Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why Does It Take So Long to Publish a Book?

I hope that you saw my recent post on the good news: the next book, THE HUNGER, has been sold! Since it's early days in the process we don't have a publication date yet. Given that technology has made production cycles much shorter in many industries, it's only normal to wonder why it still takes so long to get a book in stores. I'm by no means an expert on the subject, and things may have changed since I last went through this in 2013, but I thought I'd give my perspective for those who are interested:

A lot goes into getting a book ready to hit the market. It's not just a matter of editing, printing onto paper, and shipping copies out to bookstores. Not to oversimplify, but a good deal of the time for the publisher is taken up with marketing. 

The first part, and the part of the process most visible to the author, is editing. If you deliver a complete manuscript, the next step is for your editor to read it and decide what changes need to be made. He/she (let's just say "she" from here out) may do line changes, marking in the text to change words, punctuation, move things around, etc. or it may all be big-picture. developmental issues (for the first round, anyway). However, your editor likely has several manuscripts on her desk, waiting for her attention and it may take months before she sends her edits. Expect a couple rounds, especially if big changes are needed.

Then comes copy editing. You'll get a marked-up manuscript with suggested changes, all usually pretty minor. (Did you mean to use the word "worry" twice in one paragraph?) Factual questions may get raised here, too (Referencing the Battle of Hastings in your book set in 966 when it took place in 1066, for instance. Unless this is a novel with time-travel, you probably don't want to do that.) 

Time passes. Then comes reviewing the typeset pages. You can make changes to the manuscript at this stage if you must, but it costs the publisher money and may affect schedule. Normally, you're catching typos and making minor tweaks (did I mean to leave the second "worry" in that paragraph? It strikes me funny, now). I believe there is a final pass after this stage, to make sure those last tweaks were made, but I think the publishing house took care of this for me. 

We're not done yet! During this time, your editor is working with the rest of your publishing house to market the book. Cover art is chosen, copy written to be used on the jacket, in the publishing house's catalog, on Amazon. You and the editor have asked other authors if they'd consider blurbing the book. Galleys are printed up (or it may be all electronic these days) from the typeset pages. You check in with the authors you ask--have you had a chance to read the book yet? Please, pretty please?

Your editor is using this time to drum up support in-house, getting the marketing staff excited about the book. Galleys go out to Publishers Weekly and elsewhere for reviews, to bookstore owners, to book bloggers. If you're very lucky, the publisher may send you out to do advance marketing work by attending special events with booksellers and librarians, all designed to get the word out and get people excited about your book. You start brainstorming how to launch the book, what promotions you might do. If there's enough support at the publishers, they may devout some resources to helping you with this, often you're left on your own. Do you hire an outside publicist? Be forewarned: getting attention for your book is hard.

When I sold my first book, I was advised to think of it as a car on a production line (not to detract from the art and magic of putting together a creative thing like a book, or from the expertise of the people who work on it.) What that meant was, among other things, your book had to wait for its turn for attention. Publishing houses group their offerings into spring and fall, generally speaking. Publishers need 12-18 months to get a book into the stores because of this process we just stepped through, and because they're also working on books that are about to go into bookstores now. You may have been placed in the Fall 2018 catalog--that means they have Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 to roll out first. 

Make sense? I hope this takes some of the mystery out of the process. I'll thank you in advance for your patience. I'll try to keep you updated on THE HUNGER's process but here's the twist: THE HUNGER is not my book alone. I'm working with book packager Paper Lantern Lit on this book so decisions on what we can say and when are not mine alone to make. (Not that it is once you sign a contract--you must take the publisher's wishes into consideration, too.) There will be a future blog post on why I signed on for this project rather than work on a book of my own: it'll give you another view into the business.

Have questions? Did I leave something out you were expecting? Write to me in the comments section below.

Other resources: 
Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published by Jane Friedman, former publisher of Writer's Digest. There's also a link to self-publishing your book.
Writers communities with tons of advice on a variety of issues facing writers can be found at Writer Unboxed.


  1. Congratulations, Alma! Looking forward to reading The Hunger.

  2. I cannot wait to read your new one!

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