Publishing 101: The Timeline of Making a Book
People are often confused about why it takes such a long time for a book to be published. They tend to feel like, if the book is already written, it’s basically done, but actually, there are many, many steps involved.
The schedule for a typical book might look something like this. (And note that this version of the process is specific to Macmillan. Different publishers might do things their own way!):
Once the contract is signed, then it’s time for the Content Editor to get to work (and remember, this may or may not be the same person as the acquiring editor). Check out this blog post for an explanation of the different kinds of editors. The Content Editor reads through the manuscript, writes up their edit letter/editorial notes, and shares them with the author. They are trying to be thoughtful and are also probably working on several books at a time, so it might be a few weeks for them to pull everything together.
The author takes those notes and uses them to write a new draft of their book, and once they're happy with it they send the revised manuscript back to the editor. The timeframe here is different for every author and every draft, but is usually measured in weeks or months. This cycle of edit notes/revisions repeats until both the author and the content editor feel the book is the best it can be!
Once the editor and author agree the book is as good as they both can make it, the content editor sends the manuscript to the managing editor. The managing editor hires a copyeditor, who takes 4-6 weeks to copyedit the manuscript.
When they're done, the copyedited manuscript is sent back to the author, who usually has 2-4 weeks to review the book and make any changes needed. The manuscript is then sent back to the Managing Editor, who cleans it up, and applies the right styles to the manuscript, and then sends it over to the Design team.
The Design team then takes two weeks or so to design the book—picking fonts, and styles and chapter headings, etc. The content editor approves those styles (and the managing editor also takes a look to make sure everything is legible and correctly formatted) and then everything is given over to the Production Manager.
The production manager takes care of sending everything off to the compositor, who makes files ready for printing. They also make Advance Reader Copies at this point, which usually takes around 2-4 weeks to print. Then the files will come back as a PDF and the managing editor sends them to a proofreader, who spends a couple of weeks going through the pages.
When those notes come back, the managing editor sends the corrections to the editor (who will also send the PDF to the author) for approval. If possible, we try to give the author at least two weeks/a month to go through and make any last changes.
The marked-up pass is sent to design and then back to managing editorial, who sends the changes to the compositor (or comp). It then gets a new PDF, a proofreader reviews it, the managing editor routes for approvals, and then sends the changes back to comp. This cycle continues until there are no more changes. (This can take two, three, or even 4-6 months!)
And then finally, the book is released to the printer, and we wait for the books to actually be created and shipped back to us!
Phew. Quite the process, right? Let us know in the comments if you have any questions!