Getting a book into print is far from a simple process. It involves numerous people, hundreds of man hours and plenty of sweat and tears. This post sums up the steps that a book goes through from idea to print.
Before I begin to detail the steps involved in the publishing process, please let me say that this blog post is just a summary. Each book is different, often requiring the addition and subtraction of certain steps. The size of the publisher, the type of book and the genre of the manuscript will all play a part. I have worked with a number of publishers, and each has had their own particular way of doing things. The list below is simply a guideline designed to show writers the key stages most books will take on their journey to the printing presses.
- Idea: The writer formulates the idea for a book that will appeal to a targeted and significantly large readership. The concept will almost certainly fit into a pre-defined genre. If the book will not attract a large enough readership, or fails to fit firmly into a recognised genre, then the writer may have trouble finding an agent.
- Writing: The writer will write the book. If the book is fiction, then a full novel will be written. It is possible to move onto the next step with a partially written fiction manuscript. However, finding agent representation is almost impossible without actually finishing your book. If the book is non-fiction, then just two or three chapters, and a detailed book proposal, may be enough to find representation.
- Book Proposal: A book proposal is written by the writer. The aim of the book proposal is to demonstrate to a potential agent that the book is relevant, well written, fits into a defined genre, has a ready-made readership and is a viable commercial proposition. The writer will approach specific, carefully chosen agents who have a track record of publishing books in a specific genre. This is where careful genre selection becomes important. If a writer’s book proposal presents an unclear picture of the book’s genre and potential readership, it makes it that bit harder to find agent representation.
- Agent Representation: The agent will recognise potential in the book from the book proposal and request to see the full manuscript. They will then read the manuscript, feel that can place it with a publisher and offer representation. If an agent can’t envisage a publisher likely to offer a book deal, they will not offer representation. A contract is then signed between the writer and agent, which agrees to the agent receiving a percentage (usually 15%) of all future profits from that title. At this point, the agent may work with the writer to improve the book and the book proposal in preparation for presentation to publishers.
- Approaching Publishers: The agent will approach a number of publishers, showing each of them your book proposal and manuscript. The agent will have contacts within the industry and will beware of which publishing houses will be open to publishing your book. The agent may send out your book to a few selected publishers, or to many. This process may take a matter of weeks, or drag on for months.
- Publisher Decisions: All publishers have different processes in deciding whether to accept a manuscript. The first step is with the commissioning editor. It is this person’s job to find books that fit into the publishing house’s plan for the near future (this could be as many as two or three years ahead). They will be looking for particular types of book. If the commissioning editor feels your book will fit into their plans, then they will take it to the next step. This is a commissioning meeting where a number of senior editors will meet to decide on a number of titles. Here all the books presented are assessed and a decision made on each book’s potential. If the publisher feels your book has potential to sell enough copies to make them a profit, they will offer a contract.
- Contract Offer: A publisher will agree to publishing your book and a contract will be offered. If your agent feels that enough interest has been generated, an auction may take place. This is where publishers are invited to make an offer for your book and the best is chosen. Auctions tend to be the exception, rather than the rule. They are also often the reason for highly inflated advances.
- Contract Negotiation: The initial contract offer will be open to negotiation. The agent will negotiate the terms of the contract and this will normally focus on the amount of the advance, the percentage royalties to be paid and ownership of foreign and digital rights.
- Contract Signed: Once all parties are happy with the terms of the contract, the deal is signed and things move on. The writer begins to work with the publisher and the role of the agent diminishes as the book is prepared for print. At this point an advance will normally be paid. It is common for half the advance to be paid on signature of the contract and the rest upon delivery.
- Editing: The manuscript will now be edited by the publisher. This is a layered process and can range from a single sheet of notes, to a complex back-and-forth between a number of editors. This may be done internally, or by a third-party organisation. The writer will be expected to make changes within a ‘reasonable’ time. This is a contracted agreement. The publisher may decide to extend the editing period, choosing to work closely with the writer. This is also the point at which copyright issues, illustration rights and any other loose ends are resolved.
- Type setting : Once everyone is happy, the manuscript is converted from a word processor document into a document ready for printing. This is carried out using software known as InDesign. The aim is to produce a print ready file.
- Cover Design: Either an internal (or external) designer will mock up three or four cover designs. These will be viewed by the publishing team and a decision made on the best cover. The writer may, or may not, be consulted. This is a specialised job, but each publisher has their own process. However, the end result is the same; a book cover the publisher feels will sell the book.
- Proofreading: Once the manuscript is ready for printing, it will be proofread. Again this may be internal or external. The proofread is to pick up and correct any final errors. Once again, the process alters with publishers, but as a general rule writers are less involved at this stage than the previous editing.
- Printing:The file will be sent to a printer and a set number of copies will be printed.