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Sunday, July 29, 2007


Publishing schedules

BuffySquirrel asked about publishing schedules. Hm...

What I can mostly say is that they depend on the publisher. I've worked at publishers that turn books around inside a few months, but it was about a year between Bareback being accepted and it coming out, which is more usual.

The things that happen are:

1. Book gets bought.

2. Book gets read by main editor. At this stage, any major rewrites are addressed. How long this takes depends on how major they are.

3. Book gets copy-edited. This generally takes a month or so, and involves a copy editor, a job that involves the eye of a hawk, the memory of an elephant, the knowledge of an encyclopedia and the endurance of a mule. Seriously, copy editors are superheroes. Anyway, the copy editor goes through the book, noticing timeline inconsistencies, continuity errors, factual errors, historical inaccuracies, infelicitous phrasing, ambiguous sentences, spelling and punctuation mistakes, and basically absolutely everything that could possibly go wrong, from having your hero's eyes change colour, to being four years out of date about the fall of the Roman triumvirate, to putting a comma in, the wrong place.

4. Copy-edited manuscript goes to the author, who gets between a couple of weeks and a couple of months to go through it. This is also a big job, as it involves checking all of the copy-editors corrections, and either leaving them alone if you agree with them, or writing 'stet' (which means 'let it stand') if you don't, or changing them into something else. A knowledge of the industry's standard notation helps here. This is the last stage at which you can make major changes without incurring extra expense, so you have to be careful. Some writers are happy to go with anything copy editors suggest, others are very picky. In my own experience, I'm generally happy to change anything that someone thinks is unclear or inaccurate, but get very cross if someone changes them for me; I know it's the copy editor's job, I've done it myself, but I still tend to have a moment of muttering 'I meant that comma to be there! You're messing with the rhythm!' before I pull myself together, regather my common sense and either 'stet' it or change it to something else. (Or, of course, say 'Oops', and realise it should have been there all along.)

If you're being published in more than one place at once, you can get into double copy-editing, which is a nightmare. Bareback/Benighted was being handled in the US and UK simultaneously, and some of the English expressions were being changed for an American market - 'flat' to 'apartment', 'prat' to 'jerk', 'pushchair' and 'pram' to 'buggy' and 'stroller', or possibly the other way round, I never quite got that straight - but there was another effect: two different sets of eyes were likely to notice different things, and I wanted the books to be as consistent as possible. Hence, the only thing to do was have the pages parallel and take in any corrections one both versions. My eyes crossed. It was worth doing, but it's very hard work.

5. Copy-edited manuscript goes to typesetter, who puts it into book format. This takes between a week and a month, usually, and tends to depend on how busy the typesetting company is with other projects.

6. Everybody gets the typeset manuscripts, and the author and a professional proof-reader proof-read it. This is the most loathesome part of the whole business: a letter-by-letter check of the entire book, in which the worst thing to do is actually understand or take an interest in what you're reading, as that'll put your brain into reading-for-sense mode, rather than seeing what's literally on the page, and then you miss mistakes. And then they get published, and some sharp-eyed reader writes to you and points it out, and there's nothing to do but apologise.

7. An editor collates the different proofed manuscripts - ie puts all the corrections onto one draft, and checks with the author about any major differences - and sends it back to the typesetter's. It's a coupla days work, but may not be attended to instantly, depending on the editor's schedule and what else is urgent.

8. The typesetter takes in all the corrections, and sends the corrected version back to the editor.

9. The editor checks it again, comparing the corrections they asked for with the corrected manuscript they got. Generally a few things will have been missed, so those get taken in.

10. Manuscript gets printed, bound and shipped out to shops.

Somewhere in the middle of this, there's the designing of the cover, which involves everybody in the company agreeing on a design and showing it to the author; the writing of the jacket copy, which is done either by the author or the editor; the contacting of booksellers, bookshops and general sales and publicity stuff, about which I know nothing; and the sending of uncorrected proofs - bound in rough copies, but with mistakes - out to any authors you think may wish to give positive comments that you can put on the first edition, until you get good reviews (hopefully). For which, on my part, many thanks to Kate Atkinson in the UK, and a buncha folks in the US.

So a publisher that's in a hurry can turn this all around in about three months, but to do that, you have to rush the rewrites, hurry over the copy-editing and be a lot less perfectionist. Nine months to a year is more usual, partly because no book will ever be the only project any given publishing professional is working on at any moment in time.

I hope this at least partly answers the question; if not, let me know and I'll see if I can answer it any better. Those, at least, are the stages a book has to pass through; how fast it passes through them depends on how speedy and/or in a hurry the publisher is.

God, I knew it was hard work but I had no idea how hard! I thought about going into copyediting after university. Now I'm thinking I should probably stick to the writing side, since I'm not sure I'd cope with the editing side, lol.
Well, I've done copy editing as well as writing. It's good discipline, teaches you a lot and is always easier to copy edit other people's work than your own. (Correction: your own is impossible to copy edit. Writers can never see their own mistakes.) It takes a different kind of concentration. I think copy editing requires patience and perfectionism, while composing fiction involves winging it; different head spaces.

Scatty Writers Pride! (Ahem; see addendum to last article in response to your comment.)
Thanks--very interesting :).

If I get interrupted when I'm copyediting, heaven help the interruptor...it's like being in a trance, you need to concentrate so hard.
I'm totally up for a Scatty Writer's Pride march! My placard will read "What outline?" and I'll have a t-shirt declaring "No more plotting!" and then I'll turn up in completely the wrong place because I only read half the instructions! Huzzah!
Huzzah! *big grin*
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