I have always been fascinated by the publishing process, by what goes into selling an idea and what goes into making that idea a realization. I was as fascinated by this process before I made it as I was when it was actually happening, and I know that many other unpublished authors feel the same way.
I only have my own experiences to go off here, and not everything about my situation was typical. However, proposal and pitch aside, what happened to me is pretty much what will happen to you if and when you eventually sell your book.
Be Prepared to Wait
It’s hard to grasp just how long this process takes. If you’ve been waiting years to make it as an author and are expecting fanfare and excitement when you finally do, then be prepared for a letdown. Nothing sucks the excitement out of something like waiting countless weeks or months for something to happen.
This is a very long process. It took over 18 months from the moment my agent approached my publisher to the moment they published my first book. And most of that is time well spent, because as soon as the first few weeks are out of the way, then it’s all go. Kinda.
The First Step: The Contracts (0-2 months)
You’ll probably have some preliminary interest from a publisher, and the offer of a deal will not come as a complete shock. It won’t come quickly either, as the publisher will want to hash out a deal with your agent (deciding how big the advance will be and if there is any movement on the royalties) before drafting the contracts.
You and your agent will then need to look over these contracts before letting them know if you want any changes, if you need anything clarified, etc., At this point, you should be conversing directly with your agent, letting them deal with the publisher.
Once you’re happy, once the final contracts have been signed and sealed, then you should have an idea of how much money you will get, when your book will be published and when you need to submit it (if you haven’t already written it). This can happen in a few days, but in most cases it will take at least a few weeks. We were working with a particularly busy editor and publishing house, so it took a couple of months for us.
The Second Step: Book Details (1 to 3 months)
Assuming the book has already been finished and submitted, then you will need to complete some simple details for your publisher and the retailers. I have worked with two publishers, one nonfiction and one fiction. The fiction publisher received the books and a very short description of them, so they asked me to complete the synopsis and my bio. The nonfiction publisher did the work for me, using the information in the proposal.
I preferred having a direct involvement, but that’s their call and it saved me a little time, so I can’t complain. If you are asked to complete the synopsis, then you’ll be working closely with an editor who can make some tweaks and will also ensure that it’s perfect before it goes out, so it’s not as daunting as writing a synopsis for a self-published book.
At this point you may also be asked what you want the cover to look like, information which is then sent to their in-house designers.
The Third Step: Cover and Synopsis (1 month)
The cover will be compiled, you’ll be asked to give your thoughts, changes will be made and it will be checked by a number of people. You will also have a synopsis at this point, but none of this is final. If anyone decides that they don’t like what they see, which can happen when the book begins its promotional runs, then they will change it. It’s like a film that has a test screening — it’s all good to go, but if they suddenly deem that the changes are necessary, then they’ll take apart what they have in order to make them.
The Fourth Step: Editing (up to 6 months)
I was very surprised at just how meticulous the editing was. As a self-published author I rushed out my book after it had been seen by me and one other person. As a trade published author, my first book went through dozens of hands and what felt like hundreds of reads before it was signed off.
The first few edits will look at the structure and it will address any major changes that need to be made to the story. These are the ones you should worry about, because these are the ones that could change your novel and the ones that will take up most of your time. I was lucky to avoid anything major, and actually made a point of leaving notes for the editor so she could check parts of the book I was concerned about.
Once those edits are over, the proofreads and line edits will begin. You’ll probably get an electronic copy of your book at every stage, at which point you should quickly scan for any changes you’re not happy with, and for any errors those changes have caused.
The Fifth Step: Preorder and Promotion (2 months)
While the editing is ongoing, you should be introduced to the promotional team that will be providing publicity for your book, and they will advise you moving forward. The book will also be made available for preorder and towards the end of the edit, advanced copies will be printed.
Known as ARCs, these copies will be given to reviewers, bloggers, journalists and anyone else who can review the book and generate some exposure. If you know anyone who could help in this way, then you should tell your publishing in advance, giving them time to print and allocate copies.
You may also receive an advanced copy of the book.
The Final Step: Printing and Publishing
You will already have a date for release and you’ll probably have that on your calendar already. However, the excitement will build before then, as you’ll get your copies sent to you between 3 and 8 weeks before the release date, and if you have done your work on the promotional side of things, then you’ll also be generating interest from the media by then.
Whether you have a launch party or not is usually up to you, and it’s also up to you to organize events, book signings and everything else. It’s a long journey to get to this point, but the road ahead is just as long. And if you want to keep those royalty checks rolling in, then you’ll need to write more books, which means doing all of this again.