By Alana Joli Abbott
If you pay much attention to publishing announcements, you may wonder why you’re hearing about books coming out two to three years in advance. “I’ll forget about that by the time it comes out!” you may think. You’re not alone. As a reader, I’m right there with you, even though I know why things are this far ahead. (And though I work inside the business, I’m happy to defer to a real publishing expert, Nora Roberts, author of 215 books, who “personally explained” the process to an impatient fan not long ago.)
The truth is that publishing takes a lot of time. There are many moving pieces. Here’s a brief guide to some of those parts of the novel publishing process, and how we think of them at Outland Entertainment!
- Authors write (two months to ten years). If you’re a writer, we know what a huge step finishing a manuscript is, and we know that by the time you start submitting it, you’ve already gone through your own process of drafting, outlining, and revising. Go you!
- Acquiring editors solicit manuscripts (ongoing—this never stops!). Sometimes we find them through Twitter pitches. Sometimes we find them via agent submission, or through networking. Sometimes we seek out specific authors whose works we’ve enjoyed in the past. One great example Outland took on recently is Fox and Willow, a graphic novel by Allison Pang and Irma “Aimo” Ahmed. I fell in love with Allison’s prose ages ago, and when I saw her webcomic with Aimo—which I’d been reading for years—was looking for a print publisher, I wanted Outland to jump on that opportunity!
- Acquiring editors read manuscripts and figure out which ones are right for them to edit (days to months). This has to do with personal taste, sure, but it also has to do with the broader vision of the publishing house, and whether the publishing team feels they can reach the right audience for the book to make money. The timing on this step is really fluid, because while the post-acquisition steps have real deadlines, we editors usually have to squeeze in time to read our submissions.
- The publisher makes an offer (days).Once the team is in alignment, we make an offer (usually including the editor’s revision requests) to the author (or agent) for the title—or for the series, or for rights to create comics and games. At Outland Entertainment, we look for transmedia potential, so we want to be able to work with creators who are interested in taking their world into several mediums—or working with us to create a team of creators that will bring their world to life through games and comics.
- The contract gets hashed out so everyone is happy (days to weeks). While we have a standard contract we use, occasionally there are parts that need adjusting for specific projects, and sometimes it takes additional time to make sure all the parts reflect the agreement that both Outland and the creator is comfortable with.
- Initial revisions are made (weeks to months). The author makes the revisions the editor has requested to submit the full manuscript. Some authors are incredibly quick at turning around edits. We usually schedule the full manuscript deadline based on our publishing schedule and when we need to start the next steps of the process.
- Developmental edits begin (two to eight months). This is when the editorial process really starts. Depending on the manuscript, the author and the developmental editor—usually the editor who acquired the book—may go back and forth several times about where the story should be at, whether the characters grow and change, and whether the world building is consistent. How is the structure? Is the point of view consistent throughout? Do the characters act organically, or just serve the plot? All of those story answers really need work, so this part of the process can take a lot of time. One of several books at Outland that’s in this part of the process is Robert Duperre’s Vowbreaker, sequel to Soultaker, which is available in our store.
- The cover art is created (two to six months). While that’s happening, a cover artist is working on the art for the book’s cover. At Outland Entertainment, we include the authors in the decisions about the cover art, so they typically get a peek at the process and have a chance to weigh in on the design elements—although we authors and editors leave the real art choices to the pros! Some artists ask to read the full manuscript, as well, and we’re happy to provide it to them. Depending on the artists we choose, they may have to find room in already busy schedules for any given piece of art, which means the art can take some time to be created.
- A copy editor completes edits (one to two months). Once the developmental editor and the author are both happy about the manuscript, it goes to a copy editor. Although the copy editor’s job is predominantly to clean up the prose and make sure the novel reads smoothly, this fresh set of eyes may catch inconsistencies neither the author nor the developmental editor caught! After that’s complete, the author and developmental editor go over the copy editor’s changes to finalize the manuscript for design.
- The designer works their magic (one to two months). A book designer takes the manuscript and creates the file that will be submitted to printers and to become an e-book.
- Galley proofs find any final (we hope!) errors (one to two months).The author and a galley proofer go over the galleys to make sure any last-minute typos get caught.
- Printing and e-book creation begin (one to three months). The final proofed file is delivered to the printer and e-book creator. Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) are submitted to review outlets to generate excitement—and to remind readers who saw the pub announcement three years ago that the book is coming out! (This is the stage where Jason Fischer’s Papa Lucy and the Boneman is right now!) Sometimes the printing happens quickly, but if our printer is overseas, it takes additional time for books to arrive at the warehouse and be ready for distribution.
- The book is published!
There are two additional factors to keep in mind here. The first is that I haven’t even mentioned the marketing. While this process is happening in editorial and production, the marketing department has to get the word out that this book is coming. There are additional steps like assigning and ISBN, creating the back of book text, having a sensitivity read done to make sure our titles are authentic to the traditions they touch upon, getting blurbs from other authors to put on promotional material…
The second factor? This process is happening for all the books at the publishing house simultaneously. Which means that each book has to be scheduled with enough wiggle room to allow for problems to arise in the schedule without a domino effect sending all the books tumbling down.
The publishing process is long—and sometimes hard—and we know it can be frustrating to readers. (We get it, because we’re readers too, and I’m definitely guilty of Tweeting at authors because I want their next story). You may have seen Outland editors post our #mswl (Manuscript Wish Lists) looking for more diverse voices—we’ve seen the stats and want to be part of the change. But we know that it’s going to take some time for all of you to see the results of the changes we’re making. And believe us, we can’t wait to share these worlds with you! In the meantime, we hope you’ll pick up Where the Veil Is Thin, our most diverse anthology to date, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to stay up to date as we work toward more diverse titles!