The publishing industry is confusing. Lovely friends and family have asked me everything from, “Wait, have you written the book yet?” to “Two years? Your book doesn’t come out for two years? Is it really that bad?”*
Fortunately, I decided to neurotically research publishing while I was an eager middle schooler and had the stamina for such things. Since then, between getting an agent/book deal and interning at a literary agency, I’ve been slowly gathering a bit more practical knowledge on how this whole thing works.
So you want to know how a book is born, huh?
Here are the basic steps. As well as I know them.
- Author writes book.
- Like many steps in this process, this can go quickly or really slowly. Some people write their books in a month (looking at you, NaNoWriMo). Some people take years. I usually write rough first drafts in about two months.
- Author rewrites/edits/tweaks book.
- Again, the time this takes varies dramatically. My drafts tend to be rough. I edit lots. I suppose somewhere out there, an author spews forth beautiful first drafts, but I don’t know her yet.
- This is often the step when aspiring authors find critique partners and beta readers to give them feedback on their work. I can’t emphasize how important this is. Make writing friends.
- Author queries agents.
- I was stuck in a loop of steps 1-3 for a number of years. When you’re writing the manuscript, it feels like getting to the words THE END is the biggest hurdle, so it sucks when you run into a roadblock at the next step. The publishing industry can feel like a pretty intense gauntlet of gatekeepers. My confidence soared once I finally got an agent, but it took me a while to get there.
- Querying an agent, basically, means researching literary agencies and finding agents interested in the kind of work you’ve written. You then email them with sample materials. Often, this includes a query letter (a ~300 word elevator pitch), a plot synopsis, and the first ~10 pages of your manuscript. If the agent likes what she reads, she’ll request more of the manuscript. If she loves the full manuscript…
- Agent offers representation!
- Jump up and down! This is such a huge step. If multiple agents offer representation, weigh your options and follow your gut. You want someone whose personality and editorial style match yours.
- Author signs with an agent.
- Congrats! You are now officially an agented author. Drink some champagne. Get ready for more revisions.
- Author and agent do more edits together.
- This step really depends on the state of the manuscript and the agent’s editorial style. Sometimes a really clean manuscript will only require a bit of sprucing up. Other times, the author and agent will go back and forth for a few rounds of editing and polishing.
- Agent begins contacting editors at publishing houses.
- Things are pretty much out of the author’s hands at this point, so the author gets to sit down, read a few books, and get started on another manuscript.
- It’s totally possible that none of initial editors the agent approaches will offer a deal. In that case, the agent and author will go back to step six and work on strengthening the manuscript and pitch. Or working on a new manuscript.
- Editor offers a deal!
- GO YOU! This is big stuff. This is when you scream and cry. Someday soon(ish…), you’re going to hold your book in your hands!
- If multiple editors offer, the book can go to auction, which basically means that the various editors get a chance to bid on the manuscript.
- Author signs with editor.
- Congratulations! You now have a brand new editor. Be proud. Be stoked.
- For clarification, you’ll often hear of an editor as associated with a certain company name. The major publishing houses all have imprints, which are basically brands targeted toward certain demographics under the larger umbrellas of the houses.
- Even after you know you are signing with your editor, it can take a while to announce the deal. For me, it was about six weeks.
- Author and editor do more edits together.
- The author’s big job here is the editing. From big picture to nitty gritty, you deal with it all here. Behind the scenes, a ton more stuff is going on. The art department needs to make a cover (and no, the author doesn’t get to design it—fortunately, since I’d have no idea where to start), the copyeditors do their proofreading magic, the production team figures out page count, paper stock, and a dozen other things… You get the picture. There’s a whole team working on your book now.
- This process takes a long time. With so many things to do and so many people involved, this isn’t a step to speed through. Often, this stage takes between a year and a half to two years.
- Truthful clarification: I don’t really know how this step works! I have officially entered uncharted territory! But I’ll keep you updated as I learn.
- Book appears on shelves.
- Hold it in your hands. Sing to it at night. Love it forever and always. Leave a sassy “Well, I liked it” review on Goodreads.
I just wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who has congratulated me on my book deal, either on social media or in person. It’s been a frantic few weeks (profs still expect me to do homework, crazy stuff), so when you tried to engage me on this topic, I might have just made some sort of little hamster snuffling noise at you and walked away. But let me take this opportunity to say:
I appreciate your enthusiasm for me/my book/books in general. I feel very loved.