Heh, see how neatly that little analogy comes together? I’m just so clever.
When last we left little FOUR on its journey to the bookshelves, I was forcing myself to look at my stupid galleys, the Sales people were tallying the number of orders they managed to coerce and blackmail out of the poor bookstore buyers, my publicist was, well, probably dealing with far more important people than me. But she’s also probably getting together a list of review magazines/sites/blogs/whatevers to send ARCs to, if the publisher is doing ARCs, which they don’t always.
In dramatic time, it’s around June, or five months prior to release date.
16. Using the copyedited ms that was sent to me as a galley, the file is sent to the printer for ARCs if they’re being done. The timing on this bit is a tad sketchy, and really depends on how close we are to release date. But generally, if I’m not mistaken, ARCs are printed from that same ms that was sent to me, either with my corrections or before my corrections are added. They aren’t printed immediately, but they’re sent to enter a queue at the printer. This is why ARCs say “UNCORRECTED PROOF” in big letters, and it’s why you may get an ARC that is essentially pristine but another with more errors; some mss don’t get as many editing passes before it goes to ARC, because of the lead-time required.
17. I send my galleys back. I have now Officially Signed Off–so to speak–on the book. Nothing should be changed now that I have not approved.
Not that the galley process is done, oh no. My changes are input, and another galley is printed. That galley is reviewed in-house, for typos or errors that may have been missed the first umpteen times everyone looked at the ms. (By now we all hate my book, and wish it would just go away so we wouldn’t have to look at the damned thing ever again.) If there are any changes made, those are inputted again.
18. Cover art is finalized. This actually happened a while ago but I forgot to put it in. But it’s all done now. Sometimes, if the bookstores don’t seem too enthusiastic about a particular cover when the Sales teams visit them, a new one is quickly put together. That happens more often than you might think, but not as often as it might seem. (Hee.) Anyway. So you might have a new cover being finalized now, so it’s not totally out of place here.
19. ARCs are printed in August, and sent out shortly after to those reviewers etc. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a few; my agent will get a buttload (that’s about twenty, for books) of them as well to send to the foreign market to try to convince them how great I am and that they should totally buy foreign rights for my books or they’ll be sorry because who could resist such a bundle of fabulosity? Nobody, that’s who.
ARCs must be sent out at least three months in advance of the deadline dates for the November issues of whatever magazines or whatever the book is being sent to. At LEAST. If we want reviews in those magazines the month of release, we have to meet their deadlines.
20. Everything is sent off to the printers now. Whoo! That galley that dozens of people have looked at, and that all those people in the Production department lovingly entered and checked and checked and entered, and those nifty covers, are put together into a special file and sent off.
21. Books are printed. It’s probably, let’s say…the middle of October. Or rather, for a November 1st on-sale date, the printing will need to be finished by the middle of October. Why? Because now we have shipping & distribution, which is a whole big thing I only know a very little bit about. But I will share that little bit of knowledge with you, dearies.
22. All of those books are printed, boxed, and shipped to the distributer and/or warehouser. I used to be better able to explain the difference, but it’s not particularly important at the moment. All you need to know is, they divide the books into the amounts of boxes that go to, say, B&N, Borders, and Amazon. There are about fifty books in a box. For smaller indie stores or other online venues they may break up some of those boxes, so Murder by the Book in Houston might get twenty copies of FOUR and ten copies each of UG, UM, and CoG, because of course everyone wants to buy lots and lots of my books, right? Why would a bookstore stock any others?
23. Anyway. The books for B&N et al go to their big divisional warehouses, according to what sells in that area. Like, if UF sells big in the Northwest, the Northwest will get 5000 copies, whereas an area like the upper Midwest may only get 2000 because that genre doesn’t sell so much there. From those regional warehouses they get distributed and shipped to the individual stores.
24. It is now probably a week or so before release date. If all goes well, and according to the way it should, those boxes should sit in the storerooms of the individual stores until release day, when they are unboxed and placed lovingly on the shelves or towers or front tables by happy, smiling booksellers, all of whom love me and want to force their customers to buy my books even if said customer is a ten-year-old boy (hey, these are sales numbers we’re talking about. I’m ruthless).
What often happens is the poor, overworked booksellers, who just want to fill the shelves, or who have plans next Tuesday (books are released on Tuesdays, just like DVDs, unless they’re superspecial Event releases like Harry Potter books or something) and so want to get the hell out of that store that day, or whatever, will open boxes early and put the books on the shelves. It happens. And I still say that unless and until someone learns they lost out on hitting the NYT because fifty copies sold the week prior, it’s something writers should just suck up. Yes, it’s better when they wait. We all love it when they wait. It reminds us that there is order in the universe, and that sometimes that order is Good and Just, and makes us feel that sweet “all is right with the world,” sort of feeling as we tuck into our little beds at night.
But there is also Chaos in the world, and books getting shelved on Saturday because Melinda’s manager told her to stop standing around like that and just fucking do something are part of that Chaos. Yin and Yang, people, Yin and Yang.
25. Books are on the shelves! Oh, happy day! Now is the best part. All of you wonderful reader people can lie up outside the bookstore at eight a.m., wearing your Downside t-shirts and stuff (hey, this is my damn fantasy here so shut up), singing songs and drinking beer or whatever until the bookstore opens, the cops show up, an impromptu musical number breaks out, or all of the above, and you buy your copies of FOUR, which you then rush home to shower with love in a purely non-sexual sort of way (or maybe not; what you do in the privacy of your own home is your business, chickies). Meanwhile I sit at home, cowering, terrified that not only will there be no dance routines, there will be no sales at all, and at the end of the week my agent will call me to say not a single copy sold and there’s a cadre of angry bookstore managers about to rush the Del Rey offices and burn them down for wasting their valuable shelf space with my drivel.
And that is it. How a mss becomes a book. Isn’t that a sweet story?
I’m sure I messed up some timelines a bit and/or left some steps out. I’m not an actual employee at a publishing house, and some houses do things a bit differently. But this is based on my experience. my observations, and that of people I know, including a few very helpful answers/bits of info from Jessie at Random House. Thanks, Jessie.