So today was the last sail of the year (my first, because things have been so busy this summer) and I'm thinking about traveling. A lot of authors see a contract with a publishing house as the final destination, but that’s just not true! Here’s a roadmap to the journey ahead.
The Girl with the Red Pencil
Q: A publisher has made an offer on my book. What’s next?
A: Congratulations—this is a huge accomplishment! But take a deep breath and steel yourself; the work has just begun. First, your agent and editor will hash out the details of your contract. For details, check out my previous column, “Contract Nitty Gritty
If you’ve written a novel, you probably wrote the whole thing before selling it. If you’ve sold a non-fiction project, you most likely made the deal based on a detailed proposal and sample chapters. For non-fiction writers, your first job is to finish writing the book. Your contract will specify a delivery date—do your best to turn it in on time. If your book will include photos, endnotes, or other elements, include them with the manuscript! Also submit your dedication page and author bio. While you can add some of these elements later, your editor will be so thankful if everything is on time—or early—and arrives all at once. A tip: editors will move mountains, jump through flaming hoops, and basically make publishing magic for authors they love.
Most editors will leave you to your own devices until your due date, but if you’d like guidance, check in with your editor. She’ll be able to advise you on whether you’re on the right track.
Once you’ve turned in the manuscript, your editor will take a few weeks (or, if she’s very, very
busy--and all editors are--a few months) to get back to you with an editorial memo. This is an in-depth letter that highlights the best parts of the manuscript and the ones that need work. Perhaps she’ll want you to make a particular character more sympathetic, to develop and emphasize a point in the story that you’ve glossed over, to cut a section that seems irrelevant. Along with this letter, you’ll receive a manuscript with her line edits. She’ll improve your prose, make your sentences flow better, and strengthen the architecture of your work. Keep in mind that you do not have to make every change she suggests. There are going to be some points that she insists on, and some you feel strongly about. You can always negotiate, and if you don’t like one of her suggestions, try to address her concerns in your own way.
Did you quote extensively? Include song lyrics or lines of poetry? Illustrate your story with photographs taken by someone other than you? Well, now is the time to seek permission.
Once you’ve reworked the manuscript, your editor--or, more likely, her assistant-- will format the manuscript for the production department. She’ll add an ad card (a list of your other books) if you’ve published anything else, half-title and title pages, the copyright page, etc. This formatted document will be sent to a copyeditor, who will mark typos, grammatical errors, and any inconsistencies.
You’ll receive a hard copy of the copyedited manuscript (copyediting is done the old fashioned way, with colored pencil on a printed document) a month or so after it went to production. Your next job is to go over the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb (and a different colored pencil), looking for errors the copyeditor may have missed, and confirming that you accept her changes. If you disagree with one of her edits, write “stet,” which means: “I liked it better before, so change it back!” Any extensive changes should be made in this stage—later, you may be charged. When you’re happy with the manuscript or it’s due back to the editor, whichever comes first (you may never be completely
happy with it), return the document and include your acknowledgments page in the package. Another tip: thank your editor, copyeditor, production editor, managing editor, book designer, cover designer, and publicist…at least. If you don’t know everyone by name, ask your editor. If some of these individuals haven’t yet been assigned, ask your editor to add them later. A lot of dedicated people have helped your book get this far and will be working to make it a success—you want/need
to acknowledge them all.
Next, the now-multicolored manuscript will be sent to the compositor, who will create the page proofs--first pass. These pages are printed on standard typing paper, but are formatted to look the way they will in a real book. This same document will also be printed and bound into “bound galleys,” the cheaply made books that are sent out for first serial, foreign sales, and reviews.
Go over the page proofs very carefully. This is your last chance, so read every sentence forwards, backwards, and upside down. Proofreaders and copyeditors will be also be scrutinizing each word. All of the changes and corrections will be put through, and the resulting document is second pass. Unless your agent insisted that your contract stipulate another look at the manuscript, you probably won’t be able to make any further changes, but breathe easy—your work is in good hands.
Once you’ve received the finished books, get a massage, sip champagne, or relish eating an entire jar of peanut butter. You deserve to celebrate. But then steel yourself again, because selling a book is just as hard—if not harder—than writing it and publishing it, so prepare yourself for the last leg of the marathon. For how to get there with good mileage, see my column on self-promotion
What a long, strange trip it'll be.