Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Editorial Process

Lately I've been hearing a number of misconceptions about what happens to a book when it gets bought by a publisher (small or large). I hear:

1. "Editors don't edit anymore."
2. "Why does it take so long for the next book to come out?"

I will answer both in a post about the whole editorial process.

1. Myth: Editors don't edit anymore.

Well, I can't speak for all authors everywhere, but it certainly isn't true for ME. In the past eight years, I've worked with seven different editors, and each one, trust me, edited my work. (This goes for both gigantic New York houses and small e-press.)

2. Why does it take so long for the next book to come out?

Because though an author might write a book in a few months (or a few years, depending on the author and the book), it takes print houses nine to 18 months to process the book into print form; e-houses a bit less (if the book is e-released alone first).

Let me start at the beginning:

  • The manuscript is accepted by the publishing house.

    The editor chats with the agent or author about what the publisher is offering, author/agent accepts, champagne is broached.

    The contracts department then works up a contract according to what editor and agent/author have discussed and sends contract to agent/author.

    Agent and/or author go back and forth a few times with the publisher until the contract is hammered out.

    At a print house, once the contract has been signed by the author, the publisher sends out a check for *part* of the agreed-upon advance. (Most e-houses do not pay advances.) Advances are usually split into three or more parts: 1. Signing the contract; 2. delivery of first book; 3. (possible) delivery of synopsis for subsequent book; 4. delivery of subsequent books; 5. (possible) publication; and 6. (possible) when published hardback book goes into softback or mass market

    Standard time between contract signing and your first check: four to six weeks.

  • Manuscript

    If the editor had the manuscript in hand when the contract went out, the book can be scheduled in the publisher's list of books coming out in the next year or so.

    If the editor purchased on a partial (synopsis/chapters), contract will indicate when the full book is due.

  • Editing/Revisions

    Once the editor has the full ms. he/she reads it. She then contacts you via phone or email to discuss the book and possible changes. Sometimes these changes are minimal; sometimes deep.

    The editor then sends you back the ms. for revisions, usually with a letter asking questions, suggesting changes, asking for clarification. A due date is set for when revisions should be returned. (Some editors skip the chat and simply send the ms. back to you with the letter.)

    Note that at this point, the ms. is not considered "accepted." If the editor thinks the book is a mess even when you turn it back in, she can still reject it, and you won't get the rest of your advance (contracts vary as to how long you have to fix the book or write something else.)

    Standard time for aquiring editor to read book and send back revisions: a few weeks to a few months.

  • Author revises the book.

    Depending on how extensive requested revisions are, this can take you an hour to two full weeks.

    Now--lest you think suddenly all control is wrested from you, and the book is being written by a "committee," and the world has gone all swirly and green; not at all.

    If you don't agree with changes your editor has proposed, you can certainly argue. I often do. This shouldn't be a heated, screaming match; it should be a reasoned discussion about what is best for the book. Editors are not always right; neither are authors.

    Keep in mind you are very close to the book at this point. An editor is reading it for the first time. Things are going to jump at her that you never saw (or your critique group never saw). This does not mean that the editor is perfect, and you should do whatever he says; nor does it mean it's time to go all diva and scream that no one understands your gift.

    Anyway, that's revisions.

    Standard time you are given for revisions: two to four weeks

    You turn in the book, the editor adores what you've done, and they send you the D&A (Delivery and Acceptance) advance.

    Standard time to get your D&A advance after acceptance: six weeks to 60 days.

  • Copyedits

    Next, the book is sent to a copyeditor, usually a freelancer; sometimes someone in-house. That person does line edits; that is, she or he marks corrections to grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and asks questions about sentences or story points that are unclear.

    Standard time for freelance copyeditors: Two to four weeks

    Most houses let you look at the copyedits and answer the copyeditor's queries. Some houses take the CE manuscript and send it to production without you seeing it, but this makes me squirrelly, so I always ask to see the CEs.

    You go through the ms. one more time, curse at the copyeditor for changing your words, change them back, correct other errors, answer the queries, concede that the CE has caught things you missed.

    Standard time for you to look at the CEs: Two weeks.

  • Proofs

    Once you have messed with the copyedited ms., your inhouse editor goes over it again then sends it back to Production to be put into page proofs. These proofs are close to what you're going to see in the final copy.

    Standard time from CEs to proofs: Two to four weeks.

    You get sent either a printout or a PDF file, which you then proofread.

    Most houses also send the proofs to a freelance proofreader at the same time. Between you and the proofreader, the typos should all get caught. (Note I say should.)

    Reading page proofs is my favorite part. The book is so finished that I can't change the story--I can now just read it as a story. I also like to make sure I've caught every problem I possibly can. That's my OCD talking.

    Standard time you get to look at proofs: Two to three weeks (Often less, because time is marching on)

  • Book to printers

    By now, the book has a cover (usually before you've done the revisions, because it needs to be in the catalog a long time in advance) and a blurb. This plus the manuscript gets sent to the printers for the final book.

    Standard time at printers: Six to eight weeks.

    There you have it. The book comes of the press and is warehoused and sent out to booksellers nationwide (or pubbed on an ebook site). If you are owed a pub advance, you get it four to eight weeks later. For ebook houses, your royalties start rolling in six to eight weeks after the book is posted (depending on the pub's payment schedule).

Mileage can vary, of course!

While the pub house is doing this for your book, they're doing it for many, many other authors at the same time, which adds to the time. Smaller houses with fewer authors might have a shorter time frame.

E-book houses put out books anywhere from four to six months after author turns in the ms., because they don't have to schedule time at the printers and wait for that process.

The e-book house I write for uses a similar editing process except:
1. I don't get paid until the book is published and starts to earn royalties.
2. The line editing and proofs are done in one step.
3. I usually don't get a cover until the book is a few weeks away from publication.

More notes:

Everything I'm talking about here are the mechanics of getting a book to print. I have skipped the conversations with my editor about the back blurb and the cover, me seeing the cover and either gushing or weeping, the covers being printed and the marketing team going out to sell the books to the distributors with lovely covers in hand.

So...books are still put through the wringer, and you can see why it takes such a long time to process them.

Caveat: I speak only from my own experience writing for NY houses and e-houses, and as an editor at medium-sized nonfiction presses.


Tara McClendon said...

I think this is a great reminder that publishing is a team effort, and like most things, the more people involved the longer something will take.

Jennifer Ashley/ Allyson James / Ashley Gardner said...

Absolutely. My books are worked on by people I will never meet--I don't even always know their names! The Production editor, production assistant, cover designer, and many more...

Gillian Layne said...

Jennifer, once again you've navigated the maze of publishing and made it clearer for the rest of us. Thanks!

Alexis Walker said...

I love the succinctness of this post. Gets right down to why there is so much time and indirectly, why it costs so much money to get a book out. Look at all those people who are involved! But if you want quality, that's what needs to be done. Thanks for sharing your experience. :-)