Here are a few more questions you asked a few weeks ago when I solicited them:
Mary T asked: “I am curious about the time lapse between when you complete writing a book and when it is published. Is it a decision that is made between you and the publisher, or is it out of your hands entirely? For instance, I was surprised that you did not decide on what cover would be used for your books.”
Julie-ann Ford asked: “How do you and your publisher determine how long it will take to write a book? Also, what do you do when a book just won’t let you finish it?”
These days writers don’t absolutely have to have a publisher. They can e-publish their own books and have successful careers without ever going near a publisher. Some self-published books are very good. A vast number are very bad. Some of the very bad ones (not all) might be made considerably better with the help of a good editor and publisher. I am not going to debate this topic, however, though it would make for a fascinating subject for someone with more specific knowledge than I have. For me, a publisher and an editor are essential. I could not–or, rather, I would not–do without them. I write the books, but they have all the expertise to make those books as perfect and as marketable as they can be. And I am firmly of this opinion this despite the fact that I sometimes have disagreements (even bitter ones) with my publishers, especially over covers.
I have contracts with my publishers. One thing agreed upon is deadline dates for each of the books in the contract. I set those. I know that I take on average four months to write a book. I know too that I need time between books to air out my head, to catch up on everything that has been put on hold, and to dream up an idea for the next book. I don’t like to be rushed. I have never encountered the “deadline hell” so many writers talk about. I have never (so far) been late delivering a book or even on time. I am almost always a few months early. I have never had an editor who has prodded me to get on with it or put any sort of pressure on me. I have never sent any part of a book in advance to an editor. She sees it only when I have finished it. I find this part of the relationship very stress-free. Oh, and I have never encountered a book that will not let me finish it. A story has a definite “shape” in my mind, depending upon the number of words to which I have agreed in the contract (100, 000 at present). I won’t let the story get out of my control. When it is time to start shaping it downward toward the conclusion, down it goes! Thus I avoid abrupt endings because I have run out of words. I want a story to read as if it had been smooth and effortless to write, but behind the scenes a lot of wrestling goes on.
I think many people assume (I probably did myself before I was published) that all a publisher has to do when a book comes in is set it in some sort of type, print out multiple copies, slap a cover on it, and send it out to the bookstores. Why, then, does it almost always take nine months to a year before the book is actually on sale? The (very busy) editor has to go carefully through the manuscript and suggest any changes she thinks will improve the story. The author then has to delve back into it to make the changes or at least to discuss them with the editor. Then a copyeditor has to go through the manuscript with a fine tooth comb, looking for errors and inconsistencies, repetitions, and anything else about the actual writing that somehow bother her. She has to note everything on the manuscript, and then the author has to go through it to make the suggested corrections or to argue for what was there originally. Then, after the corrected manuscript has been prepared for the final printing, other copyeditors and the author have to go through it one more time looking for typos. The gremlins come in after that and make a few more shocking typos, but they are spotted only when it is too late for anyone but readers to notice them.
In the meantime, the editor in association with all sorts of other people at the publishing house, has to discuss numerous other points relating to the actual publishing of the book. The title has to be agreed upon. A cover has to be designed and cover copy has to be written. If the author has cover consultation rights, there can be some haggling here and occasionally a complete change of design. The publisher has to plan its list of books to be published for months, even years, in advance. A bestselling author needs to have a good “slot.” That is, it’s not a good idea to have several top authors of similar type of books all being published in the same month. The books have to be sold in to the various accounts and they need to be promoted and advertised and be given good shelf space. So choosing the exact publication month is not a random thing. Sometimes a book is held back a month or two so that it can get a better “slot” than originally planned. My upcoming book THE ESCAPE, for example, was originally planned for February, 2014. It was then moved back to May and finally to July. That is a bit of an extreme example, and I have not been happy about it, but the plus side is that the book after that, ONLY ENCHANTING, with my new publisher, NAL, will be out in November.
There are numerous other things that go on between the turning-in of a book and its appearance in a bookstore, but this probably gives you some idea of why the time span is so long. Publication dates are not mentioned in contracts, though there are usually some safeguards for the author so that a publisher cannot keep on delaying the publishing forever. For example, part of the advance moneys may be due when the book is published OR no later than one year after the manuscript is submitted. This is a hypothetical example, but it does mean that it is in the financial interest of the publisher not to delay too long before getting something back in sales for the investment they have made.
I will look forward to reading your comments below. To one randomly chosen person who comments before the end of Tuesday, April 15, I will send a signed copy of the two-in-one edition of THE TEMPORARY WIFE/A PROMISE OF SPRING. The last winner was Tina (last name still unknown at the moment). Congratulations to her, and thanks to everyone who commented upon Jessica Eissfeldt’s guest blog. Many thanks to Jessica too.