This may seem like a very simple question, but what is the author’s role in the publishing process? To write the story. Yes, that’s a pretty important part. After all, without the author writing the story, there is no book. But it doesn’t stop there. The author is also responsible for working with the editors to take the manuscript and turn it into a published book.
During the creative process, the manuscript will go through several stages. Much of this happens before the publisher even sees the manuscript, let alone agrees to publish it. The author develops the plot, outlines the story, creates the characters, and writes the story, and then goes through various edits, rewrites, and proofreads. Once satisfied the manuscript is ready for a publisher to review, the author enters into the submission process. After a publisher accepts the manuscript and offers a publishing agreement, the editorial process begins. This usually involves three stages: content editing, line editing, and copyediting.
Content editing involves an editor looking at the structure of the story. This is the “big picture” of the story. Is the plot developed, or does additional work need to be done? Are the characters well-rounded and believable? Are there too many characters or too few? The author may be asked to rewrite sections of the manuscript, perhaps even a large amount. Yes, there will be changes, and the author shouldn’t look on the editor as an adversary. The editor is not trying to damage the author’s work; in fact, quite the opposite. Both author and editor have the same goal in mind, which is to publish the best work possible.
After the editor and author are happy with the content, the line edit begins. This is the “down in the weeds” part of the process. The editor will look at the sentence structure and word choice. This is the stage where the term author’s voice becomes key. The line edit is done to correct flaws in language, but the editor must be aware not to remove the author’s voice. What is the author’s voice? It’s quite simply how the author “speaks” on the printed page. The end result must look like it was written by the author, not the editor. Typically, an author will review the line edit changes and comment on them.
The final editing stage is the copyedit. This is when grammar and punctuation are examined. Corrections are made as needed, again with an eye toward maintaining the author’s voice. An author usually does not review the copyedited manuscript because changes are most often minor and the author will have a chance to review the manuscript after pages have been composed.
After editing, the manuscript enters the layout stage. This stage goes by many different names—layout, page composition, production, just to name a few—but what takes place is the same. The text is typeset and graphics are added as appropriate to create what will appear as the final published product. This is when the book begins to look like a book. The author will review the composed pages, called galley proofs, and be given one last opportunity to comment. At this stage, generally only errors are corrected, and subjective changes are generally not done. From this stage, the book goes to the printer or to be translated into an e-book, and then it becomes a published work.
However, the author’s responsibility does not end once the book is published. Often, the best marketer for the author’s book is...the author. It is the author who knows every detail of the story, how the characters came to be who they are, and all of the other developmental insights that the reader—or editor—never sees. The publisher will undertake various marketing schemes, and many of these will involve the author, such as book signings. However, the author should be willing to explore opportunities to promote the work beyond what the publisher undertakes. Readers want to personally connect with the author. Social media and author websites are common ways for an author to reach out directly to readers and to engage in marketing beyond what the publisher can do. As an author, be engaged in the marketing of your work. You’re proud of the book; show it and help sell the book.
Most of the time, authors are not involved in the process of choosing a cover design or even asked for input on the design. Tin Whiskers Publisher consults our authors for ideas during the initial stages of the design process. From there, our designers develop concepts and our experts choose a final cover (or covers) based on salability and market appeal.
So, what makes a great cover? There are really only two functions of a cover design. The most important thing a cover does is make a potential reader pick up the book. Today, this may be the literal picking up of a physical book in a bookstore or clicking the thumbnail in an online bookstore.
The second thing a cover should do is communicate, in a general sense, the story. A general sense, not a literal sense. The cover should hint at what lies inside, but leave room for the reader to start asking questions and wanting answers to those questions. The cover is all about getting the reader to buy the book. When the reader asks the question, “I wonder what happens?”, a purchase is more likely.
Many genres have a certain look when it comes to covers. Think of romance novels. Just as there are stringent rules to follow when writing a romance novel, the covers in this genre all have a similar appearance. Readers who purchase genre fiction generally expect books within the genre to have the same look. The trick is to stand out in the crowd while still wearing similar clothes. This is not an easy task, but one way to do this is by evoking the emotions of the story with the cover. The typography should be consistent with the setting, the color palette should match the mood of the story, and the style of the imagery should transport the reader into the story.
A cover should not be too complex. While many readers purchase books in traditional brick-and-mortar stores, many buy from online stores. The cover thumbnail displayed in a list of search results for an online bookstore may be the size of a postage stamp. If the cover is too complex, it may look like a blob of color, not a book cover. When a reader may spend as few as three or four seconds browsing the list of search results, cover thumbnails that do not at least somewhat standout are likely to be discounted without any consideration.
While there are design rules and guidelines to be followed, all of the imagery, typography, and color use is for naught if nobody picks up the book. When everything is said and done, the cover design has one job: to get the potential reader to pick up the book and start reading it. If a cover design can do that, it’s a great cover.
Historical Fiction Primer
To write historical fiction, first the question must be answered, what is historical fiction? Historical fiction is a story in which a historically accurate setting plays an integral part of the storytelling. Collectively, historical events become a character in the story.
Historical fiction is...fiction. It has to have all of the basic story elements: plot, conflict, deep characters. But, readers of historical fiction expect that the historical elements will be accurate. Can literary license be used in the historical elements? Yes, to a point. If the story involves the First World War, such as Legends of the Fall or The War Horse, then the time period must be 1914 to 1918. Can the story extend into 1921? Yes. Legends of the Fall extends into the 1960s. Can the war end in 1921? No, that’s not historical fiction, that’s alternative-history fiction.
Can a soldier serve in a unit that never existed? Probably, depending on how integral that detail is to the story. Can a soldier see battle serving in an historical unit that never entered combat? That’s starting to approach the point of using too much literary license, but if it is important to the story for the character to be in a specific unit and the combat is minor in the scope of history—a skirmish between a few soldiers, not a major battle found in history books—then perhaps it’s okay to take this literary license.
Simply setting a story in the past does not make it historical fiction. The story of Romeo and Juliet, for example, can be—and has been—set in any time period. So that story by itself is not historical fiction (and had a contemporary setting when it was written). However, if Romeo is a Russian prince and Juliet is a Bolshevik, the story could be historical fiction, provided the events of the Russian Revolution come to play in the story. Suppose at the climax of the story, the Bolshevik Juliet is one of those who storms the Winter Palace and the prince Romeo, despite being a member of the deposed nobility, goes to the palace to find her. This story is historical fiction because the climax must happen at night on October 25, 1917 by the Julian calendar.
It’s hard to say what must be accurate and when literary license can be employed because it varies from story to story. To generalize, small details can be fictionalized but large events must be accurate. There is always the writer’s skill at suspending disbelief. Much historical fiction uses literary license, and the writer’s skill at suspending disbelief allows the reader to accept the bending of history. But it is a fine line between suspending disbelief in a work of historical fiction and creating alternative history.
Language of Publishing
The terms and phrases used in publishing can be quite baffling, especially to new authors...and especially considering many of the terms are carryovers from the past and do not reflect current technology or processes. Take the term blue line for example. This refers to a printer proof for a one- or two-color printed piece. Today, a “blue line” is black printing on white paper, but these proofs once were blue printing on a yellowish paper that was similar to an opaque vellum. Hence the term blue line, which was often called a Dylux. Dylux was the trade name for the proof (like Xerox for an electrostatic photocopy). And blue lines were stinky.
This article covers many of the terms an agent, editor, or publisher may use that someone new to the publishing industry may not know, and that some experienced publishing professionals use incorrectly. However, this is by no means comprehensive.
- 4/0 (four over zero): reference to the number of printing colors used for a cover on the outside (four in this case) and inside (zero or no printing in this case)
- Binding: the method of attaching pages together to form a book
- Bleed: an image, screen, or other element that continues beyond the trim line and thus is cut through during the trimming process
- Bleed line: often called the bleed, refers to a line in a layout to which an element must extend to ensure a proper bleed
- Bulk: measured in pages per inch (ppi), the width of the spine for a given number of pages; paper weight determines bulk
- Cutter bounce: the phenomenon occurring during the trimming process that results in the location of the trim cut varying from one book to another; the reason the bleed line and safe zone must be taken into account
- DPI: An initialism for dots per inch, DPI is a measure of resolution for rasterized graphics
- Folio: usually refers to a page number
- Galley: a proof of typeset text in a single column before it is composed into pages; in practice today, edited manuscript in a word processor document is considered a galley
- Gutter: the interior vertical edge of a page (nearest to the binding); additional space in the page layout is allowed for the gutter
- Hard proof: a physical proof provided for approval
- Headband: a strip of decorative fabric attached to the binding in the spine
- Line screen: measured in lines per inch (LPI), a measure of the halftone dots a printer uses per inch
- Offset: short for offset lithography, the most common type of printing for books
- Perfect bound: a binding method in which the signatures are glued; used for hardcover and soft cover
- POD: initialism for print on demand, a method of printing in which books are printed, bound, and trim one at a time; printing is via large-scale inkjet printers
- Printer proof: a proof generated by the printer for final client approval before the project is printed; may be a hard or soft proof
- Process color: one of the standard four-color printing inks cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (CMYK); the key color is almost always black
- Raster: often called a bitmap, a type of graphic in which shapes are defined by point samples, not by mathematical equations, and must be resampled when scaled, which causes loss of quality as the graphic is enlarged; one of the two basic types of graphics
- Recto: a right-hand page; the opposite of verso
- Resolution: the technical quality of rasterized graphic; ideally, should be twice the line screen of the printer
- Saddle stitch: a binding method used for a low number of pages in which there is no spine; often stapled, but may be sewn
- Safe zone: the area on a layout inside of which there is no danger of the trimming process encroaching
- Screen: measured in a percentage, the amount of a solid color to create a “tint”
- Self-cover: the same paper used for the interior printing is used for the cover; also called integral cover
- Show-through: the phenomenon of the printing on the reverse side of a page being visible
- Signature: a collection of pages created by folding a printed press sheet that are bound together to form a book; common “sigs” are eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and sixty-four pages
- Soft proof: an electronic proof, such as a PDF, provided for approval
- Spine: the bound edge of a book
- Spot color: color created from an ink formulated to a specific color; not process color
- Spread: a verso and the following recto; the two pages seen when a book is opened and laid flat
- Thumb: the exterior vertical edge of a page (farthest from the binding)
- Trim: the final width and height dimensions of a printed page
- Trim line: often the trim, refers to a line in the layout where the page will be cut during the trimming process
- Vector: a graphic type in which shapes are defined by mathematical equations, not by point samples, and can be infinitely scaled without loss of quality; one of the two basic types of graphics
- Verso: a left-hand page; the opposite of recto
- Weight: a measure of the thickness of paper; the higher the pound rating (#), the thicker the paper
For new authors, the publishing process can be a bit of a mystery, one with many questions. What happens after I send in my manuscript? Why does it take so long to get my book printed, when I can just hit the print button in my word processor? When will my first royalty check arrive so I can quit my day job?
If the last question is first on your mind, it might be worth reflecting on why you write. The vast majority of authors don’t get rich from publishing. Is it possible to make a living as a writer? Absolutely, but most who do work on volume. This means having a number of books published that each earns some in royalties as opposed to one book that earns a enough to make the author rich. The six- and seven-figure advances that some select authors receive make headlines, but these are the exceptions and by no means are a common occurrence.
Speaking of advances, the proper phrase is advance on royalty. In effect, an advance is a loan against future earnings. In most cases, the author will not see any money from the actual royalties until the advance is paid back. So, if the author receives an advance of $1000, then the first $1000 in royalty stays with the publisher. After that, all royalty goes to the author, minus, of course, an agent’s percentage if applicable. Most publishers pay royalties either quarterly or biennially.
There are several things that happen after an author sends in the final manuscript. First, the manuscript is edited, which usually includes three separate edits: content edit, line edit, and copyedit. The author will be involved in the first two edits. After the edit, the manuscript is laid out, or pages are composed, which is when the book starts to look like a book. The author will review the pages at this stage for one last time. After page composition, the book is printed or translated to e-book format.
Depending on the publisher, the entire editing process may take as few as six or eight weeks or as long as four or five months. There are many factors that contribute to the length of the edit, including how much work is involved, the resources the publisher has available, the timeliness of author reviews, and other aspects of the business.
Page composition usually takes less time than the edit, unless the book contains artwork. But this stage also includes proofreading and a final review by the author, which take time beyond the actual page composition. This stage may take anywhere from two or three weeks to as many as six or eight weeks.
Printing the book can take anywhere from six to eight weeks, sometimes longer. The time of the year is a factor in print lead times, as well as paper supplies. Translating the pages for e-book format takes relatively little time. However, most publishers will release all formats—print and electronic—at the same time. This is for marketing purposes rather than for technical reasons.
From manuscript submission to published books, the process can take anywhere from two months to nearly a year. The vast number of factors makes it difficult to generalize how long the publishing process will take with any specificity. However, once a given project is accepted by a publisher, there will be a schedule put in place containing milestones and deadlines to guide both the publisher and the author.