In the past few months, many readers and writers in our growing Walrus family have asked me the following question: “How does a book get published?” As a reader, I have asked myself this question numerous times, mostly because I couldn’t believe that someone actually published what I was reading. As a publisher, I ask myself this question nearly every day, but with a twist: “Should this book be published?” While we are putting the finishing touches on our three-year editorial calendar, it’s a good time to discuss publishing in a nutshell from the Walrus perspective.
Let’s start at the beginning. Walrus receives a number of queries and submissions several times a month. We answer all queries, as well as offer advice to new writers. (The advice we offer most often is, “Stop talking about the story and just write it.”) Then we tell folks to send in what they’ve already written along with a their biography and synopsis of the manuscript, which is the most important part of the entry.
Yes, the story is paramount, but at this stage, it’s a matter of time management. Many entries are long, some very long. The synopsis is the most efficient way for us to understand the story and get an idea of the writer’s style and, frankly, the writer’s ability. If the synopsis is “good,” meaning the story is interesting and the writing style effective, then we’ll open up the manuscript. In the manuscript, we look for description, tempo, mood, character development, voice and that intangible something that says, “Yeah, people will like this.”
What happens next? Well, the writer waits…and waits…and waits. What’s all the waiting for? How cruel not to send the notices out right away! The bad news is most books take about three years to go from submission to publication. Because publishing a manuscript is a major commitment for us and the writer, we review a manuscript several times before determining if we want to invest our time and money to pursue the project. Once we decide to make that investment, we plug the title into an “Editorial Calendar” at our semi-annual editorial/proposal meetings.
At the editorial/proposal meetings, the publisher gets together with the editors, the accountant, and the marketing folks to discuss the entries that seem most promising. At this meeting the editors review the strengths and the weaknesses of the manuscript, define the potential audiences, and determine how the work fits into the overall editorial plan and publishing niche of the company.
The accountant looks at the numbers and asks the bottom-line question, “Will this book make money?” The marketers develop strategies for generating interest in the work with the defined audiences. With all of this input to consider, the publisher makes the final decision.
Ultimately, a publisher selects a work because:
- It best represents the company and fits well into its publishing niche.
- It offers something unique and interesting to the reading audience.
- It will make money.
In other words, the editors like it, the marketers like it and the accountant sees green. It is only after the editorial/proposal meeting that we send out acceptance or rejection letters. That’s why it can take up to a year (sometimes more, unfortunately) for a writer to get a response from the publisher.
Editing and Proofreading
Thankfully, the next phase moves much more quickly. In short order, the writer is asked to complete a questionnaire about him or herself and the work. Then there is a meeting with the editor to review the schedule and initial contract. Once all this paperwork is done, the real paper chase begins as the back and forth of the time consuming editorial process gets underway.
For experienced writers, this process might take as little as a few months, but for most, this process could take nine months to a year, depending on the length of the work and the amount of editing required. These days most of the back and forth between the writer and editor is done electronically, but sometimes it is done on the hard copy.
At the end of the editorial process, it’s on to proofreading. Proofreading is the process where some poor soul reads each line to make sure all the periods, commas, and quotation marks are in the right place. Generally speaking, proofreading is internal to the publishing house.
When the editing and proofreading are complete, the publisher gives the final approval to move the manuscript on to production. Based on the editorial calendar, it could take as long as three months for a completed manuscript to be approved for production. However, once the manuscript is approved, production finally begins!
Production is when the writer gets to do the fun stuff like working with the art director to develop a cover and with the editor to design the layout (font face & size, spacing, margins, and such). It is also during this time that the publishing house works with the printer to finalize the print copy of the book. Production takes about six to nine months. This process ends with the production of a “galley,” a low-cost example of the publication which is sent out to book reviewers.
It’s important to remember that the marketing of a publication began at the editorial/proposal meeting when the marketers started gathering information and preparing their market strategy for the publication. The marketing strategy identifies what needs to be done to generate publicity such as press releases, interviews and reviews to create interest in the work. The strategy also identifies promotional events such as contests, release parties, readings, trade shows, discounts, point-of-sale displays and merchandising that will promote the sale of the book. The marketing plan also includes an advertising plan. This, of course, all has to fit into the marketing budget. The marketing plan needs to be completed at least two to four months prior to the publication date, as many of the activities in the plan happen before the book is actually available to the readers.
To bring it all together, it can take up to a year (or more) for a manuscript to get on the editorial calendar; it takes about another three months or so to go through the paperwork; figure another year to finish the editorial and proofreading process; add a couple of months for the publisher’s approval; and another nine months to complete the production process. Add another few months for odds and ends and you have, oh about 26 months from acceptance to publication.
So why three years? Well, for one, things happen. The schedule I described above is “best case.” For the other, we’ve got the editorial calendar to consider. Books are published according to when they are deemed most marketable (usually along a summer/winter publication schedule), which can further delay publication. So, for sanity’s sake, we always consider three years to be the usual acceptance to publication time frame.
Wow, that was a lot of ground to cover! I’m sure I missed a few odds and ends, but I think I’ve covered the essentials for those of you who are curious about what happens between submission and publication. I hope I’ve given you readers a glimpse at what writers and publishers go through to get that book in your hand. I also hope I’ve shown you writers how committed we at Walrus are to providing your manuscript with the professional attention it deserves. Most importantly, I want you all to know that at Walrus, we invest our money and reputation in manuscripts that will provide the writers with a good experience and our readers with a good read!
We look forward to reading your submissions. Please take a look at our submission guidelines to help you get started!