By Olivia La Bianca/ I worked in a major publishing house as an editorial intern earlier this year. In that time, I watched innumerable manuscripts being passed from desk to desk, and it astonished me just how many steps it took for a publisher to decide if they wanted to contract a book or not. It was also very helpful to me as a writer. So, just to give you a basic idea of the many levels of acceptance your little baby manuscript needs to traverse before reaching that ultimate destination, I will now outline the behind-the-scenes itinerary through the Perilous (And Very Long) Journey through a trade publishing house.
The first thing you need is an agent. It does not matter if your book is the next War and Peace. If it does not have an agent, most publishers won’t even give it a second look. It will be sent right back to you. Nice editors may suggest places to find agents, but that’s the most consideration you’ll get.
TIME GAP: There will probably be several months between the time your agent sends in your manuscript to an editor and the editor responds. The editor is probably backed up with month-old submissions they must read first, so it takes time to even get to yours. When they do, they must read 50-100 pages before deciding if they like it or not.
Once an agent has accepted your manuscript, you will need an editor to think it’s hot stuff. Considering they get multiple manuscripts a day (all of them lauded as the greatest thing since sliced bread), it is important to stand out. But don’t stand out too much, because anything too different will be approached with skepticism.
TIME GAP: If the editor likes your work and thinks it has a good chance of getting published, they will take your manuscript home and read the whole thing. This is in conjunction with several other promising manuscripts, so this will take a while as well.
The Editorial Board
This is the place where all the editors get together and listen to your editor pitch your manuscript. They will focus on your past experience or popularity (if you have any), the way books similar to yours sold in the last year, and how much money they will make based on these estimates. Very rarely does the phrase “He/She writes well” come up. This is strictly entrepreneurial. Also, the phrase “I think we’ll pass” is heard very often. Very often.
Sales – where do they come from?
The Sales department must verify that your manuscript will indeed make the pre-calculated figures before your book hits the presses. Only then will the editors be given a green light to get back to you with a contract offer.
Marketing, Marketing, Marketing
Marketing will probably be contacted to see if they have any ideas for promoting your book. Suggestions will range from posters in the subway to TV spots. Again, past experience and the ability for potential customers to recognize you will factor greatly.
TIME GAP: Usually a manuscript is on the table for a few weeks at least. If the editorial board decides they like it on Week One, they need to wait until Week Two or Three to get all the information back from Sales and Marketing.
In complete honesty, the rejection letter is as much a part of this journey as any of the other steps. At least several rejection letters are to be expected before you finally make that sale. The rejection letter is a form letter, customized with your name so you don’t feel as bad. They will probably be typed by an intern who has not even read your manuscript. Again, nice editors will include a few sentences of encouragement or explanation, but that is the most you will get.
If your manuscript is accepted, then comes the printers, the proofreaders, the formatting, the publicity agents, the pre-publication copies for circulation, the revisions and requests for changes (and a whole lot more waiting). But those are topics for other posts.
REMEMBER: The traditional trade publishing house is a great big commercial sieve. Their primary focus is to make money to print more books, and it is important to keep this at the forefront of your mind when you submit a manuscript. Being rejected does not mean your book is bad, just that they don’t think it will make them enough money.
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Olivia La Bianca is a Journalism/Creative Writing student, she enjoys all kinds of writing and has a passion for editing and publishing. The most exciting words in the world are “Chapter One”.Find out more at www.writerlyconcerns.