Monday, August 13, 2012

Why Does It Take So Long To Publish A Book, Anyway?

by Mindy McGinnis

Delivering that first book into the world is a lot like waiting for the baby to drop. You're tired, you're stressed out, and you're really, really sick of people asking you when it's going to happen.

Unfortunately, the gestational period for a book tends to be longer than nine months for most of us. In my case, NOT A DROP TO DRINK won't be released until nearly two years after I signed my contract. Why?

Good question. There's actually a good answer.

Large houses plan their publishing lists far in advance. Smaller houses have a quicker turnaround time, so the gestational period of a book can vary widely house to house. Beyond that factor though, there's the step-by-step process that the author and editor go through, typically about a year in advance of publication date.

Revisions: This is a large-scale, big-picture, here-are-some-things-to-think-about letter from your editor, typically called the "edit letter." In my experience the revision involved a hard look at the timeline of the plot, getting certain plot-accelerating events to occur earlier in the narrative, and a restructuring of the first fifty or so pages came hand in hand with that. Other considerations at this stage are overall theme, narrative style, character development, etc. Your edit letter can be anywhere from 4 - 20 pages long, and the editor usually gives the author a fairly large time frame to work in, sometimes as long as six months. Also, once you do one revision, you're not necessarily done. Sometimes the author will go through several revisions.

Line Edits: Once the big picture is in a place the editor and author are both happy with, you move on to line edits. This is where the editor looks hard at details like lines of dialogue that don't necessarily ring true, little inconsistencies that weren't necessarily caught when doing revisions, and maybe even looking at scene and chapter breaks for better locations. Again, authors and editors usually go through more than one line edit, with a nice window of a few weeks.

Copy Edits: Now the book moves into the hands of the copyeditor, who checks for continuity - was your character wearing a red shirt at the beginning of the scene, but walked out of it wearing a blue one? - punctuation, spelling errors that slip by (a "he" when it needs to be "the"), sneaky homonyms (their, there, they're), and other little things that smart readers are going to catch. Copy editors are angels with red pens and sharp minds.

(Keep in mind not all houses go through the editing process in the same way. Some editors like to do line edits hand-in-hand with revisions. It varies.)

At this point the author might feel very much like a soon-to-be-mother hauling ass towards the finish line. We're ready for this to happen. We're ready to make the delivery. Please, I'm quite sick of gestating this thing in my (mind / uterus).

But... too bad. You still have to go through first pass pages, the awesome fun of cover art (a process in and of itself) and marketing, finding authors (hopefully of your dreams) to blurb your book. The good news is that you're not in it alone. Much like giving birth, there are plenty of people who have been doing this for a long time, and they're here to walk you through this intimidating process.

I've only highlighted the first three phases of the editing process here, as I'm only that far myself. I don't feel qualified to speak further. But, as you can see my book is still only on the beginning of the road to publication, and I'm a year out.

I'm looking forward to the next year, the next phase. Seeing my cover develop through the fantastic art department over at Katherine Tegen is going to be a thrill, and all my debut author friends say holding their first pass pages in their hands and seeing their book - looking like a book! - is the WHAM! moment for them that really punches home that they're going to be an author.

I can't wait to feel like one too. :)

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut dystopian, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins Fall, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. I'm with you, Mindy - In publishing purgatory between line and copy edits. Sigh. They say it will happen. Someday.

  2. That year goes awfully fast, though, so buckle in!

  3. Thanks for the insights in the process - it's good to know the ins and outs. :)

  4. This is a great explanation for the questions my non-writer friends keep asking me! I must admit I sure didn't get a time window of 6 months from edit letter to the time my edits were due. I had about six weeks. Did I have 10? Maybe my memory is already fading. But I met my deadlines despite a pretty big snag in my own schedule. Someone told me to NEVER miss a deadline and I was determined to meet it. At any rate, a great post, Mindy!

  5. Great post Mindy! I sure hope my friends and family read the link on my FB wall! LOL

  6. Agreed, all :) I have to admit that I partly wrote this up b/c I spent so much time explaining everything at a wedding this past weekend! I don't mind, but I want to give other authors those answers ahead of time.

  7. Great summary of what happens Mindy! I wish I knew all this when my book was published. You're almost there!