Monday, September 22, 2014


You, or your student, have completed a novel and want it published. Since most publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, what will you do? You need to find a literary agent. Query several agents and send proposals to those that are interested. (See archived blogs) If one believes the story will appeal to the market and will fit into what his agency represents, he will accept it and act as the go-between between you and the publisher.

On first contact, the agent presents the manuscript to an acquiring editor at a publishing house. If it fits well with the publisher’s product line, he will submit a proposal though the firm’s acquisitions committee. They will view the work as an investment in which they might profit. To get past them, the book must have certain attributes. It must be well-written and entertaining or informative. It must have potential for enough distribution to make its publication profitable. It must be able to compete with similar titles. And it must have a promotable platform.

If the work meets the criteria and the committee members decide to publish, they send it to the contracts and legal department. The author’s agent negotiates with the acquiring editor. In addition to the amount of advance money the author will receive, he will negotiate what type of rights are involved. The document must state whether rights can revert to the author after a period of time, whether he retains rights over foreign publications and films, and what deadlines he must meet during editing. Once the author signs, the work no longer belongs to him.

After the contract is signed, the manuscript goes back to the editor. In his first pass through it, he decides whether more or less text in required, whether chapters should be shuffled for flow, and whether information is clear and accurate. He then sends the manuscript back to the author for revisions. In the next pass, the editor makes line edits and asks for corrections and clarifications. If he is pleased with the revisions, the author finally receives a “payment on acceptance” check. This is an advance against future royalties.

The acquiring editor then sends the edited manuscript to the copy editor who looks at grammar, spelling, clarity, and makes sure the style and grammar matches the market. Next stop is design and layout. They do typesetting, page layout, and prepare files for e-books. They also decide on the quality of the paper and create a dust jacket. Photos and illustrations are added. Everyone reviews page proofs.

Meanwhile the sales and marketing people will provide information about the book to the book distributors and overseas publishers to try to determine what potential sales are. If interest is high, they may recommend that a co-publisher be employed for a large run, thereby cutting unit costs. If interest is low, they may recommend that the print or marketing be reduced or the book’s publication be dropped. Feedback from marketing also affects formatting, sales strategy, artwork, design, and production of ads and marketing material like catalogs.

Before printing, printers produce a pre-press proof for the publishers that show how the book will look. This is the last chance for corrections. When the publishers sign off on it, it goes back to the printer. Following the printing, the pages are folded, fixed to the board, and covered with the cover.

Marketing continues. It has three components, advertising where publishers pay to place a book in the media or print, promotion which is anything that draws attention to the book, and publicity where print and media pieces on the author or book are used to increase sales. Publicity also sets up book signings and tours.

Months before their release, the sales department matches genre and formats to the right market in the right quantity. They also present titles to buyers and make presentations to buyers form chain stores and independent stores. Advance copies are sent to the publisher, author, editor, and agent for publicity mailings.

After the printing, the books are packaged and sent to the publisher’s warehouse to await distribution. The resale schedule depends on the competition and the number of sales necessary to generate a profit. Next stop is the distribution centers where the books are unpackaged, inventoried, and shelved. The whole procedure from acquisition to the bookstore shelf may take two years.—Quinn

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