After the Writing Part is Finished: The Road to Publication
Though I’m not an author, I can imagine the profound feeling of relief an author must feel the day he or she turns in that finished manuscript. After multiple rounds of revisions with your editor, debating which scenes to trim and which characters’ emotional arcs to fine-tune, after email chains of motivational cat videos… at long last, the book is done!
Sort of. It often takes a year or more from the time a manuscript is completed to the day the finished book lands on a bookstore shelf. And that in-between time can feel disorienting for an author. What do I do now? you might be asking yourself. Maybe they’ve forgotten about me, you worry. Or What on earth, you may wonder, is taking so long?
The answer, in a word: Meetings.
While the book is going through the many stages of production (a story for another day), a whole other process is also taking place behind the scenes as your publishing team — the people in sales, marketing, publicity — lay the groundwork for pushing your book out in the world. The specifics of this process vary, but I’ll try to give you a rundown of the major milestones, and the many meetings, along the way to a book’s publication.
I like to think of launch as book publishing’s Fashion Week. Two to four times per year, the whole company comes together for a day or two of presentations in which the editors and publishers introduce their upcoming season’s list to the world. It’s an exciting time! Up until now, your editor and publisher are the only ones who know anything about your book. That’s about to change.
At launch, it’s the editor’s job to give everyone else a handle on your book, so that they are well equipped to sell it. What existing books can this book be compared to? What kind of readers will like it? How should the book be positioned in the marketplace? Most important, it’s the editor’s responsibility to get everyone in the room excited about it. I still remember witnessing one editor’s masterful pitch: she described a book as one she wishes she could watch us read (the plot twist was just that good). We editors want people to come away from the meeting thinking, “I can’t wait to read (and promote/publicize/market/sell the heck out of) this book!”
A couple of months after launch, the company as a whole convenes again. This time, the marketing and publicity departments take the lead: they’ve spent the past several weeks reading all the manuscripts, developing strategies, brainstorming marketing plans. The sales and publishing teams help review these plans and discuss even more ideas. Around this time, sales and marketing review the cover design and weigh in before it is finalized.
Here we go again — another meeting. The company gets together again one more time to go over plans and strategies. A few months after presales, sales reps will be equipped with lovely bound galleys or ARCs (advanced reader copies) to take to sales meetings and hand to clients. ARCs can also be distributed to reviewers and other literary tastemakers (librarians, bloggers, etc) to start building buzz around the book.
Now the book truly starts venturing into the outside world! Many, many individual sales meetings take place between the company’s squad of sales reps — the ones based in our New York office, and field sales reps based around the country — and their clients. These book buyers include everyone from the big retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, all the way down to your neighborhood indie bookstore. Independent bookstores have limited shelf space and have the power to hand-sell your book, so getting their support for a book can be huge.
Other kinds of businesses our sales force works with include big chains like Target, Walmart, and Costco, and book distributors (these are wholesale buyers who sell our books to retailers and libraries). These sales calls can take place anywhere from several weeks to several months before the pub date, depending on the buyer’s schedule.
The clock is starting to wind down! As the on sale date approaches, the book’s publicist is starting to pitch your book for coverage and reviews in media outlets, to bloggers in the book and librarian community, and for events. This can be the most exciting time for an author: get ready to see your book out in the wild!
There’s quite a lot that I skipped, but that’s the publishing process in a nutshell! My advice for authors during the many months between finishing the manuscript and the book’s publication: Stay energized — there will be a lot for you to do as the on sale date approaches to help promote your book.
And finally, take heart: the phrase “it takes a village” couldn’t be more true when it comes to the world of book publishing. The many people who play a part in getting your book out into the world are all passionate about helping it succeed. In other words — your team rolls deep.