What happens at a traditional publishing house in those mysterious months between the day you deliver your manuscript (huzzah!) and the day your book comes out?
1. Your sense of completion begins to evaporate when you realize that someone is copy editing your manuscript (focusing on grammar and factual errors).
2. Your sense of completion vanishes altogether when your editor sends you the copy-edited version of your manuscript, which you have a month or so to re-read and review, and which you are completely sick of by now.
3. A Sisyphean sort of fatigue sets in when your editor sends you the manuscript with your edits to the copy editor’s edits, which you’re supposed to re-read one more time, within three weeks, preferably after more than one glass of wine. Remarkably, after all these drafts (you’ve lost count of how many), you keep finding blunders in your text.
4. Meanwhile, designing starts to happen. Your editor sends you pictures of a possible cover or covers, which you have the power to accept or reject or add your input to (I got very, very, very lucky with the cover of Driving Hungry – what you see below is the first design they sent me. The man who made it is a talented artist named Dustin Summers). A different designer tackles the type and the interior design of the book, and your editor sends you pages, actual pages, with page numbers and headings and titles. (I was amazed, looking at my manuscript this way, at the power of a font, even a page number font, to set the tone of the reading experience. Initially, there was a lot of overly playful cursive on the title page and in the page numbers of Driving Hungry, which I asked if we could change–we could, thank goodness.)
5. In between all this editing and designing, you, the author, are expected to start/continue building your platform, i.e. getting people excited about your book’s impending publication. You resuscitate your blog, or start one if you don’t have one. You post more frequently on Twitter, Facebook, Pintarest, Instagram, not about your book per se, not promoting yourself or your work too directly, building goodwill in cyberspace, trying to overcome your virtual-world disorientation and the feeling that you are, despite all attempts to the contrary, somehow prostituting yourself.
6. Your editor sends you first pass pages, also known as galleys or proofs, or typeset pages, which you have to reread one more time, within three or four weeks, and return with any new edits you might have. (Let me just say I was horrified, reading through the manuscript once more, at how many badly chosen words and how many awkward passages I was still finding in the text at this point. Looking at the pages this way, printed out and typeset, revealed things that were invisible to me when I was reading my manuscript on the screen in a Word document.)
7. You send the publisher a recent photo of you that shows no trace of your stress over the course of the writing and editing process because that’s what’s going on the dust jacket of your book.
8. Your editor sends you bound galleys, which are your typeset first-pass pages in paperback form, which don’t include the last round of edits you’ve made, which is normal but scary, since these bound galleys are the ones the publicist is starting to send to reviewers and people who might want to write blurbs for your book. (I forgot to mention that somewhere in between editing and designing and platform building, you, the author, have written 10 or so personalized letters to authors you idolize, telling them how much you admire their work, and what it is you admire about it, asking them if they might consider reading your book and saying something nice about it, assuming of course that they like it.)
8. Your editor sends you second-pass pages, and you re-read the entire manuscript for what you hope is the last time, making sure that all the changes you made in first pass are there and correct, making any minor changes you might have missed, vowing that you will never, ever read your book again of your own free will.
9. You wonder, as you edit and wait, and edit and wait (T minus four months and three days until publication day), and try to post interesting stuff on the internet, and write new things in a vain attempt to take your mind off this one, if this book is any good anymore. You try not to pin all your hopes on this, your baby, but it’s hard not to. You remind yourself that publication is not salvation, but writing is.