What Makes a Book? (Pt. 1 – Overview of Activities)

When I got my first book contract I was told my book wouldn’t be coming out for almost two years. By the time all was said and done, it was actually slightly more than that.

But why? What the heck takes so long? I mean, the book is already written, right? That’s the hardest part, isn’t it?

Fast forward seven years. I now have six novels in print and I am a publisher myself (check out https://evilalteregopress.wordpress.com/ if you are interested) and I have a much better idea why things take so long. Over the next few posts I hope to provide you with some idea of things to consider when you are getting published (whether with a small or large press or self-publishing it yourself).

For the purposes of this article, I am going to lay out the big ticket items that tend to take time. I will talk in more detail about each in later installments.

  1. Finding a publisher – whether you are using an agent, querying yourself or simply trying to figure out how to go about self-publishing your book, this step takes time. My first (published) book took five years to find a publisher.
  2. Getting a contract – this doesn’t really apply for self-publishing and, arguably, can happen pretty quickly once you have passed the hurdle of step 1. Regardless, this is an important step that you shouldn’t gloss over. Your future rights may depend on it.
  3. Edits – some people love to edit books. Others, not so much. There are two types of edits to consider here and both are important. There are developmental edits and copy/line edits. Developmental edits are first and are critical to a great story. A developmental editor will point out plot holes, continuity errors, bad beginnings/middles/endings, unnecessary plot points, unnecessary characters and a host of other story shortcomings. This could be the single biggest time-sink you will face. For example, my first book developmental edits caused me to throw away and rewrite about a third of the book over the course of three editorial passes. Developmental edits must be followed by copy/line edits. Grammar, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, run-on sentences, improper formatting and other similar problems are identified for you to fix.
  4. Cover – Super important! A bad cover will absolutely prevent your book from selling. A mediocre cover may prevent your book from selling well and a cover that is wrong for your particular genre will attract the wrong audience (usually resulting in poor reviews and/or poor sales). This is a step folks often skimp on reasoning their own graphical ninja skills will be sufficient (and cheaper).
  5. Book Layout – Also super important. I’ve seen reviews where people complain about everything from font, to spacing to alignment and everything in between.
  6. Promotion – there’s a lot that can be done here whether you are independently wealthy or not. I know I’m still learning about what’s out there. But more importantly, you need to have a book ready at the right time to promote it. There can be plenty of lead time. A friend of mine told me recently that a big press she signed with give themselves an entire year of promotional lead time prior to a book launching.
  7. Printing – I mention this, not because you will necessarily be getting your own books printed (although you self-publishers definitely will) but because this is also a big time sink. Printers need time to get the book files, set them up and then send them back to you to proof (I could put an (a) sub-bullet here for proofing). Then the books need to be printed and distributed. As I said, these things take time.

You may only be directly involved in a couple of the above activities however they will all affect the time it takes to bring your book from manuscript to finished product. Going into the process understanding what is involved will save you a lot of frustration and should help you to ask intelligent questions of your publisher. That understanding may also help you to prepare to pitch in – a great place for this is in promotion, for example. Presses, small ones in particular, have limited promotional budgets. The more you can/will do on your own the better.

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