Mincemeat: on writing
  "To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it, are the three great difficulties in being an author."
Charles Caleb Cotton

From the Offer to the Bookstore

Before going through the process myself, I was pretty clueless about the route a book takes to get to the shelf. Here are the major phases of traditional book publishing, based on my own experience.

Offer—When an acquiring editor finds a book she'd like to buy, either from an agent or the slush pile, she then calls agent or author to make an offer (huzzah!). The offer details how much money the publisher will pay the author as an advance on royalties (for a first book, generally $2000 - $10,000), the percentage of royalties the author will get (for a children's author, generally 10 percent on hardcover, 6 percent on paperback), and the rights the publisher wants to buy (i.e. North American rights, World English, or World. Bloomsbury bought World rights from me, meaning if any of my books are sold for translation, Bloomsbury gets 50 percent of those royalties).

The Counter Offer—Often a counter offer is made, wherein the author/agent negotiates a slightly higher advance, percentage, or asks to retain more rights. This can be brief or haggling might go on for weeks. The actual signing of the contract can delay for months, but once the offer has been accepted, business goes forward.

Editing—For me, this phase lasts six to nine months. See Working with an Editor for more details. After several revisions under my editor's supervision, we decide the book is ready to go. Such a good feeling! Sometime during the process, my editor is also shopping for cover art, running different artists by me, deciding on a feel and design. Bloomsbury is good at consulting with me, but ultimately the decision is theirs. They send me initial sketches of the cover art for input and accuracy. Eventually, I get a jacket proof in the mail and I go over the front, back, spine, and flap text. That's always very exciting and makes the book feel more real.

Copy Editing—Now the publisher sends your manuscript to the copy editor (inhouse or outsourced). My editor will send me a xerox of the ms with copy edited notes and I often have just a weekend to go over it. I usually find a couple of errors she missed (though those copy editors are incredibly thorough and very good) and find some changes she made that I don't want made. I also find adverbs I wrote but now hate and other minor changes. When I go over these corrections with my editor on the phone, our call can last three hours. It's quite an intensive process, but the ms is so much cleaner for it.

Typesetting and Proofing—The copy edited ms goes to the typesetter's (though they don't actually set it in type anymore, all computer and Quark and that good stuff). A few weeks later, I get the first proof, an unbound galley. It's the first time I see the font the publisher chose, the chapter headings, and any other knickknacks like initial caps that make it look real. A very cool thing. Again, I usually have a weekend to turn it around. I read it through and often find the natural errors that occur in the transition from manuscript to typeset. On my publisher's side, my editor and a copy editor (and perhaps others as well) are also reading it so we're sure to catch all the errors. At this stage, my editor will let me make a few more minor, minor, minor changes, when the fever seizes me. The corrections go back to the typesetter, then the galley comes back again for second proofs. Often at this stage, I just read the parts that we changed to make sure no mistakes were made. Depending on time and need, the book could go to third proofs or even more.

ARCs—At any time during the editing, copy editing, or proofing phases (depending on industry factors, upcoming conferences, catalog deadlines, etc.), the publisher might make Advance Reading Copies (ARCs), aka bound galleys, uncorrected proofs, or review copies. These are cheaply bound paperbacks for marketing purposes and go to book reviewers, book sellers, librarians, and so on. As I recall, the ARCs for enna burning were made well into the proofing process, while princess academy ARCs were printed before I'd even finished revising. Interesting trivia—an ARC is more expensive to print than a hardcover book because so few are made. Because they're so expensive, some books don't get any.

Printing—I'm not a part of this process at all, but in some mysterious way, the book is printed, bound, and distributed to bookstores.

The Release—Because of blowout midnight releases for books like Harry Potter, there's the idea that all books come out on one particular day. Not true. My books trickle into stores sometimes as much as a month before the official release date or might sit in boxes in the back of a Barnes and Noble for days after. They reach library shelves even later, due to library book processing.

Now What?—During the breaks in this process (while my editor is reviewing a revision, while I wait for the next proofing pass, when the book goes to the printer's), I'm working on the next one. By the time a book hits the shelves, my brain is utterly absorbed with a new story. It's a little dizzying to go back to the former book, to talk about it at signings or for interviews. It has ceased to feel like my book and has become its own little creature, any praise it garners is for its own self. I do wait anxiously for reviews and love to get the fanmail that gives the peculiar, solitary, unreal process of book writing a pleasant conclusion, but once a book is out of my hands, I feel removed from it. Maybe it's similar to a child growing up, moving out, and making his own life? This, I think in part, is a writer's survival instincts. What if the book fails in the market? What if it gets bad reviews? Or just fades out of notice? Because I'm writing the next one, I'm still a writer, and the failure won't overwhelm me.


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