Why does publishing take so long?


This seems to be a recurring question – both one of general curiosity and, specifically, one that has been asked about the Numair books.

First, please remember that while machines are involved in publishing, those involved in publishing are not machines. Every single person involved in the process has a life with complications, setbacks, personal concerns–not to mention other books they’re working on–and every one of those things can drag out or disrupt the process. Because it is a process. Even at the best of times, a book typically takes a year to go from finished draft to bookstore shelf – finished final draft.

We’re talking about the post-author-sale process, here – you have an agent, you have an editor. You’ve given the editor the manuscript you’ve labored over to get to this point. And now the first round of waiting. Once your editor is finished reading and making notations on your manuscript, they’ll send you an editorial letter that sums up the “big picture” changes suggested, as well as any major plot holes or character inconsistencies. They’ll also mark up the manuscript pages with more minor questions and corrections, requests for clarity, or recommendations of areas to cut or tighten up.

Initial rewrites can be more or less severe. Sometimes there are plot holes that require a huge amount of correction, sometimes things are pretty decent and only need a round or two of polishing. Sometimes the editor will suggest changes to make the story stronger, to bring out what seems to be your central theme, or to make your characters and setting shine.

The editor is not your enemy. You don’t have to take every suggestion that they make, of course, but they aren’t trying to undermine the integrity of your work, claim it for their own, or force you to rewrite until your story is unrecognizable. If they paid you for your manuscript, it’s because they saw a good story and they want to help you make it better.

Once you’ve worked through that first round of feedback and made the suggested changes (or discussed with your editor why you don’t want to make them), congratulations! You have your first draft.

Yes, your first draft.

Doesn’t matter how many versions of the story you’ve written before this point. As far as the publishing process is concerned, that there is your first.

Then comes another round of editorial commentary, more discussion, more ideas, blood, sweat, tears, rewrites. And at the end of all of that, you have draft number two.

Lather, rinse, possibly repeat. Tammy usually goes through 2-3 drafts before the editor sends their final round of commentary. Along with the editor’s final commentary comes the copyeditor’s notes. They’ll check for spelling, grammar, and inconsistencies (Like Pounce sitting on the window sill at the beginning of a scene and reclining on the desk at the end of it). You can accept the changes, tweak things yourself, or deny the changes. Tammy frequently rejects spelling and grammatical changes to her dialogue. If someone uses slang, local colloqualisms, and bad grammar while they talk, she intends it!

While the editing, editing, editing goes on, the marketing and sales people are working on jacket flap copy, an author bio for the back of the book (often they ask for these), and cover/promotional art. Unless you’re a Big Deal author, you probably won’t see the cover until it’s been finalized. Unless you’re a Huge Deal author, you’ll get little to no input on what the cover looks like. Sorry!

Right around when they’re finishing the cover designs, you’ll receive a typeset manuscript. This typically has two pages to a sheet, and looks as it will on the bound pages of your future book. This is your last chance to go over it for typos and minor mistakes and to make small changes. The editor and copyeditor will also go over this to check for the same things. The more eyes, the fewer typos get through. And some will still get through.

Then comes the sales meetings. You get to go in to a team of people who want to sell your book and talk about all the reasons you loved it when you started writing it! Try to remember what they were. They’ll be there, somewhere, buried in the deep recesses of your mind, beyond the desire to throw the entire manuscript into the air and take a flamethrower to it.

Engage the sales people! They’re nice, enthusiastic, and they want your work to succeed. The better they get to know you, and the more they like you, the harder they’ll push to get your work on the shelves. That’s the next phase: the publicity circuit, book fairs, catalogues sent to stores and libraries.

Then, at some point, you will get a box. Inside that box will be shiny new author copies of your work. It will be surreal. Bask in it.

About a month later, your books will hit the shelves.

To recap: it’s about a year from final draft to bookstore shelves. Tammy has at this point written three entirely new first drafts of the Numair books, backing up and adding material as it expanded from one volume into a three-book series. This is when she’s not doing author visits, down with a cold or a migraine, dealing with unexpected life events…. You get the picture. So hopefully that answers the question of why there has been such a stretch of time between when she started work and when the books will hit shelves! She really appreciates the excitement and the patience you’ve had, and is doing her best to get things done as quickly and as well as possible.

Wow, thank you for posting this! I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better insight into the publishing process now. 🙂

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