Friday, August 3, 2012

The Publishing Pipeline

One thing I didn't really know much about before I sold my book was the actual timeline TRANSPARENT would follow post-book deal. And I think not understanding that process can make it way more stressful than it needs to be, so today I wanted to share a little bit about what it's like to go through the Publishing Pipeline, as I now affectionately call it.

(Extra disclaimer: Every publishing house is different. Like, for reals. I give some information here that may not be the same for every author—they are examples from my own experience at HarperTeen.)

1. Get In Line
When you first sell, there's usually a big GAP of time wherein you're just...waiting. Yup, the waiting never goes away. This isn't because your publisher/editor doesn't care about your book—they just have a queue, essentially. That queue is based on the season in which a book comes out, so the new sales get put in line.

For example, TRANSPARENT was slotted as a Summer 2013 novel, but it sold in May of 2011. That means there were like five seasons of books before mine debuted (now we're down to two, ack), and all those other books have to come before mine.

I say this because it's easy, while in the process, to feel like you are being neglected or that maybe you aren't important when that is absolutely not true. If you are on a regular publishing schedule (18 months to 2 years out from sale), there is just a little bit of lag time is all. It's completely normal. It gives you and your editor plenty of time to edit and prepare for debut.

2. Understanding The Order Of Work
Publishers don't just start designing your cover the second you sell. There is an order to things. And guess what it starts with? Yup, edits. Depending on your debut season, your edits could come within a few weeks or a few months (mine was about 3 months from sale). The first Editorial Letter will likely be a lot of substantial changes. You might be rewriting scenes, cutting, adding new stuff, changing characters/plots, etc. The next edit is what they call a Line Edit, which is more on a sentence level, making sure the prose is tight and everything makes sense. Then there is Copy Edit, which is focused on grammar and punctuation. It's also your last real chance to make bigger changes.

Once you finish Copy Edits, the book is "approved" for layout. This is when it usually goes to design as well (sometimes sooner depending on how you're meeting your deadlines). Only after all that editing do you start to see the exciting stuff like cover comps (early mockups).

3. Knowing Your Seasons
Every publisher has their own seasons. For HarperCollins, they work in three seasons: Winter (mid-December to mid-April), Summer (mid-April to mid-August), and Fall (mid-August to mid-December). Pretty much everything revolves around this schedule—when you get edits, when you see a cover comp, when you ask for blurbs, when you can reveal your cover, when you get galleys, etc.

So if you're a Summer 2013 like me, it's really silly to get jealous over Fall 2012 cover reveals, for example. They all go in cycles, and if you pay attention, you'll notice that a large group of authors always reveal stuff at the same time because they are all in the same season. (This is good to know if you are sensitive to news online, because certain things always happen around the same time of year.)

4. The Catalogue
Much revolves around The Catalogue. I don't know a ton about The Catalogue yet, except that is where a publisher showcases all their novels for a season. I believe it goes out to book buyers and is majorly important because of that. The Catalogue comes out in, you guessed it, seasons! One catalogue for each. The Catalogue also goes out about two seasons in advance—so the Summer 2013 catalogue will be out this Fall 2012. The Winter 2013 catalogue just came out this Summer 2012.

The Catalogue marks all the fun, shiny marketing type things in a book's life. Just before The Catalogue comes out is usually when authors are allowed to reveal covers (usually a week before), for example. It's also when ARCs start being sent out (just after The Catalogue goes out). It's often when blurbs are acquired. This is also when reviews start coming in, and authors might get nervous and panicky and hide in holes from the online world. Also, contests start, and bigger promotion pushes begin in general.

5. Other Random, Useful Info
• Authors get ARCs first. People tend to think when authors get their ARCs that the publisher is sending ARCs everywhere, but that isn't the case. There is some lag time usually, an order that they send them out (which likely differs a little for each publisher).

• Blurbing attempts happen at two separate times—pre-ARC in attempts to get blurbs for the ARC, and also post-ARC in hopes to get more for the novel. So if you don't get any pre-ARC isn't not over.

• Publishers often release more ARCs closer to a novel's release date because if reviews and buzz are too far out, people often forget about the book by release date. So if you see early ARCs they usually come from trade shows or a very small, early mailing.

• Release dates are tentative for a long time. Authors aren't trying to be cryptic—they just really don't have official information for a long time. Usually not until The Catalogue and sometimes after that.

• Authors only get a set amount of ARCs or published copies of their novel. They cannot request as many as they want, and the amount varies based on publisher. I've seen anywhere from one copy to fifteen.

That's about all I can think of now, but if any other published authors want to offer up extra info in comments, feel free! Now that I'm more comfortable with the Publishing Pipeline, it's taken a lot of the stress out of the process. And it's helped me stay calmer online when the deluge of announcements happens each season. It's easier to keep myself from comparing when I remember that every author has to wait for their season, and it's not everyone else "beating me to it."


  1. Wow! This is really fantastic information, Natalie. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

  2. I didn't know much about the catalogue except, well, that there is a catalogue. This is great information!

  3. I keep learning more and more, and I wonder, do you guys get a packet to help explain this all? Ha!

  4. I've been wondering about the process is on the other side of the "Sold!" hurdle. This is so thorough and honest and helpful! Thank you so much!

    I was wondering - do the cover designers read the book before they design it or just get a summary? How much input did you get as an author? I've heard it's not much or not at all, but was wondering what your experience was. I can't wait to see TRANSPARENT's cover. I've can't even begin to imagine!

    1. Sara, it really depends on you publisher. I don't know about designers reading the whole book or not, but I would say that's not necessarily important. As authors, we have this idea that the cover should 100% rep what is in the book, but in reality a cover is simply a marketing tool. Authors? We don't know book marketing like a publisher, and they really do put a lot of thought into that when designing a cover.

      My editor did ask me for ideas, but it was more I think for "inspiration" than anything. I didn't expect them to do what I wanted, and I also think they did something WAY BETTER than anything I pictured. I really can't wait to show everyone how they chose to approach my cover because I think they are geniuses.

    2. And THAT is awesome! I've always felt that way about the illustrations Highlights comes up with for my poetry. I've glad you're excited about your cover.

  5. Thank you so much for this! It's difficult to understand the publishing business from the outside, and I suppose you have to go through the process to be really familiar with it. I've never heard of the catalogue, for example!

  6. This is extremely helpful. Thank you!

  7. This is useful info, but I want to point out (and you may want to caveat) that this can vary HUGELY from publisher to publisher. The timing of covers, copy edits, and ARC releases varies by months. So even if you're in the same season as your friend who is at a different publisher, your friend may get her cover or her ARCs or her editorial letter or her author copies way before you (or way after you) just because that's the way the other publisher works, or because that's the way her editor works.

    It sometimes varies within the publisher too. My timeline was not exactly the same for my first and second books, even though they were with the same imprint of the same publisher.

    Things can change after the catalogue. They can change after the ARCs comes out.

    It keeps us on our toes! When we're not waiting. ;-)

    1. Definitely Jenn! I tried to mention that it can vary between publishers A LOT, but that cannot be emphasized enough:) You have to learn your own publisher's schedule for sure, and stuff is always changing. I always feel bad when I can't give solid info, but it just takes a long time for it to come! Books are big undertakings!

  8. Thanks for this great timeline! I always love learning more about the industry.

    Working at a bookstore has helped me get a lot better understanding of publisher seasons and how bookstores find out about books.

    We have reps for several companies who call or make appointments and tell us about their favorite books for the upcoming season. We are also sent a catalog and sometimes ARCs for each season. Our store owner does a lot of the buying, but sometimes I get to look through things and offer suggestions if something sounds like a good fit for our store. We then order all of our books for that season in one go, and they come in as they are released.

    Trade shows are also really important for hearing about upcoming books. Publishers spend a lot of money to bring ARCs (and sometimes finished copies) to give booksellers and to send reps to come and talk about their hot items for the coming seasons. I've been to a few conferences so far, and it's always a lot of fun! (And exhausting!) It's amazing to see how many people help a book get into the hands of readers.

    Hope that helps!

  9. Wow. Thank you. That was extremely helpful. I just bookmarked it for when I need it.

    By the way, how long did you have to do each round of edits?

    1. Caryn, sorry for taking so long to reply! Edits can really vary. I was given about 2-3 months for the bigger rounds, and about 3 weeks for copy edits. But again, this varies so much based on your editor, the release date of your book, and whether or not you stay on track with deadlines. I've heard of some authors having to turn around a big edit in a few weeks to make deadline, and I've heard of some writers taking half a year in substantial edits.

    2. That's great news! I'd heard about authors having only a few weeks, and was worried that would be typical. Glad to hear it varies. Thanks!

  10. This was an amazing post! For those of us who are just trying to get published, the agent querying process seems like the end of the line, but it's interesting to have a reality check and learn what goes on (more or less) once a book is really being published. Thank you for the post.

    (Also, I join in you in being a nerd who loves cheese, Korean dramas and anime! Cheers!)

  11. I read this post with complete fascination. I loved all the details and insider info. Thanks so much for being generous enough to share with us. You rock! :-D

  12. I didn't get my editorial letter for almost two years after I got the offer, FYI. Sometimes it can take much, much longer than three months.

  13. This is such interesting information for those of us who are not "in the know" or not at that stage of the process. Thanks so much for sharing!