People frequently ask me how a book gets published, so to better answer these questions I have written out the steps that most books go through.
Hopefully it shows what I’ve learned so far in this business—that having a book published isn’t magical. There aren’t little prose fairies flying around. People make books happen—lots of people. And it’s very hard work.
But worth it.
Steps for book publication:
(actual times may vary)
- Get idea. Have idea haunt you until you start writing stuff down.
- Write book.
- Put manuscript in a drawer for a few months then pull it out, read it with fresh eyes and realize some parts are better than you remember but some parts are worse. Way worse.
- Rewrite book.
- Repeat steps three and four as needed. (It’ll probably be needed a lot.)
- Start querying agents*. Get six types of results:
- No response for weeks, months, years. Either re-query or write off. There are other agents in the sea.
- The “it’s not for us, but that doesn’t mean someone won’t like it” form letter.
- The “we’d like to see sample chapters and/or a whole manuscript” form letter.
- The personalized, “thank you for letting us read the sample chapters and/or whole manuscript. I liked X, Y, Z about it, but it’s not for me” letter.
- An agent offers to represent you
*skip step six if you already have a reputable literary agent.
- Agent raves about parts of manuscript but reminds you it’s a very tough market and only the best sells, and therefore, recommends some changes.
- Rewrite manuscript.
- Agent agrees book is in best form you can get it in, so off it goes to the editors where responses are much like B, C, D under step six.
- Sell book to editor. (If book fails to sell, either re-visit steps four and eight or revert to step one.)
- Have nice conversation with editor in which she tells you all the things she likes about your manuscript and how excited she is to be working with you. However, in order to make your book as strong as it can be, she is going to send you a few editorial suggestions in a letter.
- Get letter. Cry like little girl.
- Talk to agent about letter; realize that much of it makes sense; that it isn’t going to be quite as much work as it looks like, and that the book will be stronger for it.
- Rewrite manuscript.
- Send revised manuscript to editor. Repeat steps eleven through fourteen as needed.
- Get cover art from editor. You may hate, like, or love it. Whatever you think, talk about it with your agent before you discuss it with your editor; then do yourself a favor and bow out of the cover art process.
- Research web designers, publicists, author photo photographers, and do just about anything else that can technically be classified as “work” without having any actual work involved.
- Get copyedits back from editor. Spend hours squinting at the little marks trying to understand what they mean. Give up. Catch as many typos and awkwardly-phrased sentences as you can. Finally, freak out because no one is going to be able to read your handwriting.
- Give copyedits to friends who are meticulous readers. Be amazed at the things they find that you, your agent, your editor, and a copyeditor all missed. Buy friends very nice present.
- Get galleys of book in its actual form. Repeat steps eighteen and nineteen.
- Maintain death grip on edited galleys so that FedEx guy must pry package from your fingers while you yell about typos, repeated words, and confusing metaphors. Finally, FedEx guy and UPS guy join forces in an unholy alliance and rip package from your grasp. Edited galleys reach New York in twenty-four hours or less.
- Find new express shipping provider.
- Start seeing reviews of your book pop up online. Try to understand how it can be both “outrageously funny” and “lacking in humor” at one time. Remember that reviewers are people, and people have opinions. (Or so your agent tells you.)
- Develop polished answer for the following questions:
- When are you quitting your day job?
- Why don’t you go on Oprah?
- Why don’t you let them make a movie out of your book?
- Get really good at avoiding people who ask questions listed under step 24.
- See book in its finished, glorious form for very first time. Refuse to open it and read any portion, because you don’t have white out or time enough to go store-to-store changing the “however” on page 197 to a “but,” and so it’s best just to look at the pretty cover.
- Realize that if you want an actual career as a writer you must go back to step one and repeat… And repeat… And repeat…