When I started my recent mini-series which extended over five weeks, I opened the door to publishing questions. I received some great ones from readers Marjorie and Pat.
Marjorie wanted to know a few things about how books go to print, timetables, drafts, etc. And Pat wanted to know how decisions are made about format for publication. Let’s tackle those publishing questions today. For the record, this is my favorite kind of blog.
1–How long does it take a book to get published after the first draft?
Each author’s first draft is different. I edit as I go, then I edit again and again, going back chapters at a time and making changes. So by the time my first draft is finished and I’ve typed “the end,” (which I never actually do) the manuscript is fairly well polished. From the time I send my final revised and edited copy to my editor until it arrives at the bookstore, as little as 6 months or as much as a year can go by. However, that’s my personal experience. Some writers zip through their first draft and only edit later. Some publishers hold books for as long as two or more years before they put them into print.
2–Are copies marked as uncorrected proofs in their final stage? What happens after they are printed?
Uncorrected proofs, a designation sometimes found on Advance Reading Copies, are usually the original drafts of manuscripts which, at the time of printing, have not yet been edited, copy-edited or proofread. Time tables sometimes require that the ARCs go out before the editing begins. Otherwise there wouldn’t be time for reviewers to see and review. Mine often go out that way. Of course this is a bit dangerous. What would happen if an editor demanded, say, a happy ending when the original was a huge tear jerker? Confusing for everybody, right?
3–How is the number of published books per year decided between the publisher and the author – does the publisher honor the author’s wishes? Or does the publisher insist on what they want?
As long as we have publishers and authors there will be disagreement. Publishers look at the bottom line for their publishing house and imprints. Authors look at their families, their sanity, their wobbling creativity, their need for rest and rejuvenation. Hopefully somewhere between the two an acceptable middle ground arises. I will say that in days gone by, publishers truly had the upper hand. Nobody wanted to lose their spot on a publisher’s list. These days authors who aren’t thrilled with a publisher’s terms are waving goodbye and publishing on their own timetable. That said, the pressure is much the same. Indie-pubbed authors know that the only way to build their audience and reputation is to write quickly and often. This is one of those publishing questions that has no good answer.
4–Who makes the decision whether the book is printed in hardcover or paperback? Is it became the publishing companies–the Big 5–decide what will be a success.? Is it all financial?
This is such a good question. A lot of it is financial certainly. Publishers look at who is reading what, and whether those readers are likely to buy something as expensive as a hardcover. And hardcovers are a bit problematic these days, because while a hardcover is out, publishers are reluctant to set the price for the matching ebook much lower if at all. Readers used to getting a discount on ebooks (and why shouldn’t they?) are angry. So a hardcover really has to have a secure, enthusiastic audience. And, of course, no matter how good the data, publishers are still making a leap of faith.
Hardcovers, by the way, are often printed with the idea that they’ll mostly be bought by libraries. These are a limited run, but readers can still find them in the months after a book comes out. My last few books have had matching hardcovers targeted to libraries.
The other part of this question is about publishers gambling on success. And yes, sometimes debut authors are first released in hardcover. Publishers have “feelings” as well as data about what books may zoom to the bestseller lists. However, if they print more, and more bookstores order them, they are also nudging that book toward bestsellerdom. Does it always work? Absolutely not. But sometimes it’s a gamble worth taking.
5–How about the really good selections I have found at the Dollar Tree? How do those books get shuffled off to those stores? I have found great treasures there and surprisingly often too! Why? Don’t they sell fast enough or with high enough reviews or ratings?
And I am sorry to say I have no clue. One guess would be small presses that package them specifically for this purpose? (And there are a lot of Dollar Stores, don’t forget, so they would have a larger print run.) At one time Walmart had its own romance line, Precious Gems, and those romance were only available there. So if somebody out in blog comment land knows the answer, we’d like to know it, too.
6–And, the last of the publishing questions: Back to the quality. Or the size of a book. The shrimpy and cheaper paperbacks vs the nicer, larger paperbacks that are prettier, and easier to read, and hold up so much better. Such a huge difference in so many. Who decides?
Remember mass market? Sure you do. Those smaller, cheaper paperbacks described here? Well, mass market still exists, but these days mass market sales are quickly being taken over by ebooks. Trade paperbacks, though, (accurately described in this question as larger, prettier, easier to read and more durable) are becoming more popular. My books are no longer in mass market, but only in trade, ebooks, and limited hardcover.
For those of us who write longer books, mass market means smaller print, with sentences dipping into the spine. There have been times when I wanted to issue magnifying glasses with some of my mysteries and general fiction. So trade works well for longer books, too, in addition to the reasons noted. But then, so do ebooks. Readers can download a book of any size, adjust the font on their ereader to their preference, and read away!
Hope you’ve enjoy our answers to publishing questions that arose during my mini-series. Send more and I’ll do my best to answer them.