Why does it take so long to publish a book?
Well, that is not an easy question to answer… So I am going to make a timeline of sorts. I will start with a book with a pub date of January 2016 which falls in our Winter catalog. I can talk more about the facets I am directly involved with… which is almost the entire process.
Acquisition – first, the manuscript is acquired by the editor. To acquire a book, I first read through a boatload of submissions until I find something that speaks to me. Then I research the book and where it fits in the market. Once a week we have an acquisitions meeting, sometimes called editorial board. I have to have all my research done and forms filled out by Tuesday 3pm. Then they get copied and distributed. At our Thursday meeting, I present the title and convince everyone in the room that we want to do it. A few days later, I get a sales estimate from the Sales manager. Based on estimated sales, I can then make an offer. This is roughly 12-18 months before a book is published.
Contracting phase – something this is long, sometimes short. When I have an established relationship with an agency, the contracting is super easy. Contract has to be completed 9 months before pub date.
Vision meeting – at the vision meeting the production editor, production manager, interior designer, and I discuss the manuscript. The PE sends me a list of his or her revision requests and I add my requests to that document. Then I send it to the author with a date that revisions need to be turned in. If the revisions are minor, the PE will take care of those issues at the edit. Vision meetings for the Winter catalog need to be completed 11 months before pub date.
Launch meeting – this meeting is attended by the sales manager, one or two of our interior sales people, publicity, marketing, the publisher, production manager, production editor, art director, cover designer, and myself. Prior to this meeting I discuss with the author what he or she would like to see for title and cover design. I create a set of notes with proposed titles, tag lines, and cover designs. Deadline to finish launch meetings is 10 months before pub date.
Transmittal – this is one date that is somewhat flexible. This is when the author returns the revised manuscript to me and I officially accept it. It is then transmitted to the production department. At this point the author can’t make any more changes. 9-7 months before pub date.
Cover Meeting – a month or so after the Launch meeting, the sales manager, production manager, production editor, art director, cover designer and I all meet to see the mock ups. We choose a cover (or send the cover designer back to make some changes) and then the designer and art director either purchase the photos or contract an illustrator. This is also flexible, but covers have to be done so they are ready to go out on the data feeds and on the galleys. Deadline for covers is 8 months before pub date.
Onix data – Onix data (all the info about the book, page count, trim size, author info, tags, etc. 8 months before pub date.
Back Cover copy/catalog copy – I turn over BCC or catalog copy somewhere in here… usually a few days after I have been told by marketing that the copy is overdue. All copy is routed internally so that publicity, production, sales and I sign off on it.
Galley or ARC design – the interior designer takes the transmitted manuscript and puts it into our interior design program. Galleys are sent to be printed 6-7 months before pub date.
Catalog goes to press – 6 months before pub date.
Galleys sent out – galleys, also called Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs), are sent out by publicity and sales to media outlets and bookstores. 6 months before pub date.
Publicity plan is made – 7-8 months before pub date.
Sales Conference – acquisitions editors present the Winter season to the entire staff. We create one-sheets, which has all the following information – synopsis, author bio, physical book description, setting, audience, silver bullet (or log line), and three comp titles with sales figures and ISBN’s. We also create a power point to go with the presentation. To me, this is one of the most stressful parts of my job. Those in attendance ask all kinds of random questions and I like to be able to answer them all. Publicity will also chime in with any advance praise we have gotten or raves about the previous book. This is about 6 months before pub date.
Production Editor starts – about 6 months before pub date.
Edits are sent to author – about 4 months before pub date.
Edits are due back from author – about 3 months before pub date.
Editor makes changes to our files – 2-3 months before pub date.
Second set of eyes – 2-3 months before pub date.
To the printer – 2 months before pub date.
In the warehouse – 1 month before pub date.
Ok, so that’s the big picture. There are a bunch of little things that happen. For example, back cover copy is routed for the ARC. Then it is given to the art dept who puts the BCC on the back of the galley. Then we route the galley (not the full galley, just what the front and back cover will look like.) This routing might happen up to 3-4 times if we make a lot of tweaks. Tweaks can come from any department – production, art, sales, publicity, marketing, or me. We repeat the process for the final book.
This is why it takes so long to bring a book to market. Sure, all the actual production parts, the editing, the designing, etc, would only take a month or two. But to bring a book to market properly, to ensure that it gets in the hands of reviewers at Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, Boston Globe, NY Times, etc, we need that full year.
I am acquiring 36-40 books per year, so many of these benchmarks overlap. I might have a launch meeting for three books on one day and a vision meeting the next day. My company publishes 135 books/tarot decks per year, plus several calendars and annuals.
And now I need a nap. Wish I had time for that! I just presented three books for acquisition, I need one more for Spring/Summer, and I have five critiques to do for a conference I am attending next week. No rest for this AE!