I usually forward the request on to April, and she makes the decision whether or not to send them a copy (she usually does, I think, but if Bob Bobberson just set up a review blog, and he’s reviewed one book a month ago and nothing else, she probably won’t send him a book; why bother? It’s a waste of time/money). I often get requests for interviews or guest blogs or whatever, and I handle most of those myself, but sometimes people do contact April to ask if I’d be willing to do this or that, and April forwards those requests on to me. So April’s a busy girl.
14. Sales start in, say, May (we’ll go with six months), and probably go on for a month or two, on and off, while the salespeople pitch their entire catalogues to the buyers. The number of orders the salespeople get for FOUR determines how large FOUR’s print run will be. This is why pre-orders are so important. If Borders orders 20,000 copies, and B&N orders 20,000 copies, and Amazon has 5,000 pre-orders in their system, FOUR will probably have a print run of like sixty thousand at least, because of all the indie stores and stuff like that which will also order. Now, my print runs are sadly not 60k, but still. The more pre-orders, the bigger the print run. This is especially good in bookstores themselves.
15. Let’s say it’s the end of May now, or June. I get another package in the mail, which contains another stack of papers bound with a single rubber band. Galleys! This is, essentially, my entire book, laid out exactly as it will appear in the actual book, with one page set up as half an 8.5 by 11 sheet, and the next page set up as the other half. While I love looking at the galleys–this is where I got all excited about the chapter heading font they were using, for example–and it’s cool to see my copyright info and the Del Rey logo and all that other stuff, including my acknowledgments, all laid out pretty, I actually hate doing galleys. What I do with those, essentially, is re-read them, looking for typos or mistakes that the copyeditor, Shauna, possibly Jessica, who is Shauna’s wonderful assistant who is also an editor herself, and I, all missed. It happens. This is the last chance I have to fix or correct things without having to pay for the corrections myself. Usually I don’t have a lot of changes with galleys. I might decide that something I allowed the gnomish, lurking copyeditor to change doesn’t work after all. I might decide that saying “ketchup” n that sentence doesn’t work, and that character would have mustard instead. I might feel kind of weird about a certain thing and take it out altogether. Anyway, all of that I do with a colored pencil on the galleys. I usually have a deadline of two weeks or so with those, too.
Goodness! I thought I could wrap this all up today, but this is very long. We are almost done, though. So I guess I’ll come back tomorrow or Monday to finish it up; we’ve got several steps left.
It’s a lot more complex than you’d think, isn’t it? I was flabbergasted when I found out how much work it takes to produce one book and get it on the shelves.