Authors might think their job is over when they write "The End" on their manuscript, but getting it published is just as labor-intensive. And, although writing is a solitary act, publishing involves interacting with others. The process from the time your book is bought by the publisher until it's ready for sale can take a year or more and involves many people.
Finish the Novel or Proposal
Fiction writers, particularly first-time writers, generally produce a complete manuscript before it is considered for publication. Authors of nonfiction write a book proposal first, although many publishers ask for a completed manuscript, if the query is intriguing, instead of a proposal. In the publishing trade, a proposal is a sales document that outlines the author's intention for the finished book. Even when writing a book proposal, you need to have two or three chapters written, plus details of all the other chapters plotted, along with other information such as book competition and marketing plan.
Get a Literary Agent
If you want your book to be published by a traditional publishing house, your novel or proposal should be handled by a literary agent, not sent directly to a publisher by you. While it is possible to sell a book directly to a publisher, there are advantages of working with an agent instead. Agents have existing relationships with publishers that can get your submission to a more senior editor. Plus, they can send simultaneous submissions and they have contract negotiation experience.
Unsolicited manuscripts often only get a cursory glance from a junior editor or never get read at all.
Getting an agent starts by sending a query letter that outlines the details of your book to agents that represent the type of book you've written. In fiction, it includes the genre and brief synopsis. Depending on the agent, you might be asked to send a full synopsis at the same time as the query.
For non-fiction, you'll send a query letter that outlines your book and why you're the best person to cover that topic. Some agents will ask for a sample chapter along with the query.
Once an agent is intrigued by your query, they'll ask for more. In fiction, the agent might ask for a partial or full manuscript, and, if you didn't include it before, a synopsis. In non-fiction, the agent will usually ask for the full proposal and possibly the manuscript.
Sign the Contract
A book contract is a legally binding agreement between an author and a book publisher. It outlines the obligations and rights of each party in the agreement. It also details the financial arrangement between the author and the publisher.
If you have an agent, they'll be able to explain each term in the contract and help you negotiate if you have issues.
While getting a book deal is a great accomplishment and an exciting time, you'll soon discover that it has many challenges. For one, many hands will be touching your manuscript before it gets into print, and many of them will be suggesting changes or challenging your prose, which can be difficult to hear. You may or may not have input into the cover design or final approval of the cover, which can be annoying.
Finally, there's the amount of time that the publishing process takes. Depending on the publisher's commitment to your book and the size of the publisher, it can take twelve months to 2 years before your book comes out. It can take a month or two to get your first round edits. The number of rounds of edits will depend on how well you and the editor come to an agreement over changes. Once you submit your final edited manuscript, it could be months before you see a copyedit, which involves checking the manuscript for grammar, typos, and other writing issues. You may not see a cover until a few months before publication.
Get to Know Your Editor
You will work closely with an editor as your manuscript is read. This is a critical process and a collaborative effort. You may be asked to rewrite parts of your book, chop whole chapters out, make plot changes, correct factual errors, or clarify passages. You might even be asked to change the title of your book.
The editor-author relationship can be difficult if you don't see eye-to-eye on the book. It's important to always be professional and try to view your manuscript through the publisher's eyes. That doesn't mean you can't advocate for your creation, but you do need to try and review editorial suggestions objectively.
If the relationship with your editor becomes difficult, you can ask your agent to mediate.
Work With the Editorial Team
Your editor is a key part of the editorial department and is your main contact through this process. But the department has a role in many other pieces of the project, like cover art, other artwork or illustrations, and fact-checking.
While all of these things might be going on, the author and editor will continue to shape the content into a final manuscript.
Now Production Begins
The book production process officially starts when the final manuscript goes to the copyeditor, whose job generally falls under the production department. The book production department is responsible for the design, layout, printing, and e-book coding of the finished book.
Meanwhile, In Other Departments...
In a traditional publishing house, the packaging team is working on the book jacket design as the editorial process continues.
The marketing, publicity, and sales departments are all strategizing, too. This is the nitty-gritty of the book business; figuring out how to promote the book to the public and sell it to the bookstores.
However, don't think your publisher, big or small, will sell your book for you. The reality is that publishers sell books to bookstores, not readers. Publishers will expect you to do the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing your book, and in fact, most publishers will ask you to submit your marketing plan. Some publishers, especially of non-fiction, won't buy your book unless they see that you have a ready market, such as an email list, social media following, or are viewed as an expert in the topic. That's why you should start talking about your book even before it's finished.
If you want your book to be a success, you'll be right at the center of the promotional and sales plan. Your ability to sell another book is largely dependent on how well your last book sold.
Finally, It's a Book
Well, maybe not immediately. Your book has been added to the publishing house's publication calendar. It will roll off the presses on a certain date. The publicity campaign starts, and advance copies are mailed out to book critics. How much your publisher helps with this depends on the size of your publisher, so you need to be ready to help. Most publishers will give you digital ARCs (advanced review copy) of your book that you can use to get reviews and in your marketing efforts.
Then, finally, it will be shipped to bookstores, both brick-and-mortar and web-based. Note that today, while your book might be available for bookstores to order, it might not automatically get stocked. This depends, in part, on the size of the publisher and how the book is produced. Many smaller presses use print-on-demand (POD), and unless the publisher guarantees the ability to return the book, bookstores don't normally stock POD books. With that said, you can work with your local bookstores, especially independent stores, to get your book stocked.
Even now with your book ready for release, your job is far from over. Get ready for your publicity tour.