Before I was published the first time, I assumed an author finished a book, turned it in, and readers had it in their hands in a matter of months. But, of course, I immediately learned that in traditional publishing that’s definitely not the case.
Since this month, Southern Exposure is all about different aspects of writing my new book, for fun, I went back to my notes. When exactly did I turn in The House Guests? Since, like many of us, time seems skewed this past year of quarantine, I really couldn’t remember.
I found an email from my editor dated June 20, 2020. So by the time the book is on shelves at your favorite bookstore next Wednesday, the manuscript will have been in production for a year.
Really, that’s not as long as I thought because frankly, it seems like a century ago.
What were the steps along the way? Here’s a very basic analysis of how a book makes its way to bookstores.
First the author decides on a plot and either passes the idea by her editor or creates a detailed synopsis to hand over, and sometimes chapters, too–which is called a proposal. Every author and publisher is different, and, of course, independently published authors don’t always pass their ideas by anyone, at least until the book is finished. But let’s talk traditional publishing from this point on.
The editor approves the idea/synopsis, often asking for changes that range from astronomical to minor. Neither Emily (yes, my editor and I share the same name, if not the spelling) nor I were happy with my first synopsis, but months later, we were both happy with my second version. I’ll confess that’s a bit unusual for me. Usually by the time I turn in a synopsis–which, unlike many of my colleagues, I really like to write–I’ve worked the kinks out of the story. But not this time. The kinks got straightened out the second time around. In fact last week I explained some of the story elements that changed from version to version.
When he/she is satisfied the story is going to succeed, the author begins work. How long does that first draft (or several drafts) take? Sometimes a completed manuscript takes months or even weeks, and sometimes years. The House Guests, because I was weaving suspense with family drama, took longer than most of my books. I’m guessing 14 months? Like I said, time is something of a blur.
The repeatedly edited and revised but temporarily finished manuscript then goes to the editor, who has already submitted the idea in house to several teams, including the talented people who create the cover art and accept or reject the title. He or she knows something of what to expect, but frankly there’s a lot of room for change between a proposal and a finished manuscript. And editors know that might be the case.
The manuscript is edited and returned to the author, who makes changes or not, according to many variables. Does she agree with the editorial changes? Does she see the need for the editor’s comments, but doesn’t agree with the way the editor wants the book revised? Does she now feel the book needs more rewriting than even the editor has suggested? At this point the author dives in and works on the manuscript more before she resubmits.
If the editor is happy, the book then goes to a copy editor (in charge of timelines, punctuation, fact checking etc.) and after those changes, the author sees it again and comments. All disagreements are cleared up and settled, and the manuscript next goes to proofreaders.
Theoretically a proofreader just matches the manuscript version she’s given to the edited one. But sometimes, the proofreader(s) also find errors and ask for clarification or changes. That happened in The House Guests, and I am profoundly grateful that the proofreader caught a few mistakes that would have confused readers. I was confused at the way they’d slipped through everyone’s (including mine) careful reading and editing. Remember how many words there are in a book? There are about 145,000 words in this one. Mistakes are understandable, but all of us try hard to make sure they’re caught before the book goes to press.
The cover is finalized, and marketing begins work on how best to present the book and to whom. At the same time the author and publisher begin to plan promotion.
THE BOOK ARRIVES AT BOOKSTORES.
I’m delighted to say that after all that, The House Guests will be at your favorite bookstore or online bookseller on June 29th. Bookstore links are here.
There’s nothing simple about start to finish. Expanding a vague idea into a novel that will be distributed to thousands–and sometimes millions–of readers is no small task. But now that this one is ready to launch, I’m delighted I made the effort. I hope you’ll be delighted, too.