The Publishing Process—Step-by Step



As an author and editorial director, I am frequently asked about the publishing process. What happens after we sign a contract?  Will I have another chance to make changes to my manuscript after I turn it in? Then what happens? These are all perfectly legitimate questions for someone who has not written a book before.  I will try to describe, in detail, the publishing process in this posting.

It all starts with a great idea and a well constructed book proposal. If the publisher likes that, chances are that we will offer the author a publishing contract for the book. It spells out the terms of the agreement, like the length of the manuscript, the due date, etc. Once that is signed by both author and publisher, the work really begins in earnest.

It is imperatuve that the author develop a strong working relationship with the editor, and vice versa. The duo (or trio if there are two authors) need to decide how they will work together. Will the author simply work on the manuscript solo and then turn it in? Or will she seek the advice of her editor far more frequently, say, chapter-by-chapter? There is no one right way to do this as it all comes down to maximizing productivity and determining what works best for the author.

Let’s say that the six months have passed and the author turns in the manuscript to the publisher. Does that complete the author’s responsibility? Hardly! There are still several more steps and tasks that the author must complete before the manuscript is officially “accepted” by ther publisher.  That term—“accepted”—is key because it is the time that the publisher usually makes some advance payment to the author.  But we are getting ahead of ourselves, because there is a vital, often iterative, review process that involves both the author and his editor.

Once I receive the manuscript from the author, I read it, edit it,  offering suggestions throughout the book in the margins of the manuscript using the Microsoft edit program. That’s how I work, but other editors may work differently. They may use a blue pencil, as was done for decades in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. 

When I finish editing the program, I send it back to the author for his or her review of my edit, accepting those changes they agree with, making the requested changes to the manuscript. All of this assumes that the manuscript is in “decent” shape when I get it. If the book is a disaster, which happens infrequently if the editor is working closely with the author, then a whole different process is necessary (I will save that scenario for a future posting if people want to hear about that). When the author gets back the manuscript from the editor and makes all of the key changes/improvements to the manuscript, he returns it to the editor via email  for a final review. Once that is complete, the book goes into “production.” But the publisher cannot literally “produce” the book until the following has been submitted:

* The complete art program: that could include charts, graphs, photographs, cartoons, etc. If you cannot “draw”  it with a typewriter, then it is considered art (at least that was the definition for my first two decades in publishing).

* All permissions:  art that is taken from a third party requires permission. So do lengthy excerpts from articles or books, as well as signed permission forms for any person that you interviewed for the book. This is a key part of the process and should not be left until the end, but it is by 90 percent of authors. If you want to use something that requires permission, apply for it early and you will be way ahead of the game.   

* In some cases, a legal read and response:  some books require legal reads to minimize the chances for a libel suit, as well as a review for any items that may require permission (per the conditions described above). Authors must sometimes make changes to the manuscript per the recommendations of an attorney.

Once all of the above is settled, the book goes into production. Tune in at the end of the week to get the rest of the story on the production process.


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