Thursday, January 22, 2015

Throw the Baby in the Maw

Zestful Blog Post #89

Continuing on my journey through the publishing world, we have this week’s installment:

8) Throw the Baby in the Maw

The baby, is, of course, one’s manuscript, and the maw is your publisher’s machinery. Once the contract is signed, the maw opens.

The main thing to realize about traditional publishing (or whatever you want to call it; some call it ‘legacy’ publishing, which is a beautifully underhanded slap) is that the process takes a long time, even with the ever-evolving digital technologies. Typically it’s a year from acceptance to books-on-shelves, though publishers keep trying to shave this down, with spotty success.

What has to happen before blastoff?

[From my recent trip to Cape Canaveral.]

A long list of stuff:

Contract negotiations. These can take a day or weeks.

Revisions. You might wait three months for your editor, once the contract’s in place, to send you his or her notes on suggested revisions. This go-round is often called a ‘line edit,’ because the editor goes over your manuscript line by line, making comments and suggestions. They always want the thing back from you within a tight time window, like two weeks.

I’ve been lucky that the editorial process on all my books has been light. You can pretty much count on this: these days, if a book isn’t in pretty great shape, editors simply pass on it, with rare exceptions.

I remember reading, before I got published, an account of Pat Conroy working with his editor, Nan Talese, on revisions. Reportedly they holed up in a hotel together and went over his manuscript(s) for days and days on end, with Talese massaging the material, helping with every aspect of rewrites, etc. And I marveled, thinking hell, does she hold his dick for him while he pees? Talk about coddling. But when you’ve got a zillion-selling author, I guess you do what you feel you need to. (I tried to find the source of that report for this post, but could not. It was back in the 90s as I recall.)

Copy edits. This is where a copy editor, who specializes on the molecular level of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and formatting, goes over everything. Some of them also do fact-checking; for instance, a copy editor once looked up a particular firearm I mentioned, and told me it had been out of production for a few years. That was OK, since the gun didn’t have to be brand-new.

I worked once in a situation where I was given (with no notice) a weekend to go over copy edits for an entire book. The time pressure is because of their publishing schedule. For one example of a link in the chain, the publisher’s printer schedules jobs as tightly as possible. This is efficient. But if your book misses its slot, it might have to go to the rear of the queue, so to speak, so as not to throw off jobs all down the line. If you miss your print date, you’ll miss your release date. So editors are hyper about their publishing timelines, and when the crunch comes, it’s usually on you.

Final proofreading of the galleys. This is done by you. The galley is your book as it has been designed and typeset. That is, you’re looking at the exact product that will go through the printing press and be bound. Last chance to catch errors.

I might add that sometimes copy editors will inadvertently add errors to your manuscript, as when they’re inputting all the agreed-upon changes. A period or a quote mark might go missing, so when proofing you have to really focus.

More on the publisher’s side:

Release date has to be decided on, taking into account other books they’ll be releasing at the same time.

Marketing plan. Needs to be developed and groundwork laid for it.

Cover design. You’ll probably have no say in this.

Catalogue. Usually twice a year, publishers develop and release ‘catalogues’ of their upcoming titles to buyers at the bookstores and libraries, so these folks can browse and decide what to pre-order, and how much.

Galleys need to be sent to reviewers; increasingly this is being done electronically.

Printing and shipping. Of course e-book release is in here somewhere.

On top of all this, you have to factor in weekends and holidays, everybody’s vacation time, maternity leave, knee surgery, etc. etc., as well as slippage due to other authors missing their deadlines during the edit process and throwing your editor and thus everybody else off. (I plan to write more about the actually fairly intriguing subject of deadlines in another post.)

OK, next week we’ll see what happened when The Actress hit the stores.

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  1. Again, thank you for these posts. They're very illuminating. Even though I knew there would probably be more work with the editors/publishers after signing the contract, I didn't realize it was this much. Or to that extent. There really is so much going on. How did you deal with the pressure/stress , if there were any?

    1. The good thing is, everything happens sequentially, so you don't really have a lot going on at once. I only found it stressful when I had very short time slots to get large amount of work done during the edit process. And I just put everything else on the back burner and blasted through the work. (While muttering imprecations.)


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