Monday, January 16, 2012

A Peek Behind the Publishing Curtain

Before I got published, I had no idea how publishing works. It's like any other industry-- how it works is not common knowledge. I mean, do I know how grape juice is produced and bottled? Do I know the inner workings of the teacher's lounge? Do I know who designs toilets and how you get your foot in the door of that industry? No.

So, this post is just an attempt to pull back the curtain for you guys a little, if you're interested. This is also a partial response to those lovely enthusiastic readers who tell me to write faster so the book can come out sooner. To those of you who have, I'm glad you're eager! But the fact is, I don't set the release date, and a book release depends on WAY more than me writing as quickly as possible (which, believe me, I am already doing), as you will be able to see.

Here are the book making steps (also, props to my editor for helping me with the things I forgot):

1. Author writes rough draft. This can take anywhere from a few months to over a year, depending on how fast the writer writes and what the publishing timeline is. For example, Insurgent is coming out a year after Divergent, but some authors have more time between books and some have less time.

2. Author gets editorial feedback on rough draft. This can take awhile, because it takes a long time to read and analyze a book carefully, and also, editors work on more than one book at a time.

3. Author writes second draft, gets more feedback, sometimes author writes next draft and gets more feedback...depends on the book.

4. Author gets line edits. These are editorial notes that are on a line by line level, like "this sentence, as written, is confusing" and "doesn't this contradict what you said five pages ago?"

5. Author turns in line-edited draft

6. Author gets copyedits. These are editorial notes that are super nitpicky, like "no comma here, per rule 238923598B in the Chicago Manual of Style" and "this should be in italics, not quotes." (I used to do this as a job. I really liked it, actually.)

7. Author turns in copyedited draft

8. Author gets first pass pages. These are a copy of what the text looks like when it's in "book form," that is, in a PDF document, with the right font and chapter headings etc. This is the one of the last chances an author gets to make changes to the book.

9. Author turns in first pass pages, with notes.

10. Many more passes between Editorial, Copyediting, and Design occur, as they make sure every piece of punctuation is in the right place, and that there aren’t lines where the text is too tight liketherearenospacesbetween words or too loose l i k e  t h e r e   a r e  t o o  m a n y, or pages with just one line of text (that's called a widow, by the way). Their job is basically to make the formatting, font, and overall look of the text invisible so that all you notice are the words.

11. Author and editor work on flap copy, tagline, etc., that will be used in marketing, advertising, and talking about the book.

12. Somewhere in here, I get an author photo taken.

13. ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) are printed and distributed to book reviewers and bloggers and teachers and librarians and booksellers and the like.

14. Time is allowed for ARCs to be read and reviewed, as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy. Sometimes there are no ARCs. There are many reasons that might be the case.

15.  Sales Reps chat with bookstores all over the country once they’ve had a chance to read the ARC. Together, each bookstore and his or her Sales Rep determine exactly how many copies of every book being published that season they should order, based on past books written by the author, or other books of a similar nature.

16.  Paper is ordered for that print run, several months or weeks in advance. That much paper is heavy, and takes up a lot of space to store, so the publisher has to put the order in with the printer in advance, since every book is printed on slightly different paper (or stock) and the printer has to have time to get shipped from the papermaking plant to the printing location. 


17. Other marketing things also happen in the midst of this. Sometimes a book trailer is outlined, worked on, and produced. Sometimes facebook pages with special fun things like faction quizzes are created. Sometimes articles are written, interviews are done, and guest blogs occur. Sometimes it's the author who does all this stuff, while working on the book at the same time and possibly raising three small children and working part time. It all depends on the book, and generally, all these things need to be spaced out.

18. Sometimes Publicity and Sales decide to send the author on tour. If so, they have to set up events that work with each bookstore’s calendar. They also have to work out how to get author from City A to City B most effectively in a short span of time, and with as few crazy-early-morning flights as possible. If the author goes on a group tour with other authors, this becomes another one of those crazy word problems of juggling schedules, calendars, hometown cities, and flights schedules.
19. The final book is sent to the printer

20. Books can take months to print and put into cartons-- and even stickered, if the book has won an award or something. Sometimes books are printed overseas, and after they’re printed, they have to be put on boats (boats!) to ship back from the overseas printers to the warehouses in the US. This is because thousands of books are heavy and the publisher has to look for the most cost-effective method, so that book prices don’t have to be raised. 

21. Once the books arrive at the US port, they have to go through customs. And then they have to be shipped to warehouses in different parts of the country. At the warehouse, they go through quality checking to make sure pages aren’t printed upside down or backwards, etc., before any books can be released. Meanwhile, bookstores and sales reps have to transmit their final orders.

22. Each bookstore’s shipment of books gets shipped (again, slowly, to minimize cost) out to the bookstore’s own warehouse or processing area. 

23. Then bookstores put books on shelves!

I think it's important to put aside a somewhat romanticized view of book writing in which it's just the author and the pages and sometimes the editor. And the reason I think it's important is that there are so many people involved in this process-- people who work so hard, and who are really indispensable. I mean, every time someone says "oh, did you design the cover?" I try not to laugh, because seriously, if I had designed the Divergent cover it would look like this:

Don't tell me you would have bought this, because I'll know you're lying.
My point is: there are a lot of people who make this work. And they are good at it. So thank you, behind-the-scenes people. We, the authors, the readers, the book-lovers, salute you.

[Note: there are a lot of other things going on in publishing, like School & Library, or social media, audio, e-book, legal departments, finance, etc. But for the sake of streamlining this post, I listed only things that are more "steps" and not continuous, as far as the making and distributing of the physical book is concerned.]

And now, when I mention first pass pages, you will totally know the lingo.

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