A Walk-Through of the Publication Process, Part II

by Constance Renfrow
published in Community

Welcome back, writers, to part two of my walk-through of the book publication process, in which I attempt to show how an accepted manuscript becomes a pretty, published book. Last time, I talked you through the manuscript stage—how a novel is edited, copy edited, and proofread, among other things. Today I’ll be discussing production through publication.

Of course, all of this varies depending on the company, the book, the editor—even the author, to some degree.

So, come with me and let us enter the wonderful period of time that is . . .

The Production Phase:

So now that you and your editor have made your manuscript finally, totally complete—ie: your story is 95–100 percent finished, you have your dedication/acknowledgments/index terms mostly picked out, and it’s all more or less spelled right—that word document gets thrown in your junk folder and you’re never allowed to touch it again. Or your editor will murder your face off.  >:(

I say this, because it’s time for the book to be laid out and that happens, usually, in Adobe InDesign . . . which is notably not Microsoft Word. Any changes made in the Word Doc will not only not make it into the final book, they wouldn’t even be seen, and invariably, someone (probably your sobbing editor) will waste a lot of time. And there’s rarely enough during the production phase, as it usually begins within two to three months of the to-press date—sometimes earlier, depending on everyone’s workload.

Design and Layout

If you have any specific design preferences for the interior of The Faults on Our Cars, now is the time to mention them. Did you swear on your mentor’s deathbed you’d only publish in Papyrus font? Do you dream of the Roman revival and must use their numerals for chapter headings? Do you need pictures of your cat at every space break? Speak up now and your editor will do the best she can to get Madame Underfoot on every page.

Of course, not everything you want is going to be possible, or even the best choice for your book. Just remember that the company’s goal is to make your book great, so be open to what design choices they suggest. Unless they want to use Comic Sans. In which case, your contract is officially void.

Lucky for you, the author can usually step back a bit at this point. Now your editor will submit all the manuscript files (usually just a Word doc, but for illustrated books, these can also include photos, photo captions, etc.) to the production team. The editor may include a design sample, or he might sit down with the team and discuss your vision for the book. Or, for more straightforward books, like Tom Clancy: A Stephen King Thriller, they may just use a standard, no frills layout. After the production team gets their hands on your book, they might lay out the book in-house, or maybe they’ll send it to an outside typesetter.

The First Pass

Once the initial layout is completed, they’ll send a PDF to your editor for review. She’ll check for mistakes in the formatting (is a chapter heading missing a dropcap? Are all the pages there? Did all the author’s italics transfer properly? Why is the title page electric blue?? Who thought that looked good??). The first pass is for catching the big mistakes and, hopefully, fixing them. At the companies I’ve worked for, first passes are treated like rough drafts, and authors rarely see them. But again, this varies depending on company, book, editor, production team, weather—the usual.

The 2nd–??? Pass

Some day shortly thereafter, you’ll see an enormous new file waiting happily in your inbox. Congratulations, your editor will write, Mediocre Expectations now looks like a book! Take all the time you need to ooh and ahh and prance around your office, but then consider how it looks: do you like it? Does it really need to be in Papyrus, or uhh . . . can we change that? Now that you’ve had some time away from the Word doc, you might see that a few spots need some last minute fine-tuning. Maybe you accidentally gave the love interest your home phone number, or perhaps you can’t un-see how many times Ellie “sneers.” Your editor should give you instructions for marking changes directly on the PDF, or else you can make a coherent list in a separate document. You can also mark any typos or design discrepancies you spot; it’ll probably get caught later, but it never hurts. However, unless your editor requests it—and he might, for a variety of reasons—you’re pretty much past the time for large-scale edits, so be sure to discuss with your editor if there’s anything big you want to change.


Somewhere between the first and last pass—depending on time constraints and how clean the pass is—the Advance Reader Copy will be printed. The Advance Reader Copy (or in the lingo, the ARC) is the unpolished version of the book that publicity sends out for prepublication review. The sales team might also send it to the press’s distributors or potential buyers. Typically there will be a physical galley and an e-ARC (or PDF), and it will provide a sense of how the finished book will look, feel, and read.

For the most part, you won’t need to worry about any of that. However, what you do need to worry about are blurbs. Yes, those pithy endorsements you see on the backs of books fall under the editorial umbrella and you the author are a key player here (to lose track of a metaphor). Basically, you’ll be asked to bust out your address book and social media contacts and see what famous people you know (no matter how many degrees to Kevin Bacon we’re talking here). If you’re close to a potential blurber, you might want to send them an email yourself, or you can give your editor a list of contacts and she’ll reach out on your behalf. You’re also welcome to suggest celebrities or public figures who are in some way related to the topic of your book; I mean, keep your fingers crossed, but it’s always worth asking, amirite? This is also usually the time to secure a foreword or afterword, if your book needs one. Note: some companies start prowling for blurbs at the end of the manuscript stage in order to have blurbs on the ARCs themselves . . . so just to be safe, hurry up and get networking, y’all.

Finally, when the blurbs and prepub reviews do start rolling in, they’re immediately plastered all over the front and back cover. And if You Robot: A Romantic Comedy is stricken with an outpouring of admiration, it may even suffer the indignity of a praise page at the beginning. If this happens to you, please do accept my deepest condolences.

The Production Phase Continues:

The Final Proofread

You thought you were done, didn’t you? I know . . . so did we. Back over in the wonderful world of PDFs, now that you’re happy with the content, the layout is set, and the blurbs and intros are done, it’s time for the final proofread. Sometimes your editor will do this herself, sometimes an assistant or an intern will do it inhouse, or sometimes the company will hire a freelancer—sometimes there will be a combination. With my books, I prefer to proofread a galley copy by hand, and compare my catches with those of another proofreader because things do slip through.

In addition to typos and the same stuff the editor searched for back during the manuscript stage, the final proofreader(s) is looking for any remaining formatting errors, incorrect numbers and page headers, problems with the table of contents, etc. Unless stated otherwise in your contract, it’s highly unlikely you’ll see the changes made during this stage (*cough* if this concerns you, be sure to negotiate final approval into your contract *cough*); however, you may be queried should any there be any questions about intention or the like.

The Final Pass

This is the final review of the book before it goes to the printer. I imagine every company does this differently. But in my experience, this means the book is printed out, with trim marks, and another editor is asked to look it over. He pays specific attention to the TOC, the page numbers, the header, the index (if there is one), the copyright page, etc. If they see any remaining typos, they’ll correct them. This isn’t anywhere near as in-depth as the final proofread but is meant as a last pair of eyes sort of thing. There’s almost no way you’ll see this due to time constraints, but ideally there won’t be any changes made.

To Press!

Everyone agrees that the book is done and is now ready to printed. This deadline is predetermined by the printer and the managing editor by counting back from the publication date, and it is vital this deadline be met. Otherwise, there’s a chance the book won’t be out in time for its launch, which is hugely frustrating for everyone involved.

Once the book goes to print, the publisher will receive final proofs to review one last final time. Any changes at this point will likely cost money to make, so they need to be crucial. Again, you won’t see this, and depending on the company, there’s a good chance your editor won’t either. But if everything looks the way it should, in several weeks to several months, you’ll have a gorgeous new book on your shelf—with your name on it!

IMG_1257Constance Renfrow is a New York-based writer and editor. She is the lead editor for Three Rooms Press and a freelance editor and writing coach atconstancerenfrow.com. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in such places as Cabildo Quarterly, Denim Skin, Petrichor Machine, and she hosts a monthly open mic series at the Merchant’s House Museum. A lover of nineteenth-century literature, she’s currently completing a three-volume governess novel, her first full-length work. Lastly, she compiled the anthology of millennial fiction, Songs of My Selfie (Three Rooms Press, April 2016), now available for preorder!  Follow her on Twitter @MissConstance21 and/or @SongsOfMySelfie.


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