Half Baked: A Publishing Recipe

Is most of your writing only half-baked? It’s easy to get distracted with all the wonderful topics to write about, and many of us have manuscripts that are still rising on shelves in the garage. That being said, it’s sometimes nice to go through the steps of what happens when a book does in fact make it all the way to publication. Here is a basic recipe detailing the steps that are required in creating a fully baked book:

For a first time author, a book usually starts with a completed, edited manuscript for fiction, or a proposal and sample content for non-fiction. Published authors can sometimes sell novels on proposal, but not usually. Best practices suggest that unpublished authors should try and find a literary agent, once their manuscript is ready for submission. Few publishers accept work directly from authors sans representation, and a good agent can greatly aid a manuscript’s success rate.

After a literary agent has taken on a manuscript, they then send it to editors at different publishing houses. The literary agent targets the submissions to the publishing houses that they feel are most appropriate for the book. The editors take a look at the project, and if it’s something they are interested in they will share it with their colleagues to determine the level of interest. If the editor receives word that they can move forward with the manuscript, they will send an offer to the literary agent.

The submission process can take anywhere from weeks to months (or even years), depending on how long it takes to find an interested editor. An offer may include advances and / or royalties. Sometimes the offer may even be a contract for several books. If more than one editor is interested, there may even be a bidding war situation to determine which publisher can create the best offer. When the terms have been agreed upon and the author accepts an offer, the publisher will send a contract to the literary agent. The literary agency may have a contracts expert review the fine print and negotiation points. Once the contract has been signed, it’s time for the author to get writing (if the book was only sold on a proposal).
Little Chefs

Once the manuscript is completed (non-fiction), or after the contract is signed (fiction), the editor will usually send a letter recommending changes to the manuscript. These changes are more or less negotiable, but authors usually follow the recommendations of editors. After all of the recommended changes have been made and the manuscript is deemed ready to go, it is copy edited. Spelling and grammatical errors are corrected. The pages are laid out to show what the book will look like. The author reviews the different versions of the completed manuscripts. The publisher works on the design of the book (including cover, trim size, font, paper type, and other details).

The editor manages the process of having marketing experts write copy for the publisher’s catalog, come up with the cover details, create buzz, and launch marketing plans. Several months before the book’s publication, sales specialists will coordinate with their bookstore partners and take book orders. This part of the process helps determine how many copies of the book will be printed. The agent might oversee this process to verify everything is on track. It usually takes a year or more for the publication process to go from finished manuscript to book for purchase. It can be fast tracked if it is an especially hot project, but the process usually requires quite a bit of lead time. When the publication date arrives, the book goes on sale. The book is now available to customers, and the customers often take it from there. Positive feedback, great reviews, and word of mouth are still some of the best forms of marketing. After that, the author is launched into instant literary stardom (or not). The author then writes a second book and the process repeats.

Hopefully this recipe for completing a half-baked book has been helpful – and now, I’d better get back in the kitchen.

10 Replies to “Half Baked: A Publishing Recipe”

  1. Hello Kim,
    It’s so true that a published book is the result of the right combination of ingredients. And even before the baking begins…choice ingredients are discovered, sometimes not easily, and brought to the table. Then after careful measuring and mixing, a taste is offered. Sometimes the baker is told that told that the creation is too sweet or too sour. Revisions are made…Hoping, that in the end, others will enjoy the flavors.
    Thank you sharing your insight.

  2. Nice explanation of what feels like an excruciatingly long process to aspiring and new authors. It does take awhile to experiment with different ingredients until they mix just right, to let the concoction rise to peak perfection, wait while it bakes in the oven of edits and re-edits, before finally serving it to the public. Only then do we know if our new recipe works.

    1. Thanks Anita. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Some recipes are more elaborate than others, and getting a book to publication sometimes feels like creating a wedding cake for royalty out of plastic utensils and an Easy Bake oven. One step at a time, right?

  3. This is a great explanation of what to expect in the publishing process, Kim. Thanks! In my opinion, getting a book published takes a move of God and a lot of hard work. Everyone wants the move of God, but many struggle to persevere through the (as Anita say) “excruciatingly long” and sometimes discouraging road to seeing their book in print.

    1. Thank you Mindy. It can be very discouraging, and being part of a writing community like this one is a great remedy to re-calibrate one’s perspective. It’s not easy for anyone, but it’s so rewarding in the long run!

  4. I still think that the critical point in the publishing is the process of finding an agent. I believe that once you manage to find a good agent, you can count on him/her to do some of the leg-work and be the liaison to the editors/publishers, while you, as the writer, can focus on creating more manuscripts.

    Thank you for this post!


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