The Evolution of a Book: From Idea to Print

Great Potential Press                                 
Janet L. Gore, M.A., M.Ed.
Acquisitions Editor  

It explains the various steps in publishing to prospective authors. First, know that it usually takes more than a full year from the time a publisher receives a complete manuscript to the time the book is in print. If the manuscript is in rough form, it can take longer.

From an Idea to Words on a Page

Before you even begin writing your book, there are many important questions you need to consider. The more you have thought about the answers to these questions, the easier it will be to write, organize, edit, and later market your book. Here are some of the important questions to ask and to keep asking yourself throughout the writing process:

What do you want your book to say? What is its purpose? To teach? Inform? Persuade? Advocate? Lobby? Change public opinion? Be provocative? Entertain?

Who is the book for? Who is your audience? Is it children? Adults? Any special niche within any of the above? For consideration with a particular publishing house like Great Potential Press, Inc., you need to narrow your target audience even more. Is your audience parents? Teachers?  Teachers of all ages? Teachers of young gifted children? Teachers of gifted children in middle or high school? Teachers or parents of gifted children with learning disabilities? Homeschool parents? You get the idea.

Next you need to start writing. Starting is often the hardest step. How will you write if you don’t know where to start? Many writers keep a notebook in which they jot down ideas.  Start your book anywhere that works for you. Some authors work from an outline, beginning with a list of chapter headings and writing one chapter at a time. Some like to use a mind map or “web” of ideas and begin writing about one or more of the ideas in their web. The writing process is different for every author. Don’t pressure yourself to write a perfect chapter for the first draft. The important thing at this stage is to get some ideas down on paper. When you have notes for several chapters, you can begin to write.

It’s probably not a good idea to submit your work to a publisher at this stage, even though you may be tempted. Instead, take a good hard look at the first draft and ask yourself the key questions below. Then go back and write some more, and revise, revise, revise. You may be surprised at how much you need to further develop your ideas.

Questions to consider:

  • Do the ideas seem to move logically from one to the next?
  • Is my topic covered thoroughly?
  • Do I have a clear working title that describes what the book is about?
  • Is there a subtitle that explains the book further? Is this the first title that came to mind, or is there a better one? Note: A working title can always be changed later.
  • Have I made the purpose of the book clear?
  • Are the chapter headings clear, and do they describe the content?
  • Would my table of contents entice a buyer to look further at the book?
  • Are the chapters the right length? None too short or too long?
  • Is there anything else that would add consistency or clarity to the book?

Note: The above questions all relate to the organization or development of the book. The critical analysis or editing used for this process is called developmental editing. Your publisher will expect to do some developmental editing to your book, but you will improve the chances of getting your manuscript accepted if you do some of this kind of editing prior to submission.

When you’ve completed your manuscript, you will want to look for a publisher or literary agent. Larger publishing houses will often only work with agents and will not take unsolicited submissions, but smaller publishing houses will often work with either an agent or an author. Be sure to check on their website. Great Potential Press typically works directly with authors, but will also work with agents. Once you’ve decided whether you’ll need to submit to a publisher or a literary agent, do your research! Go to their websites, find out what kind of works they usually take on, and find a good fit for your book. Always read the submission guidelines on an agent or publisher’s website. If you do not follow their guidelines, you run the risk of having your submission thrown out before they even read it.

Nonfiction projects are usually submitted as proposals, often for incomplete manuscripts. For fiction, you usually need a one page query letter representing your completed manuscript. Great Potential Press works with nonfiction, and our proposal submission requirements include information such as estimated length in words or number of chapters, a suggested table of contents, a sample chapter or two, etc.

Your submission allows the publisher to see what you have in mind and to respond in some way, perhaps by contacting you for more information. If interested, the publisher may want to see the entire manuscript or may want to ask questions before making a decision or offering a contract. For example, the publisher may want to ask whether you would be willing to make certain changes or if you would be willing to wait six months because the current publishing schedule is full.

Don’t be surprised if you wait two to three months or sometimes even longer to hear from a publisher concerning your manuscript. The publishing company staff is usually busy working on deadlines for other books and may be unable to take time right then to read your proposal. If you haven’t heard anything in two months, you may follow up with an email to inquire. If your manuscript is rejected and no reason is given, there are several possibilities. It can be because your manuscript is not quite ready yet, or it does not fit with the books that the publishing house prints, or the publishing schedule is simply too full at that particular time.

Social Media and Author Platform

It’s increasingly important for a writer or author to have what’s called a platform in order to present their work in a public forum and to make it visible. Today, the Internet has created an increase in available content but has made discoverability of writers and potential authors all the more difficult. Gone are the days of a publisher taking on a book because it has a good concept or plot, publishing it, and then getting it into bookstores. Now, with the growth of sites like Amazon and Goodreads, the development of technology allowing for self-publishing, the decline of the traditional bookstores, and the ability for authors to have some amazing work online and already available to readers, marketing is not the same. This is not all bad. But it does mean the author has to use his or her writing and communication skills before even contacting a publisher. Be on Facebook talking about the book you’re writing, start a blog about the field in which you’re involved, join organizations that further your work. Because Great Potential Press publishes only nonfiction, it’s even more important that you are working on becoming a known expert in your area of research. Speak to groups about your subject, be heard, be noticed. Publishers consider your platform when looking at your manuscript or book proposal. You don’t have to be famous, but you do have to be showing a concerted effort to present yourself as credible in your area. This, plus writing and research ability, will greatly increase your odds of a publisher considering you and your book.

Financial considerations: What about an advance? Royalties?

You will often receive a small or no advance at all unless you already have an established author platform—a loyal following or fan base—or your book is accepted by a large, well-known publisher. Often, advances are tied to your royalties. In other words, you get an advance that covers some of what the publisher expects to earn from the book. You begin to receive royalties after the book has earned back the amount of the advance. As for royalties, don’t expect to get rich with your book. John Grisham might earn 20-30% of sales as royalties, but most small publishers offer 10% because they have to recoup the overhead costs, which include editing, layout, cover design, printing, and marketing.  The earnings are also often spread out over long royalty periods and the vast majority of authors still need their day jobs.

Your book is accepted for publication. What next?

Now begins a six-month (give or take) process of editing and “fine-tuning” your book. There are several kinds of editing. Usually a book will need all of them. If work still needs to be done on the organization or developmental aspects of the book, the beginning stage of the editing process is the best time for this to occur. Developmental editing refers to elements such as organization, scope, content, degree of thoroughness, amount of detail, clear purpose, and how well the book is directed to its audience. It is by far the most complex kind of editing. A developmental editor must think broadly and critically about the book, considering all possible audiences, and also must be a good creative problem solver to come up with ways to “repair” any weaknesses in the book. He or she might suggest a change in organization, such as moving chapters or ideas from one place to another or moving paragraphs within a chapter, or adding material or taking material out.

In another kind of editing, line editing, the editor considers each sentence and the logical flow from one sentence to another. He or she checks for clarity, takes out unnecessary words, joins or breaks apart sentences, or changes a word here or there. This kind of editing is also time-consuming, but it results in a smoother, easier-to-read text. Most books go through varying degrees of developmental and line editing. Depending on the length of your book and the publisher’s workload, you should count on about four to six months for editing.

In most cases, you will be communicating via email directly with the editor, who, in the process of doing the developmental and line editing, likely will send you questions asking for clarification of certain parts of your manuscript or requesting that you provide text for information that may be missing or that needs rewritten. Your prompt responses to these questions and requests for additional writing are important. If you cannot be prompt in your answers to the editor, be honest and say so, but be aware that delays on your end can cause costly delays in the production schedule—delays that can hold up production of not just your book, but of books behind yours in the queue as well. Too many delays will cause the publisher to move other books ahead of yours in the production schedule.

A publisher usually budgets a certain amount of time and money for editing. Editors often charge $25, $50, or even more per hour. A normal range for the cost of editing a book is between $1,500 and $3,000. Publishing companies often absorb this cost, but in cases in which the editor must do extensive developmental editing (or even ghost writing) or do research to add material or to check facts, the extra costs for those services can be passed on to the author. It is fine to ask your publisher how much editing he or she anticipates your book will need.

What else has to happen before the book is in print?

A lot of things still have to happen before the book is ready to go to print. Your publisher is as eager to get the book out as you are, since no one earns money until the book is out. It is to the publishing company’s benefit to get your book ready to sell as soon as possible, but without compromising quality.

Toward the end of the editing process, the title and front and back cover designs are chosen. The publisher works with a cover designer for this, which usually takes about a month or two. The designer may charge by the hour or by the project. He or she will usually submit multiple concepts for the cover, from which the publisher will choose one. A cover design can cost anywhere from $800 to $2,400. Meanwhile, the manuscript is sent to the Library of Congress for cataloging, and an ISBN is assigned to the book.

Once the book is fully edited and the copy approved by the author, the book goes to a layout editor. The layout editor takes a manuscript and formats it in an electronic file for the printer, with consistent fonts, tables, illustrations, appendices, and indexes. In other words, the layout editor takes the word document and makes it look like a book. This process often needs another two to three weeks. Layout is another step for which the publisher often contracts for outside services and usually costs from $1,200 to $3,000. Once the layout is done, the book is indexed, and final corrections are made.   The book then goes back to the publisher for a final check, and once it is approved, it is sent to the printer.

Four to six months in advance of the official publication date, a pre-publication manuscript called an advanced reader’s copy or advance print galley is sent to possible reviewers. The list of reviewers consists of newspaper and magazine book reviewers, other authors, bloggers, and many more. Some reviewers will only review the book if they receive physical, bound book pre-publication galleys three to six months ahead of the official publication date. More and more, publishers are utilizing digital advanced reader copies for their cost-effectiveness. The back cover comments and other promotional quotations are received from these early readers. Every review published or posted on a public forum often helps to market and sell the book.

Finally, the publication date arrives. Your book is in print. You can now celebrate and continue to market your book!


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