The most exciting moment in a writer’s life is a publisher’s phone call. Your book or novel or collection of stories has been accepted for publication. For first-time authors, this may come after months, even years of submissions, not infrequently accompanied by intermittent bouts of despair. But then the phone call… The dream accomplished. You’ll soon be a published author!
Well, maybe not exactly soon.
Many of us who’ve had books published are surprised by how long it takes from that first phone call to the day we hold the printed book in our hands. Sometimes it’s even longer than a year. According to publisher Joe Taylor at Livingston Press, which is bringing out my novel A Stone for Bread in October, the process more typically takes 16-18 months, which seems surprising in our digital age. A Stone for Bread was accepted in August of 2014.
Book publishing, however, isn’t just a mechanical or digital process, even in our digital age, but an art in itself. Here’s some of what that book-making process involves:
Editing: Few manuscripts are accepted “as is.” Professional editors will vet our work carefully for issues of clarity, word usage, style and grammar, superfluous passages and errors of fact. A manuscript can go through several readings, often with back and forth communications between editor and author. Rewrites may be asked for and even required. This process alone can take weeks. At small presses, editorial staff time may be limited, extending the process.
Design: Years ago, when I worked for Good Housekeeping Magazine, I was surprised to learn that a magazine’s art department doesn’t just create illustrations and cover designs. They also design the “look” of every page, which includes typefaces for text, headings, photo captions, page numbers and blurbs.
In book publishing, these same elements are also carefully designed, even for books comprised mostly of text. Typefaces are selected for look and readability. Chapter headings and page numbers must complement the book’s overall style. How much white space should a page have? How wide should the margins be? And in the economics of book publishing, costs and profitability will be figured into a book’s length and size. And then there’s the cover, designed not just for artistic appearance but more importantly for market appeal.
Along the way, there will also be be small but essential details tended to: a contract negotiated and signed with the author, copyright obtained, decisions made about how many books to print, and whether hardback, paperback or digital. Most of these are handled by the publisher, but the author still has work to do.
In my next post, I’ll talk about three P’s of publication: proofing, printing and publicity.