How does a book get published? A step-by-step description

Several people have asked me what’s going on with my upcoming book Take Me Home (being released November 6th, for those who didn’t hear my original shouts of joy).  So I thought I’d explain the steps it takes for a book to go from being a manuscript to being opened by a reader.  And then I’ll let you know where Take Me Home is in the process as it moves along.

1) The writer spends countless hours alone in front of her computer screen, creating a world and characters a reader will want to visit.

My office in the garret of my house

2) Said writer revises, revises again, listens to her critique partners, and revises again, before proofreading the manuscript with a microscope.

3) Said writer creates the Dreaded Synopsis, a summary that boils her complex plot, multi-faceted characters, and elegant prose down to somewhere between three and fifteen pages (the shorter, the better).  It’s impossible.

4) Said writer submits to dozens of agents and editors until eureka! someone recognizes the brilliance of her work.

5) A contract is negotiated and signed.  The publishing process begins.

6) Developmental edits (sometimes called line-edits).  A high-level pass through the manuscript (generally done by the acquiring editor, but sometimes sent out to a free-lancer) that examines it for plot holes, character inconsistencies, pacing, and just general ways to strengthen it as a story.  For instance, in Take Me Home, my developmental editor asked me to add a couple of more whisper horse scenes and strengthen the hero’s emotional arc toward the end of the book.  Both were excellent suggestions, and I implemented them.

This is an iterative process.  The developmental editor sends me her suggestions.  I try to incorporate them, and send the manuscript back to her.  She reads through it again and may have more suggestions (because my changes may require more changes in other parts of the story).  I rewrite to add those.  And so it goes until we are both happy with the story.

7) Reviews and cover quotes requested.  Once my revisions are accepted by my editor (and they have been for Take Me Home), electronic PDFs of the file are created and sent to reviewers.  These are “uncorrected” editions of the book because they haven’t been copy edited or proofread; there may be typos and other small inconsistencies.  Reviewers are accustomed to this.

In addition, well-known authors in the same subgenre are asked if they will read the manuscript and contribute a cover quote.  Romance authors are incredibly generous about doing this for newer authors.

8) Cover art development.  The cover is one of a book’s most powerful marketing tools, so this is very important.  The wonderful thing about my new publisher Montlake is that they value my opinion about the cover art which is unusual in the publishing business.  My editor and I discussed the five original concepts and agreed that two had potential. (I can’t post them here or I’d have to kill you.)  Those are now back on the graphic designer’s drawing board, and I am awaiting the new versions.


9) Copy edits.  This pass through the manuscript looks at the nit-picky details, including spelling, punctuation, word repetition, grammar issues, etc.  The copy editor checks for timeline problems (I once had a child in my story go to school for ten straight days, poor thing!); geographical accuracy; botanical accuracy (purple begonias?  I think not!); chapter divisions; and so much more I can’t even list it all.  This is a demanding job, requiring concentration and major attention to the smallest things.

Once the copy editor has finished, the manuscript comes back to me so I can agree or disagree with her/his recommendations.  The author has the final say on any edits since her name goes on the cover of the book.

10) Galleys and proofreading. The final step in creating the book is to turn the electronic file of the manuscript into something that looks like a print book with two pages facing each other, etc.  This is called the galley.  I get one more pass at the book in galley format.  At this point, I can only correct actual mistakes, mostly small ones, such as typos.  If I asked to insert a scene at this stage in the book’s production, my editor would quite rightly ask me if I had lost my mind.

11) Final cover. As soon as the cover art is finalized, marketing swings into action, writing all the copy you see on the outside and inside of the cover.  Back cover copy, author bio and photo, choosing the cover quote; all these are done by the marketing department in conjunction with the editor.

12) Marketing. This effort is generally a collaboration between the publisher and the author.  There are many, many facets to marketing, ranging from co-op (the publisher pays the bookstore to place my book on a front table or a “dump”) to blog tours to print advertising to book-signings to direct marketing via email (an Amazon strength).  The truth is that no one really knows what sells a book, so we try all sorts of methods.

Finally, the reader buys the book and reads it.  Yay!  Happy ending for all!

And what is the author been doing this whole time (between rounds of editing)?  Writing the next book, of course!



6 responses to “How does a book get published? A step-by-step description

  1. I have always wondered at the process and found this very interesting. Thanks for writing it. On a more personal level, how does go about finding an agent or editor the first time?

    • Re: finding an agent/editor.

      1) Finish the book. Revise it. Proofread it. Polish it to diamond brilliance with not a typo in sight. It’s a highly competitive market out there, and your book needs to stand out as professional.

      2) Do a lot of research. Publishers Marketplace is a wonderful resource (for $20/month) where you can look up what agent/editor has bought what book (genre, etc.) both recently and historically. Find the ones who have bought your kind of book and make a long list of names, email addys, etc. There is NO point in querying an agent/editor who doesn’t represent/acquire the kind of book you’ve written.

      3) Check the agents’ websites for what they want you to submit. Ditto the publishers. Note: it is very hard to get your manuscript read by a publisher at one of the big New York houses without having an agent.

      4) Write a professional, businesslike query letter which has at least one paragraph tailored to the person you are querying. Otherwise they will know you didn’t do your homework and reject your book before they even read your partial.

      5) Submit in the fashion the agent/editor requests.

      6) If you are fortunate enough to get a rejection with specific suggestions for improving your work, consider revising with those in mind.

      7) Submit often and multiply. As soon as you get a rejection, submit to someone else.

      8) If you give up after one or two or even a dozen rejections, you’re probably not going to get published. This business requires tremendous persistence.

      9) OTOH, you always have the option of self-publishing, a wonderful new avenue for writers. Many multi-published authors self-publish at least some of their books.

      10) I wish you the best of luck in your quest!

  2. Nancy, thanks for the breakdown! This was very informative…especially the progression of edits (line edits, copy edits, galleys).

    Good luck getting your edits done for next week. I know you’ll be fine. We all know you’re a superheroine in disguise!


  3. Great blog entry! I’m sharing

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