From laptop to bookstore — the steps in getting published

Now that I have a book deal with Penguin for The Beggar’s Opera (yippee!), people keep asking  where they can buy it. They don’t seem to realize how long it takes to  get a book from contract to the bookstore. (But then, neither did I.) So here’s an outline of the major steps involved in publishing.

First of all, although the deal has been struck, we haven’t actually signed the contract. Getting that finalized may take a few weeks. My agent is going to want to see it, and then, since I’m in Ottawa and my publisher and agent are in Toronto, it has to get to me, too. Snail mail takes time.

I will be working with the Commissioning Editor at Penguin. She’s terrific! As much as she loves the book, however, she wants me to tighten parts of it up. I’m sure there will be much back and forth as we pummel the manuscript into shape. And that could take months.

After that, someone will copy-edit the manuscript for typos, and probably for consistency with whatever Penguin’s house style is for grammar and Canadian spelling. And then it will be proofread.

The layout of the book needs to be planned out. Every time I look at a novel now, I see the fine details, like the way paragraphs are separated, the kind of font used to signify the opening lines of chapters, chapter numbering, and so on. All these have a huge impact on the appearance and feel of a book. 

Once all that’s done, a press-ready proof will be sent to me. For my non-fiction book, Lament for a First Nation, I was sent a galley print to review after the copy-editing was done. Even at that late stage, I found errors. Then a final version was sent to me for sign-off that looked the way the book would when published. (Once again, I found mistakes and sent it back.) If any of that happens, it will slow things down.

After I’ve signed off on the proof, someone at Penguin will give it a final proofread and sign off on it as well. (If you’ve read my blog about Jonathan Franzen, you’ll recall that, in his case, even after all of that happened, the wrong version  got sent to the printer somehow and had to be recalled. Believe me, as much publicity as Franzen got for it no-one wants that to happen.)

I understand that the cover of The Beggar’s Opera will be one of those that folds out (like Michael Chabon’s novel, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union) rather than a hard cover with a dust jacket.

Besides the cover art, which is hugely important (and which I hope, as an artist, to have a say in — fingers crossed) a number of decisions will have to be made about what goes on the outside and inside of the cover as well.

What kind of paper will be used? What size will it be? How will it be bound together? Will there be a chapter at the end about the next book in the series as well? We’ll need information about me as author, probably a photograph, and the blurb — that hook on the back that’s supposed to draw readers in.

Meanwhile, Penguin will  be doing the pre-marketing needed to get the book ready for its launch. That’s going to be an enormous job, given the resources they’re putting behind this. 

Sales representatives will start pitching the book to booksellers and getting distribution channels lined up. I’m guessing that sample copies will be sent around for reviews and comments by established authors to be put on the cover as well.

And after all that’s done (whew!), it will be printed.

But it still won’t be available in bookstores. It has to be transported. And if the books are shipped (which they will need to be, in a country of this size), add rail time to delivery, with shipping by sea or air, I would guess,  for other countries.

My non-fiction book was two years from contract to publication. Fiction, it seems, moves a little faster, since there’s not much need for fact-checking. But even with everyone working on speed-dial, you won’t likely see The Beggar’s Opera in print any earlier than the spring of 2012. And that’s if everything goes well.

Glad you asked :-).


 Check out Penguin Canada’s book trailer for The Beggar’s Opera  here! It’s pretty cool!

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3 Responses to From laptop to bookstore — the steps in getting published

  1. Rob G says:

    I’m curious. When you say the editor wants you to tighten things up, how specific is he/she?

    Also, FWIW, I remember in a writer’s workshop, the instructor mentioned that agents and publishers aren’t reading submissions for books that will sell tomorrow. They’re reading submissions for books that will sell in two years.


    • Peggy Blair says:

      Hi, Rob. We haven’t met yet to discuss — all she’s said is ‘tighten up’– but we’ll have a chance to go over those things soon enough and I’ll post on it then. Yes, I think you’re quite right about the two year horizon. They’re also trying to anticipate (and sometimes, create), the next trend (which is why I think anyone submitting manuscripts about vampires or wizards may have missed the boat.)


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