Mysteries of publishing revealed!

Secret of the Old Clock

My esteemed former colleague Shelby Peak has written a tidy breakdown of ye typical book production schedule, When’s that book coming out? It’s based mostly on her current day job, which is at a large academic publisher, so I’d love to hear others chime in (ouch?) on how the timing in other contexts differs.

As you can see, much of the schedule depends on the length of the manuscript. Let’s work out an example: If you have a 132,000-word manuscript, this is approximately what the schedule will look like.

132,000 words = ~528 ms pages = ~352 final book pages at a trim size of 6? x 9? (Warning: Very rough castoff! Can vary widely depending on the text design!)

  1. Copyediting 5 weeks
  2. Copyedit review However long the author takes. I usually ask for a 3-week turnaround.
  3. Typesetting 4 weeks
  4. Proofreading 5 weeks
  5. Printing 6 weeks
  6. Shipping 1 week (domestic); 6-8 weeks (overseas)

So our totals are, roughly:

Domestic printer – 6 months
Overseas printer – 7.5-8 months

You may have noticed that I used the longer amount of time when I gave a range. This is partly to account for administrative tasks and partly as a “buffer” against the many small (or not-so-small) problems that can arise and cause delays. . . .

Lots more details in Shelby’s post. Why are you still standing there? Go! There’s not a moment to be lost!

Photo: cover: Nancy Drew–The Secret of the Old Clock * Carolyn Keene by Carla216; some rights reserved.

9 thoughts on “Mysteries of publishing revealed!

  1. I’ve worked in adult trade for more than five years, and here is the rough schedule I deal with as a production editor:

    Copyediting 2 weeks Copyedit review 2 weeks Typesetting 2 weeks Proofreading 2-3 weeks Coldread 2-3 weeks Misc corrections 1 week Printing 5-6 weeks Shipping 1 week

    So, roughly 4 1/2 months from the moment the manuscript transmits from the editor to it arriving in stores. Though, with the current state of the economy, my company is increasingly adopting a “strike while the iron is hot” attitude and we are rushing out books in under three months to cash in on current events or the buzz generated by a deal announcement or just to be part of a fad.

  2. Thanks, Kevin.

    Do you have a sense, having experienced the short schedules for a while, of what the consequences are—from both the publisher’s side and the consumer’s side? For example, do staff have to work more overtime, do you have to pay rush rates to vendors, do you receive more complaints from authors or readers about errors in the finished books?

    The classic project triangle is fast, cheap, good: pick two. Do you find this to be accurate, or are the options different, or do you find that it’s possible to achieve all three—or only one?

  3. In my own experience, what gets dropped from the project triangle on a rush job is quality control—copyediting, proofreading—but I had the distressing and I-hope-rare experience of working at a publisher where neither of those processes was considered important in the first place. And the consequences were—to me, at least—perfectly concrete and obvious: reviews commenting explicitly on the editorial sloppiness, interesting and well-researched books not receiving the attention they should, unimpressive sales all around. But it’s hard to prove that shoddy editing was the cause; perhaps the cover designer gets blamed, or the publicity department. Or, of course, the author.

    One of the things I noticed, sharing an office with the foreign rights agent at Scrappy Independent Publisher X, is that production costs were always seen as just that—costs. Never as investments. The copy editor or text designer or proofreader never gets any credit for a book’s doing well, though if a book is not well edited or designed, it seems obvious that it would be less likely to be adopted for university courses and have a long, healthy life on the backlist. But if the foreign rights desk brings in a few thousand dollars for a one-time sale, that somehow cancels out all the expenses of Frankfurt and London and a veritable Lake Superior of cocktails. We got a check! Let’s celebrate with a cocktail!

    Is it just penny-wise pound foolishness, or is there some basis in reality for that attitude, perhaps at publishing houses where they actually bother to calculate P&Ls?

  4. Wow, under three months? Where do you save the time?

    I think the fastest book I’ve done (that still got all the “works”–copyediting, typesetting, proofreading, indexing, etc.) was 5.5 months. And that was with a very, very dedicated author and management team. (Then again, we also put nearly all our books into XML up front, which adds about a month.)

    And thanks for the pingback, India!

  5. Quality control is definitely affected. But nobody cares about that during the production process because editorial isn’t willing to tell an author a deadline is firm and editorial really has no accountability from production or managing ed. As you said, production is just a cost. It’s like a magical thing that just happens. Whenever a book does well and a praise e-mail gets sent out by the publisher, it always goes to editorial, publicity, marketing, and sales. Then maybe–maybe–it will get forwarded to the head of production, who then forwards it to everyone under her, because even she doesn’t know who works on which books. Of course, when the book hits shelves and the errors start being found out, then suddenly everyone knows who the production editor was.

    Excuse me. Five years as a production editor has made me bitter.

  6. I’ve done books very quickly, but for the kind of museum art books that I’m currently producing (which are usually printed overseas), I ask for a year from delivery of manuscript (but rarely if ever get it). I build in an initial stage of developmental editing preceding copy editing — I’m surprised that no one mentions this to me basic step of conceptualizing and shaping the book prior to copy editing it.

    One of the most time-consuming aspects of my books is color proofing, which usually takes about three rounds of checks back and forth with foreign printers. The design process is also more time-consuming than others are indicating, probably because of the complex nature of the books.

    Regarding quality control, at North Point Press I routinely triple-proofed. I had two free-lance proofreaders plus the author read proofs (sometimes I also read myself). Then I would collate the corrections, laying the sets of proofs out side by side on a large workspace. I recommend to anyone who is interested in editorial matters to try this sometime. You will not believe the things that one proofer catches and the other misses. No matter how good the proofreader, some things always get by them. You will also be struck by the different emphases of the proofers — how they are usually watching for very different things. But I don’t know if anyone is that committed to quality control to do this in these difficult times; I’m not usually able to do it myself anymore.

    Of course there are many considerations besides just the time required for production that determine when a book sees print.

  7. Maybe it’s just the kinds of books I work on, but developmental editing seems to me to be very rare. I wonder if it’s a vanishing skill, as it seems like the sort of process that would be best learned through apprenticeship to an experienced editor, which from what I hear doesn’t really happen anymore. Are agents doing that sort of thing now? (And are you accepting interns?)

    I most certainly do believe “the things that one proofer catches and the other misses,” as I’m that irritating typesetter who’s always asking the production editor, as I enter the proofreader’s corrections, “So, do you want to know about the errors your proofreader missed, or should I pretend to be illiterate?” Not everybody wants to know.

    I think I’ve mentioned this before, here, somewhere, but a friend has a theory that it’s often the books that arrive in the worst shape that end up being the best, because everyone who sees the MS says, “Oh, god, what a mess,” and tries to help fix it. Whereas the book that comes in looking reasonably clean sails through production without many eyeballs landing on it, and errors sail right along with it. The result is that the sloppiest writers sometimes get credited as being the most lucid, and vice versa.

  8. RE: “vanishing skill” — you are probably right. There actually used to be creatures called developmental editors, or else acquiring editors (or agents) did this work. Now manuscript development is probably mostly a matter of adjusting the text to the requirements of the marketing department.

    Interesting theory about books that are a mess ending up cleaner. I can think of some examples where reputations were made in that way.

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