The Truth About Publishing – 13

Lesson 12: The book production line

A lot goes on behind the scenes that you don’t know about. Therefore publishers like to have the manuscript ready for editing 9-12 months before the publication date. Your publisher won’t schedule the publication date of your book until she has the manuscript in hand. Believe it or not, not all authors deliver when they say they’re going to!!

Late changes to the publishing schedule are inconvenient, embarrassing and expensive for the publisher. They can also cost you valuable marketing opportunities, and sales! And money. If your book is scheduled for October, to take advantage of the pre-Christmas sales period when most books are sold, and you deliver a month late, publication is likely to be delayed for months. Your advance on publication will also be delayed by the same amount of time – tough luck if you’re relying on it to pay your bills.

The publisher’s schedule is set at least six months in advance and there may not be an available slot for you in November, December or January, while February is the slowest sales month of the year. Furthermore, promotional opportunities such as space in booksellers’ catalogues may already be booked up. If you miss your chance you may not get another.

About 20 milestones have to be met in the production of your book. Decisions to approve these milestones are normally made in meetings by people from editorial, sales and marketing, and production. Milestones include:
  • book design (including cover design, layout and typography)
  • editing (several stages)
  • typesetting and proofreading (3 stages)
  • cover brief and preparation of cover art (3 or more stages). Sometimes a number of cover roughs will be produced. It’s not uncommon for a cover to be rejected during this process and a new cover concept formulated, or even for a new artist to be commissioned. Even after the final artwork is in, the cover design, layout and text are likely to be tweaked a number of times, and all these changes have to be approved by several people. This often, though not always, includes the author.
  • program meetings to keep key people up to date
  • cover copy
  • marketing plan
  • sales brief
  • cover proof and printing
  • text printing and binding
  • delivery to warehouse (usually a month before publication date) – though for the major book chains, sometimes orders are shipped directly from the printer.
  • delivery of initial orders to the bookshops in time for publication date.

In an emergency, e.g. for a topical book or a blockbuster author who delivers late, all this can be done in two months or less, though this is stressful for everyone and not recommended.

For other authors, where a book is to be published in, say, October, the above process would begin no later than January or February, after the manuscript has been accepted and editing is underway. It be completed in late August when finished books are delivered to the warehouse. In the US, publishers like to have the manuscript in a year in advance, because proof copies (galleys, also known as advanced reading copies or ARCs) are circulated to key buyers 6 months in advance of publication.

Australian and British publishers will often consult you about the covers, though they won’t necessarily adopt your suggestions, which is fine. They ought to know what constitutes a good cover in their marketplace.

American publishers may not consult you at all, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. American covers are so different to Australian and British ones that you may not have anything useful to contribute. e.g., American fantasy covers without people on them rarely succeed, whereas to the Australian and British eye such covers often look cute or twee. Australian or British publishers may ask you to provide copy for the blurb. American publishers will generally write their own and may change the title to suit their own sensibilities or markets.


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