Stages in the Life of a Book

You sold your book to a publisher. Yay! Awesome! They tell you they want to publish it… a year(+) from now. It took you that long to write it. What’s up with that? There will be differences if you’re publishing a novel versus a textbook, but at heart, the process is the process.

  • Notes from your editor. She may want some changes to your manuscript. You read, absorb, figure out what makes sense to do, revise, submit. And maybe the process repeats. This could take a few weeks or a few months.
  • Copyediting. Yes, a novel can be read in a few days, but you don’t want it copyedited in that same short window. It’s a different kind of reading when you’re paying attention to grammar, punctuation, style, and consistency. Then you review the edits and return the manuscript to the copy editor, who cleans it up and sends it back to the publisher. This will probably take a couple of months. After all, it’s not as if you quit your day job, so you’re doing all of this after hours, in lieu of laundry and dust bunny eradication.
  • Typesetting. Here’s where you get a brief break (to do laundry). The typesetter is creating page proofs, where you’ll see your book set on the page for the first time. It’ll take them maybe two weeks to prepare first pass pages.
  • Proofreading. The proofreader will do his thing, and you’ll do yours. You’re looking for any residual spelling, punctuation, and other errors, and hoping not to find any large gaffes at this point.
  • Corrected pages. The typesetter has corrected all of the markups from first pass and sent a second pass for review. If there are still errors, the book will undergo a third pass.
  • To the printer. Once corrections are final, the book will go to the printer, where it will be printed and bound before being shipped to the warehouse a few weeks later and distributed to bookstores far and wide.
  • Marketing and other fun stuff. While all of the above is going on, there will be cover designs and back cover copy and blurbs and discussions about promotional opportunities. The publisher will be getting the word out about your book because they want it to sell.

None of these stages happen in just a few days. They take weeks, even months, as copy editors and proofreaders and you scour the manuscript for every last errant dangling participle or uncharacteristic exclamation. You will read your book so many times you can’t stand it, but each stage of the process should make it stronger, including when the book hits the shelves.

The publisher will weigh your book against the others that it’s publishing that year, and the books other publishers are planning to publish that year, and will be strategic about when your book can receive maximum exposure and get its best chance in the market. And that is why it takes so long.