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What Your Publisher Does for You

February 11, 2010

For many aspiring writers, the process from finished manuscript to printed book is mired in mystery and misunderstanding. What, exactly, is the publisher doing from the point it receives your book until the point where eager readers can pick it up in a bookstore? Is it really all that complicated? Do I even need a publisher? These are all valid questions—no writer should get involved in the publishing industry without learning what the industry is. And there are few better guides through the process than an author who has lived through it . . . multiple times.

Award-winning author Jay Lake, whose books include Green, Mainspring, Madness of a Flower, Death of a Starship and others, including multiple short stories and other projects, wrote a blog post entitled “What my publisher does for me, and why I won’t just quit” to give fellow authors and aspiring authors a firsthand glimpse of the traditional publishing process through a timeline that spans over 32 months. (That’s right, over the course of nearly three years.) While his post is partially a response to the difficulties between Macmillan and Amazon on ebook pricing (read more about that conflict at Wired.com) and the changing model of publishing in general, it is also an eye-opening explanation of the collaborative process that takes place within publishing companies to produce books in any format. And while the face of publishing (and its internal clockwork) is changing at an increasingly rapid pace, the work that goes into producing a book has stayed very much the same for large publishers.

An excerpt from his post below:

Month 16 — Editorial assistant sends hardback page proofs to author.

Month 16 — Editorial assistant receives hardback page proofs from author.

Month 17 — Typesetter makes proof changes.

Month 18 — Proofing editor reviews changes.

Month 18 — Hardback printing goes to press.

Month 19 — Hardback printing goes to warehouse.

Month 21 — Hardback printing released to distribution

Month 22 — Hardback printing goes on sale.

Month 22 — Finance issues publication check to author via agent. (Payment 3 of 3 in typical contracts today.)

Month 24 — Production editor confirms press time slot for book.

Month 24 — Production editor turns manuscript over to book designer.

Month 24 — Book designer sends mass market paperback book to typesetter.

Month 25 — Typesetter does initial layout for mass market paperback release.

Month 26 — Editorial assistant sends mass market paperback page proofs to author.

Read the full article here.

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Nautilus Book Awards Deadline Extended to February 28

February 8, 2010

The Nautilus Book Awards, which recognizes "books and audio books that promote spiritual growth, conscious living, and positive social change," has extended its deadline for entries to February 28, 2010. The award is open to all publishers and self-published authors with books published or produced in 2008 or 2009 in the English language. Check the category list to see if your book would be a good candidate for a Nautilus award. Because there may be some overlap between categories, the kind people at Nautilus will even reposition your book if the category in which it was submitted is not the most appropriate choice.

To enter, you'll need to fill out the entry form, pay the entry fee, and have four copies sent off to Nautilus, postmarked no later than midnight, February 28, and sent via FedEx, UPS, or USPS Priority Mail with delivery confirmation. For more information, visit the Nautilus Book Awards website or email marilyn@nautilusbookawards.com. Good luck!

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Being a Tease Can Be a Good Thing: The Value of Free Content

February 1, 2010

Many forms of entertainment have been releasing free chunks of content for promotional use for ages. The music industry has singles. The movie industry has trailers. Publishers and authors have to figure out ways to do the same thing with the written word.

The good news is there are lots of ways to do this. As authors, you should be taking advantage of all the technology available—by uploading content to websites and social networks that allow book excerpts (FiledBy, BookBuzzr, Scribd, Redroom, SlideShare), posting samples on your website, tweeting about your samples online, etc. Do not be afraid to put your content out there. Tease the readers. Leave them wanting more.

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On (Book) Covers & Controversy

January 27, 2010

Everyone loves a good book cover. That’s indisputable—good covers catch our eye and drawn us in. Every good cover requires hours of work by the designer as part of a painstaking process to accurately reflect the content while appealing to the tastes of the target audience.

To see book covers come under fire is a truly fascinating look into what we have come to expect from a cover. Last summer, Justine Larbalestier’s YA novel Liar was originally featured a young white girl with long, straight hair, while the protagonist is clearly described as a black girl with short, textured hair. Jaclyn Dolamore’s Magic Under Glass has just been released with a cover featuring a young white woman, whereas the protagonist has dark skin and ‘exotic’ features. As Mitali Perkins described it in “Straight Talk on Race,” publishers want the cover “to sell more books, [so] the main character may be portrayed on the cover as less foreign or ‘other’ than he or she is in the actual story.”

Teen book reviewer Ari pleaded with publishers to consider the audience they alienate: “Do you know how much that hurts? Are we so worthless that the few books that do feature people of color don't have covers with people of color?” Bloomsbury changed Liar’s cover prior to its official release and is re-issuing Magic Under Glass with a new jacket design. Their original response to the controversy mentioned that the covers were “intended to symbolically reflect the narrator’s complex psychological makeup.”

Book buyer Catherine Linka of Flintridge Bookstore reveals the intrinsic difficulty of chalking this up to discrimination or carelessness: “The cover works symbolically… [but readers want a cover to give] an honest representation of the experience that they will have with [a book].” And therein lies the rub: what was in dispute was not the stylistic choice, but rather the audience’s expectation that the cover should more literally match the inside the story.

Different designers approach the process in different ways, but generally they read the book or have a detailed synopsis. They aren’t designing blindly. Choices are being made all the time between what is obvious and what is complex. There is a certain level of independence, but the designer will still ultimately be answering to the publisher.

What may come as the bigger surprise is that the author rarely has any say in the book cover design. Traditionally, design lies solely in the hands of the design team, perhaps with some input on behalf of the editorial or marketing department. But the author does not factor in, as is obvious from Larbalestier’s response to her book’s cover design.

There are some smaller and independent publishers who offer a more collaborative design process, with designers and writers working together toward a final cover design. Open communication between the two can prevent many of these issues by allowing each to explain their process to the other. But even this presents its problems—an author may have his or her own artistic vision and not always understand what types of covers sell, which is the ultimate job of the designer: to make a cover sell. That is not a particularly romantic view, but it is a realistic one. Still it is important to remember that the design is still art. It’s merely art meant to encourage a purchase. And as an author, you must be prepared to deal with the ramifications of having other people interpret your work.

If you do find yourself in a more collaborative environment with a designer or team, remember that their experience in the field may give them a different vision than your own, and it is important to respect some of their more unconventional suggestions or design ideas. It’s all a part of the process.

A selection of fantastic book cover design blogs:

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Does It Really Cost Less to Send Things USPS?

January 25, 2010

Not a week goes by when we are not asked why we don’t ship our books via media mail rather than using UPS or Fed Ex ground service.  In an economy like this, we should all be looking for ways to reduce the costs of doing business, and the US postal service is so much less expensive than those carriers.  But is it really?

In the last week alone, we’ve experienced a few shining examples that show why using a reliable, traceable, faster ground carrier is definitely the right way to ship valuable or important cargo.

We routinely send book samples and sales materials to our team of field reps, including catalogs.  Our catalogs are not some low-cost, newsprint numbers either. They are highly designed, four-color beauts printed on high quality glossy paper.  They mirror the level of quality of the books that they contain.  They’re nice (and expensive) sales materials.

In the spirit of minimizing expenses, we decided to give the USPS a shot by sending out our catalogs through their priority mail service.  Big mistake.

So far, we’ve had not one, but two reps report to us that they did indeed receive the box we sent to them.  Trouble is, they only received the box itself and it was a rumpled, mangled mess at that.   In both cases, not so much as a single spread from the catalog was delivered.

All told, those two shipments alone cost us one hundred thirty catalogs!  One hundred thirty shiny, brand new, never before opened catalogs.  We won’t offset the cost of those pieces of collateral in sales dollars.

So shipping packages might be risky with the USPS, but what about your standard fare letter? The USPS has that down pat, right?

Our business requires that we deal a fair amount with agreements and amendments and paperwork of all kinds.  We receive these documents through various means, but most of the time our clients simply fold the agreement into a standard envelope and mail it the good old-fashioned way.  And that’s normally totally fine . . . until it’s not.

We received the piece of mail pictured below inside a second, bigger, official USPS envelope with their apologies for the damage and assurances that they expedited what was left of the document to us as quickly as possible.  Gee, thanks.   This two-thirds of a signed agreement doesn’t really do us any good, but we’re glad it got here quickly.

Bottom line, if it matters and it needs to get there quickly and safely, spend a little more on the front end with a ground carrier to ensure that it does.  Besides the time and money it will save you in the long run, your piece of mind is priceless.

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