My husband always marvels at how I (or any writer) can sit down at a computer with nothing but an idea for a story in my head and a year later or, in this case, two years later, he can hold a book in his hand that is the result of that idea. Of course he has listened to me moan, wail, and gnash teeth when the process isn’t going so smoothly, so he does have some idea how the baby is birthed–but still.
What is still a wonder to me, even as I’m writing my tenth book, is how much careful, detail-minded work goes into the publishing process, and the number of people involved to make it all happen. Since I often get asked about my role in this process–do I hire an artist to design the cover? who chooses the title?–the arrival of my gorgeous new book seemed like the perfect time to explain what happened before it showed up on my doorstep today and I saw it for the first time.
To state the obvious, first I have to write it. There’s a manuscript to be turned in and a specific deadline, all of which is negotiated beforehand in the publishing contract. In my case I usually have one year to write, but I have friends who can do it in six months and others who need a couple of years.
Once the manuscript is handed over to my editor, she reads it and a few weeks later we hash out any changes that are needed. Thus begins the revision process. When we’re both happy with the result–which can take a few weeks, or a couple of months–the first of several rounds of copyediting begins as the book goes into production. By that stage there is a schedule for when it will become what is called a “finished book,” and while there is a teeny bit of wiggle room with all the assorted deadlines, I write them all on my calendar in red and circle them. At Scribner, the copyediting process generally takes 3-4 months. In the first round (usually the heaviest editing), the pages still look like a manuscript and that’s where everyone hopes any glaring mistakes are caught–a character with two names, a geographical boo-boo, first it’s Monday, then it’s Sunday–stuff like that. The next time I see the manuscript, it has been formatted as the book you see (though it’s on 8-/12 x 11 paper) and is known as “first pass pages.” More corrections are made, which by then includes catching printing errors, and back it goes to New York. A month or so later, I see that corrected version for “second pass pages” and once I look those over, I’m done though I will continue to answer occasional e-mail questions from my indefatigable copyeditor in New York who wants to know if I realized I used the same word twice in two paragraphs, or reminds me that it’s “antiques gallery” rather than “antique gallery” since the latter could mean “old gallery.” (Yes, thank goodness, she is that fussy).
While all this has been going the art department has come up with a fabulous design for the jacket–one of my favorite parts of the process–and myriad decisions are being made about type font, line spacing, anything that impacts how the book will look. As for the title, I always have a working title, but publishers play a big role in what the book will ultimately be called: that decision has been finalized much earlier since it’s so important. By now my editor and I are working on flap copy, updating the author bio, and the all-important blurbs you see on the back jacket or in the front matter of the book–other authors or reviewers who have assured you that I have written the best book since the Bible came out, so you’re going to love GHOST IMAGE.
In the meantime the sales, marketing, and publicity departments have already been promoting the book. The first pass pages that I mentioned above have been bound in a soft cover as an advance reading copy (mistakes and all; that is why you see “uncorrected proof” on the cover) and sent to the long-lead reviewers or the trade reviewers, 5-6 months before publication date. The big four trades–Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, and Booklist–are important because their verdict has an impact on future sales, library orders, and press reviews. Unfortunately not every book gets reviewed by everyone, and some books don’t get reviewed at all. However I’m happy to report that GHOST IMAGE was reviewed by all of the big four and, not only that, the reviews were good. In a nutshell, here’s what they said; in publishing jargon they are called “pull quotes”–
“A quick-moving mystery with a wealth of fascinating material on gardening in Colonial times and the value of plants in sustaining life on Earth.”—Kirkus
“Intriguing . . . compelling.” — Publishers Weekly
Sophie is a tough, relatable heroine, and with her unconventional job—not to mention her ex-spy husband—this makes for a breezy read with just the right amount of thrills.”–Library Journal
“A solid, scenic mystery.”—Booklist
Which brings me to today when a UPS truck came up my driveway with a package from my editor: the very first copy of GHOST IMAGE, hot off the press. Though this is my 9th published book, nothing–and I do mean nothing–beats the thrill of seeing it for the first time as a real book, of holding it in my hands. So thank you, as always, to the many, many people at Scribner who made that happen–for this book and for the last ten years.