Demystifying The Publishing Process...

Have you ever wondered how the whole mysterious publishing process works? I mean, yes, you write the book, get an agent, make the sale. But how does it all work? What’s really going on behind the scenes?

I’ve posted the timeline of my publication journey before, but have never really outlined the path a manuscript takes on its way through the publication process.

Disclaimer: Just like a snowflake, no two paths are exactly alike, this is just a guideline.


You write a book. You revise, and then you edit. You show your mom…she loves it! You revise and edit again. You show some friends, they tell you (to your face, at least) that it’s genius. And you repeat this process until your manuscript is polished and shiny and perfect.

(Or at least until you think it is.)

Then it’s time to find your Dream Agent. But before you start submitting, do some research. You want an agent that’s right for your book, not just an agent with the best sales record. This is important! Do your homework before blindly submitting. (Need convincing? See my post on why you should have an agent.)

This next step is excruciating, trust me. After some MORE polishing with your agent, he/she submits it to publishers. And you wait.

And wait…and wait…and wait.

Note: Something happens to the Space-Time Continuum during the submission process. Minutes feel like hours. Hours stretch on endlessly. Days become an eternity. Even if it’s only been two days, those two feel more like eighty. You will check your email compulsively, and drive yourself insane.

In order to counteract this effect, you must do some sort of retail therapy (Read: shopping). Or indulge in high quantities of chocolate. No need to thank me for this bit of advice, I’m not a hero, just doing my part for writers everywhere.

AFTER THE SALE (and much celebrating!):

Congratulations, you’ve done it! Now, the real work begins. You will get your revision letter from your editor, and go through what I like to call The Six Stages of Revision Hell. This is where you make the down-and-dirty changes your editor has suggested. Sometimes it’s just minor tweaks, more polishing. Sometimes it’s gutting entire sections, breaking them down and starting from scratch. You realize at this point that maybe your mom wasn’t the best critique partner.

Revising can go anywhere from one to four rounds (back and forth). Basically, you do this until you get it right!

Note: For some insane reason, I LOVE the revision process. (Read: glutton-for-punishment). You can read my posts on revisions here and here.

Finished with revising? Now your book goes off to copyediting. This is where your manuscript undergoes rigorous scrutiny by highly skilled English Majors (Read: people who are WAY smarter than you are) who understand the difference between lay and lie (which, apparently, I still have trouble with), and who will viciously point out that you’ve grossly overused the comma. You may go one or two rounds with your copyeditor, and this can be painstaking since you have to consider (and approve or deny) every single mark they’ve made on every single page you’ve written.

And yet…somewhere in the midst of all the editing chaos, you will probably see your cover design!

This is a magical moment, like seeing a unicorn prancing across a rainbow at sunrise. You may go momentarily blind from the sheer joy of it. There will be shrieks and squees and tears of laughter.

Unless, of course, you hate it. And then you call your Dream Agent and throw a full-on hissy fit. But let me point out, because it needs to be said, Dear Author, that your opinion really does not matter. Sorry!

(And just for the record, so there’s absolutely no confusion on this point…there were indeed rainbows and unicorns and squees when I opened my cover file for the first time. I adore it!)

So then, after copyediting, your manuscript is sent off to the typesetter. At this point, bound galleys or ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) are ordered. These are printed in advance of your release date and sent off to the press to gain reviews and generate publicity. And to torture and torment you, The Author, as you watch your Goodreads rating rise and fall.

Note: This might be a good time for more retail therapy or chocolate. Possibly both.

ARCs are sent out, the reviews come in, and the cover is (or is not) accepted by the large chain stores (namely Borders and Barnes & Noble). If the chain stores reject the cover, it will be redesigned.

Do you see how this works?

You = No Power.

Chain Stores = Total VETO Power.

(It's about now that you’re wishing you had chosen the pen name: Sir Noble Barnes Borders, aren’t you? Then you'd have the power! And you could have named your book: The Wicked Twilight Potter Games. Instant Bestseller!)

Next, you get your First Pass Pages. Even though they’re printed on standard 8.5 x 11” paper, they’re actually your first peek at what the final typeset version will look like. Again, you actually shed a tear or two. They. Are. Beautiful!

This is your book, sort of. This is what people will be seeing when they crack the pages of the cover that-has-grown-on-you (again, not me...I loved my cover!). And you get to go through each and every page (one more time) looking for any minor typos, typesetter errors, and making a few teensy-tiny corrections. You mark these in colored pencil and mail them back to the publisher. The goal is to keep the number of changes to, say, under 50.

Mine were closer to 250. (Ouch!)

WAITING FOR YOUR RELEASE (aka. Becoming a Publicity Guru):

(Note: If you want some really good information on promotion, I’m going to point you in the direction of Saundra Mitchell and Shelli Johannes Wells' awesome posts. These ladies rocked the heck out this info as they broke it all down!)

In the meantime, as the author, you will be expected to do a hefty percentage of your own promotion (especially since, in this day and age, much of it will be done online). You will need:

A Website. If you’re even a little tech-savvy, this is something you can do yourself. For free. If you’re like me, you will need to hire someone to do this for you.

A blog. Again, free and easy. You don’t even need that much technical know-how. If I can do it, you can. For me, the hardest part was not to post every mundane thought that popped into my head. I’m the queen of TMI, I had to learn to rein it in a little. For everyone’s sake.

You will Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace (this last one is more important if your target audience is Young Adult). Again, all free, all easy, and all fun.

Using these forums, you will become adept at social networking. You will make online contacts, meet book bloggers and reviewers, set up interviews and guest posts on other blogs. Basically, you will be your own, best publicist.

And, in the process, you will make friends. Real ones.

And, in the end, you will have a shiny, non-comma-riddled novel!


Heidi Willis said…
Hooray! I loved this post!! You manage to make it all sound so magical!

I love revisions, too, although I tend to be a little sparse on my commas. Okay - a lot sparse.

But now I'm the comma guru. Apparently, (notice the comma!) I CAN be taught. :)
Reverie said…
PHEW that's quite a breakdown.. and now you're SOooooooo close to being ALMOST there!!!
im exhausted - thanks for the "holla" :)
Sandy said…
The process sounds exhausting (but exhilirating!) Great post ;)
Jess said…
Great post! I'm at the submissions phase and there has indeed been chocolate and retail therapy.

Hope the Goodreads rise and fall hasn't been too stressful for you! I was lucky enough to get an ARC from NCTE, and my friends and I all enjoyed it so much.
Little Ms J said…
I can't wait to learn how to squee. I can't wait for the big chocolate love handles or the shoes I sneak into my house so Mr. J won't know I'm seeing my therapist. I can't wait for all these wonderfully awful things to happen!
Great post! It's not only you who over uses the comma. Some of my writing has been sprinkled with comma-fetti. What can I say? I just love 'em. : )
Woohoo! I love this post and all the little asides...I'm about to enter into the chocolate-retail-therapy zone:-)
Wow, Kim, this post is gold! I'm so gonna bookmark this for future reference! Great stuff, thank you! :)
Donna Gambale said…
Great overview!!!

And might I add a hearty bahahhaa to "This is a magical moment, like seeing a unicorn prancing across a rainbow at sunrise."
Thanks guys!

Jess - Glad you and your friends are enjoying the ARC. And being on sub is that combo of too much hope and fear all bundled up makes it impossible to focus on anything else. Good luck!!!

Miss J - I haven't actually mastered the squee (and to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I want to...there's just something about that word...). Will keep you posted on that front.

Ooh, Frankie, I want to hear all about it!!!!