So you’ve finished your book, and it gets accepted by an agent. Hurrah! Your agent shows it to the editors he or she thinks might be particularly interested in your work. One of them – or sometimes several – makes an offer for your book. And then you and your masterpiece waltz off happily into the sunset… Well, not quite. There’s a lot more work to do first!
The editor and the author work together to resolve any creative issues. The final draft is then passed to the copy-editor. The copy-editor marks up corrections for spelling, punctuation and grammar, and also checks for consistency. For example, they’ll make sure a character’s eyes don’t change colour half-way through the book, and will check that all the days, dates and timings add up. (This is the job I used to do, and found rather stressful!) The copy-editor also write notes to the typesetter as to the design and lay-out of the text.
The typesetter takes a Word document and makes all the changes requested by the copy-editor, then puts the text into a specially designed layout. The typeset book has now become a set of proofs. A proof-reader will check them very carefully, to make sure that all the corrections have been made and no new mistakes have crept in. Once the proofs have been approved by the author and editor, they are sent to the printer.
Meanwhile, the editor will have given the designer the book to read, told him or her what kind of readers the book is written for, and some suggestions as to how it might look. The designer’s job is to come up with a book cover that the editor, the sales and marketing teams and the author like! This almost never happens first time round. Or the second. Or the third…
There’s lots of other activity going on too. The Sales team persuade the bookshops and online retailers to stock the book, and promote it. The Marketing team help get reviews and publicity. Sometimes there will be a launch party to promote the book to the people who’ll help make it a success (booksellers, journalists, celebrities … well, sometimes.) The Rights department will try to sell translation rights for the book to foreign publishers.
How long does it all take? Well, for an average novel, from delivering the first draft to getting the finished book on the shelves, publishers like to allow at least six to nine months, often longer. And there’s usually some mad last minute rush at the end.