Writing Wednesdays: The publishing process - beginning to end

October 25, 2017
How much do you know about the publishing process? I talk about the main steps in this blog post.

I've talked before about various aspects of publishing - how to get published, my publishing journey, what literary agents do, how to edit your novel... But I still get questions asking how the publishing process actually works and what it involves.

Which is why in this post, I decided to lay it all out and explain the traditional publishing process from beginning to end.

Side note: when I say 'beginning', I won't start from the very beginning. The steps you won't find here are that you need to write your book and get an agent for it - but you can read more about how to get a literary agent here. Instead, I'm going to start with the actual publishing process...

1) Submitting your manuscript to a publishing house

Most publishing houses won't accept unsolicited manuscripts - this means they won't accept a submission from just anybody, and submissions need to come from literary agents. So typically, this stage is done via your literary agent. They're responsible for sending your book out to publishing houses, and will get back to you with any offers from houses.

2) Signing with a publisher

Again, this is a stage fielded by your agent. They will negotiate with the publisher, or whichever publisher you decide to go with if you have multiple offers for your novel. Your agent may retain some rights, like translation rights, if they prefer to try and sell these themselves. They'll get you the best deal they can - because remember, they don't make money unless you do, since they work on a commission basis. 

Your contract will be broken into a couple of sections. So far, mine have all been in threes, which I think is standard practice. The first is signature, the second is submission of manuscript, and the third is publication. (You'd likely get a payment of an amount of the advance determined by your agent and the publisher at each stage.) They may also impose deadlines on these stages (so the important bit here might be a deadline on when you need to deliver your manuscript by) - but again, your agent will help you out with these if you don't think they're reasonable before you sign.

3) Editing your novel

Once you've signed with a publishing house, they will assign you an editor. Now, some literary agents (like mine) will also edit your novel with you before it's sent out to publishers, but don't worry: either way, you'll get an editor at the publishing house. You give them your latest draft of the novel, and they'll work through it, sending you back edits. 

Assuming you use Word, these edits will be shown as tracked edits - you can really clearly see what they've added, deleted, changed, and they can leave comments on certain lines or paragraphs with further notes. They might also send you more general, overarching notes on plotlines/characters/etc which might be sent through separately - you know, in an email or something.

But anyway, before I get too bogged down in how to edits: your editor at the publishing house will work through edits with you and send you their notes back for you to work on.

Also, just a note here - if you're really unhappy with any of the notes they send you (eg. if they want you to completely change one storyline they don't feel works, but it's one you're really passionate to keep in) and you feel too awkward or uncertain to tell them - that's what your agent's for! They can act as kind of a buffer in situations like that if you need to.

4) More edits!

Shockingly, once you send back your first edit, it's not over. There will be more. It's a kind of rinse-repeat situation until neither of you has more notes or things to work on. You may be working to a deadline, which can sometimes make a difference in terms of how long you spend in the editing process. Just something to be aware of!

5) Cover design

This is something I'm asked about most, actually, when it comes to publishing. You don't need to create a cover for your book when you have a publisher, because they'll have a whole department of people who do that for you.

The cover designer may chat to you or get some input first, but they might just get on with it and send through a few options for the cover, or maybe ask for some input on different images or fonts. Again, if you feel really unhappy with things, your agent can help you out with this.

For instance, my novel Rolling Dice - I was sent through images of a boy and girl with their faces next to each other or almost kissing or similar kind of images to those on The Kissing Booth, but I knew this wasn't what I wanted. I didn't feel like it reflected the main relationship between Madison and Dwight, so went back and asked if they had something where the boy and girl were just stood next to each other, or holding hands - something less romantic, more friendly - and my cover designer was very understanding, accommodating and helpful.

6) Proofs

Drumroll, please! This means your edits are DONE. FINITO. OVER. Hallelujah! All that hard work has paid off! There's still one more round to go though, and that's proofreading.

Again, publishers will have someone to do this for you, but you'll get a copy of the proofs (sometimes sent as an actual mock-up copy of the book, cover and all, or else just as a print-out as loose A4 pages, which is how all my proofs to this point have arrived). You'll have chance to read through the proof and make sure it's as you want it to be. 

This isn't a point for huge structural edits, or big changes. The final proofs are more to do with 'This word should be italicised', 'This text message isn't formatted the way all the others are', etc. It's a stage for dotting 'i's and crossing 't's. Again: someone in the publishing house does this too, but it's not something you want to pass up.

7) Press and marketing

Yaaay! Your book is a thing! The publisher will be gearing up to get it into bookshops and whatnot now, and their marketing team will be putting a plan in place to publicise the book. They might be placing ads in magazines or on the Tube, they might be organising a Facebook ad campaign, interviews, organising a book blog tour or signings, or getting you out to events where you can promote your book.

Your agent may also get involved with things like this - less so running ad campaigns, but they might put you forward for events or help you organise a book blog tour, if these haven't been part of the publisher's press plan. 

There are areas you're going to be involved with (I mean, you don't get book blog tours without the author, right?) and areas you won't (like posters on the Tube). 

But as with most things, this is something your publisher should take care of. You shouldn't need to be organising all your own publicity around a book release while they sit back and hope for the best. They'll have some plan (and someone to make and execute that plan) because they want to sell your book - or else they don't make money, either.

8) Your first copy!

Aaah! Exciting stage! You'll get advance copies of your novel before it hits the bookshelves! Advance copies may also be sent to book bloggers/youtubers, other authors, reviewers, etc. - but you get an advance copy as soon as it's printed! It's literally the best feeling ever.

Sometimes the ebook may be released before the paperback (like with The Kissing Booth) but this doesn't seem very common. But obviously, if the ebook is out far enough in advance of the print run, you won't be able to get a physical copy before the ebook release, because they won't have printed them yet. Don't stress, though. It won't be long and you'll be holding your precious book baby.

9) Publication day

And here we are, at publication day! It's something you dreamed of your entire life, something you hardly dared hope for, and the moment you've been building up to after months and years of hard labour. It's here at last!

Different things will be organised for different authors and for different books. Maybe you'll be sat at home with your feet up, watching congratulations messages pour in on Twitter while you run a live chat. Maybe you'll be doing interviews or out doing signings. Maybe you'll have a launch party! Like I said, it differs between authors, books, publishers, agents... There's no absolute standard. But whatever happens, it'll be crazy exciting for you: your book is finally out there in the world, selling copies, being read by people, and you are now, officially, a published author. (Congrats, dude!)

Did I miss out any major points in the publication process? Or are there things you still want to know about publishing I haven't covered yet? Let me know on Twitter or in the comments below! 

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