I’m taking a quick break from writing posts for my fellow writer peeps to pen a brief explanation of what the hell is taking so long with my book. This is, by far, the most common question I get asked right now. I think basically everyone assumed I made a typo when I said my book, which sold in the Spring of 2013, would be coming out in the Spring of 2015. But alas, no. There will probably be, like, three new iPhones by then and perhaps Grey’s Anatomy will finally be off the air. (I said, perhaps.)
Anyway, the next assumption seems to be that my book is somehow unique in its long, storied path to publication. Like maybe I’m chopping down the trees myself and smashing them into paper and that’s what’s taking so long. No. I promise you, no. 1.5 to 2 years is about the going rate for a book from sale to shelves. Of course, my book’s scheduled release is earlier in the 2015 class which means I sold on the earlier side for my “class.” Maybe an early 2014 sale for a late 2015 release wouldn’t sound as daunting. In any event, I thought it may be helpful to show a bit of what has to happen between sale and release in working with a large, traditional publisher:
Step 1: The Contract must be dredged up from the belly of the whale that is your traditional publisher. This doesn’t necessarily stop any other piece of the process from going forward, but it does take about 3-4 months to get your hot little hands on that piece of paper.
Step 2: Edit Letter. This is probably the area where there is the most confusion. Editors are the lovely people that actually acquire your manuscript. Your agent submits to an editor. If said editor likes your book, he or she becomes the champion for your book. The editor shepherd the book through acquisitions meetings during which sales and marketing and other editors at the house essentially play devil’s advocate. If the editor makes it through this gauntlet with your baby, then this editor becomes the acquiring editor of your manuscript. Now this book is your editor’s baby, too. A lot of people think that maybe the book isn’t written and that’s why it takes so long. Either that or they think that editors just go through and correct your typos and don’t understand why THAT takes so long. Neither of these is true. The book is written. An editor usually starts by sending you an edit letter that is anywhere between 5-20 pages single-spaced (this is just a range, some are longer, some shorter). This edit letter will usually cover the big picture items, pointing out all the places your book is weaker than you ever knew. (Fun!) They may request scenes to be cut and replaced. Characters to be deleted. Characters to be strengthened. Themes to be tussed out. Endings to be altered. Everything is fair game. The editor does not change any of these things for the author. The editor instead has a keen eye for what needs to be changed. The letter then goes to the author who has X amount of time to make these changes. Then this process is repeated another few times and with each step the changes get more micro in nature, until you are down to line edits. A book usually needs to be completed one year before its release date. For reference, my final due date is January 1, 2014 for a Spring 2015 release.
Step 3: Copyedits and Page Proofs. Changes at this stage are minor. A copyeditor will question your words, your punctuation, your consistency–everything. In First Pass Pages your book is starting to look like a book. Everyone is looking it over to catch anything that needs catching.
Step 4: The Cover. Somewhere in here folks at the publisher are working with designers to develop a cover for your book. This has to be approved by a zillion people, too. Sometimes book stores such as Barnes & Noble even have the ability to veto a cover.
Step 5: Advanced Reader Copies. The book needs to be finished and typeset early because publishers will print advanced reader copies (more commonly known as ARCs). This is done usually at least 6 months before release. In fact, most of this timeline is driven by the desire to generate buzz. The ARCs will be handed out to librarians, reviewers, other industry folks, readers, at conventions, etc…Bear in mind most reviewers require several months lead time to review a book and, well, you want your industry reviews, you know? And then you might also need blurbs–meaning other, more established authors endorsing your book on the cover. This takes time too.
Step 6: Bookstores have to buy your book. Right now it is September 2013. Bookstores are already shopping for their Spring 2014 list.
Step 7: During all this authors have to (1) work through interviews, guest posts, cooperating in generating their own buzz, plan launch parties and possible stops on a tour and (2) get started on this process for the next book.
So where am I now? At this very moment, I’m currently writing the next book and waiting for my first edit letter, which should be here any minute and which I’m anticipating with dread and excitement. More on that soon!