Coming from an online publishing background ("Never wrong for long..." "The client wants their advertorial up yesterday..." "Copy and paste! Copy and paste!" and so on) sometimes the pace of book publishing really stops me in my tracks.
I mean, literally, there are pauses in the process where I feel ridiculously idle because there's nothing for me to do. And you know what? I like it. I like the attention to detail, the many, many layers of editorial scrutiny, the luxury of a whole team of people working on making my book that absolute best that it can be. Getting it right first time, rather than just getting it online first.
I've been really lucky this last year. People have been overwhelmingly lovely about my book news, and have all promised to buy Try Not to Breathe when it's released. Obviously, I have taken these polite assurances as 100% gospel truth and am going to demand proof of purchase from everyone I know come January.
But there is one question that I keep getting asked and, if I'm honest, it can get a little bit grating, so I thought I'd explain...
Question: "Why does it take so long for your book to come out if you've already written it?"
TLDR answer: Because it's not just a case of pressing print.
I've been asked a variation of this question more times than I can count. I'd like to think it's not being said in a sceptical, "so you're claiming you have a book deal, where's the proof?" kind of way but, y'know, it's asked a lot.
So here's the answer.
Many steps along the road to publication are one-shot things. Getting an agent, for example, takes a long time. It takes three polished first chapters, a really succinct but also, somehow, comprehensive synopsis and an attention-grabbing covering letter that also doesn't make you sound nuts. And then if you're lucky enough to get a request for the full manuscript, you want to make sure that's as good as it possibly can be. Because no agent in the world has the time or inclination to say "underneath the typos and missing scenes and plot holes and two dimensional characters, this manuscript is gold, so just keep trying and sending numerous redrafts to me". I'm not being bitchy, by the way. Every first draft has all those things, including mine, that's why it's so important to edit and edit and edit.
So fast forward, you have an agent and they've given you great advice and guidance on how to further polish your work, you've done that, they've submitted it to editors at publishing houses and one of them has bought it. Brilliant. I mean, pinch me, this is already an amazing thing. They've invested in you and your work, and they - like you - want that investment to pay off. From this point, it's likely to be a year - at least - before that book ever sees the strip lighting of a bookshop or the click of a mouse.
My debut novel was sold to my UK publisher in October 2014, it will be first published in January 2016. And that's not abnormal, far from it.
So, what happens in this year plus change?
Firstly, it might be sold to other publishers for different regions (sound the horns, this is awesome) which then means this process somewhat duplicates for each of those regions and languages (so add in translation time for some books).
Your book, your pride and joy, your baby, still needs work. Your editor will have changes he or she wants you to make, themes to be make clearer, characters to be developed, or sometimes removed or blended with other characters. Perhaps there are some flabby bits to be cut, or sub plots to be tightened up. And sometimes the pace needs some work. As an author, you're likely to receive a fairly lengthy note detailing these requested changes, with a deadline in which to turn them around.
Once you've made the changes, there may still be a few elements that your editor thinks could be better. And they'll be right, so you make those changes and then maybe you might repeat this all over again. And it's worth it.
Meanwhile, at the publishing house, there will be meetings to decide when best to publish your book, taking into account what else is being published and when. As a debut novelist, do you want to be published at the same time lots of really established star writers? No, of course not. So there are some slots of the year that are better for debuts.
Your manuscript will now need a really close line-by-line edit. And you'll make changes accordingly. So all typos and whoopsies will be picked up then, yeah? WRONG. You're talking around 100,000 words, it'll still take a copy editor or two to go through and scoop up any mistakes. They'll also send back questions like (real example) "Would this character really have had a Walkman in that year?".
Around the nine-month pre-publication mark, the publication date and list price will have been decided, and the marketing, publicity and sales teams will have been briefed on your book and will be drawing up plans.
It doesn't have a cover yet, so they'll be working on that too. (Like how I made that sound like it ain't no thing when it's actually an INSANELY big thing?)
So when the words are all perfect and the cover has been designed and it's been listed with booksellers and the details have been added to your publisher's catalogue and on their website (like this), then you'll get to see the words as they'll appear in print. In my case, I've just gone through the pages from my US publisher and made my last few little changes. It's pretty breath-taking to see how the pages will really look, the typefaces that have been chosen and the pretty little details that you take for granted as a reader.
In the case of my UK release, I'm waiting (hopping from foot to foot with excitement) to see and TOUCH my first bound proofs. This is the version of your book, with cover, that is sent to early readers like other authors. This is also incredibly nervewracking and first day at big schoolish so I won't dwell.
There will then be several months of publicity activity to help potential readers know that the book is coming and why they'll like it. There will be copies sent to journalists and book bloggers, and eventually the finished book itself will be printed and boxes will be sent to bookshops and online retailers. If you're lucky, you might get to have a launch party.
So, I'm not there yet, I'm still over six months out but things are already ramping up. Oh, and obviously there's the little detail of writing the second manuscript.
It's worth it. It's all worth it. It's dream come true stuff. It's try harder and care more than ever before stuff. But it is not quick stuff. And that, in the opposite of a nutshell, is why it takes so long to be come out even though it's already been written.