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How long does it take to produce a novel?

From time to time, readers ask me questions: and one of the commonest questions is, "when is [X] coming out?" for values of [X] that are usually a novel I've been muttering about for the past couple of years and have finished some time ago. And my usual answer is along the lines of "some time next year (or even the year after)". This typically produces the response, "why does it take so long?" So here's my stab at explaining what happens when you hand a novel in, from the author's point of view (which is horribly skewed and subjective and nothing like the editor's point of view).

The first thing to understand is that a book publisher is typically running a production line. They have a monthly schedule with [n] slots in it, where [n] can be anything between 0 and 20 titles. Typically slots are allocated to authors up to 2 years in advance. A slot might be assigned to J. Random Specialist's learned treatise on the care and feeding of Swamp Guppies (hardcover, est. 2000 sales) or the latest paperback edition of Harry Potter and the Preposition of Noun (slay more forests, lay on more convoys of 18-wheelers). But it's still a production line, which means it runs at a constant speed in terms of the rate at which it pumps out finished products.

(I'm going to ignore the minutiae of marketing and sales, but suffice to say that without them, the book ain't going nowhere. If you're interested in the grisly details, there are plenty of publishing folk who deal with marketing and sales on a day to day basis: for example, Anna Louise — or, from an agent's point of view, Miss Snark. But for now, I'm just going to talk about the production process in genre fiction publishing, as seen from the writer's end of the business.)

Anyway.

Let's suppose you've got a finished manuscript in your hands, and you're an old hand, so it was sold before you even started writing it. You've run it past your focus group and redrafted it, knocked off the rough spots, and given it a polish. What happens next?

You do not send your manuscript directly to your editor: instead, you email it to your agent. (Or print it out and mail them the slices of dead tree; it depends on your working arrangement. As I'm on the far side of an ocean from my agent, we do most of our business by email because it saves a lot of time and money.)

Now, your agent is your reader of last resort. After all, they're on commission: they get a 15% cut of your income, in return for doing their damndest to maximize that income. (Which they indeed do. Tobias Buckell ran an anonymized survey of SF/F writers' advances and discovered that agented books on average get about a 60% higher advance than un-agented ones, and better royalty terms all round.) That's because your agent knows all the tricks the publisher's contracts people will try to pull. And they're also a professional salesperson. And they're on your side.

In my case, I rely on my agent not just for the small print negotiations, but as a sanity check. She's a former editor, and if she raises a red flag over some aspect of a book I'm handing in, I'd better take it seriously. She has a strong interest in not letting me shoot myself in my foot.

However, I'm not her only client, so it will probably take her a week or so to read the book and get her thoughts together once I send it to her.

Once my agent agrees it's ready, she then sends it to my editor, who reads it. Which takes another week or two, because in addition to publishing Charlie Stross, said editor also publishes folks whose sales I can barely dream of, and who are therefore ahead of me in the queue. What's more, they also work for a big corporation in what is largely a managerial role and therefore get to spend lots of time in meetings.

When my editor has read the book and approved it, they notify Finance that the book has been delivered, which causes them (in principle) to send me a cheque for the D&A component of the advance (which can be something like 25% or 33% of the total, depending on how the contract splits up the payments).

Now, the publishing industry habours a dirty little secret: even in this age of high-throughput low-overhead efficiency cultism, some editors like to edit. They will kick the tyres and piss on the fender and get back to the author and say "change this around, and get rid of the happy singing dinosaur in chapter 14". And the author will therefore have to do a whole bunch more work on the book before it's acceptable. For the sake of this essay, the editor I'm dealing withis tired and cynical and knows my agent is on the ball, and if my agent is giving feedback before the book is even delivered, why bother? Which means everything goes smoothly.

(But at another publisher, it's quite possible that the editor will say "change this", and you politely argue the case (30%) or obey (70%), until a satisfactory manuscript is achieved and your editor signs off on it. Which may take months because editors are busy folk and even if you make the changes immediately and email them a revised manuscript, it may be weeks before they have time to read it ... and say "hey, you didn't do what I told you to do! Bad author! No advance!".)

Anyway, once the editor is happy with the manuscript the process of turning it into a book begins. And it is printed out on 11" long strips of dead tree and mailed to an external copy editor.

You know what copy editors do, right?

It takes the copy editor about 2-3 days of wall-clock time to work over a novel. They then send it back to the editor (or rather, to your editor's editorial assistant), covered in red crayon chicken tracks. Bear in mind that postage time eats up 4-10 days either side of this 2-3 day process. $EDITOR then has their intern mail it to $AUTHOR, who is given three weeks to (a) vet the chicken tracks and approve or countermand them, and (b) get them back to $EDITOR. Three weeks may sound generous to you, but bear in mind that the postal time between $EDITOR and myself is at least five working days — there's an ocean between us! And if I'm either travelling on another continent, or down with the flu, that three week turnaround schedule is going to be missed. (In mitigation, any sensible author tries to keep their editors in the loop when they're expecting to be unavailable for more than a week, and tries to find out in advance when a bunch of copy edits is due to land on their desk.)

The Copy-Edited Manuscript (CEM) then goes to Production, along with an electronic copy of the raw manuscript as a Microsoft Word document. (Speculating as to why the publishing industry demands Microsoft Word is futile; it's like death and taxes.) At a pinch they can handle plain text from Joe Stick-in-the-Mud's manual typewriter, but keying it in costs money. Production slurp the Word document into Quark Publishing System or InDesign or another publishing program, and then a typesetter goes through it by hand, transferring the hand-made changes from the CEM, until they have a typeset book block that looks like the real thing. This process probably takes about 3-5 days to do properly (someone has to check it), but it's scheduled in a queue (remember what I said about that production line earlier?) and is therefore at the mercy of all the other jobs in the queue. For example, if it's an election year and H. Beam Piper wins the White House on a write-in vote, suddenly everyone will be rushing biographies of H. Beam Piper through the presses. (This kind of job is like meeting a Challenger tank on the motorway — you don't argue right of way with it, you just get out of its path.)

While this is going on, the book designer takes a look at the MS and the art director reads the marketing synopsis of it and commissions a cover painting and they put their heads together to design a cover. Which the author might be invited to comment on ... or not. (As most authors are not graphic design/marketing folks, they do not necessarily have anything more useful to contribute to this process than, as one editor put it, "squawk! $PROTAGONIST's hair colour is all wrong! I must immediately bring western civilization to a screeching standstill until this is corrected!")

Anyway.

In due course, someone prints out a PDF of the book and mails it to the author. This is still called a galley proof, although it's the end result of a rather different process these days. The author is expected to proof- read it again, and mark up all the little easter eggs and typos that Production introduced into the (always-perfect) CEM. Because, as you know, nobody ever scrawls something illegible on a CEM, or fails to correctly interpret said scrawl. It's another three week turnaround job.

When the corrected galley gets back to the publisher, it gets sent back to production, who update their typeset copy again. Oh, and with any luck the editor also proof reads a copy, and then there's a second round of checking and an external proof reader goes over the corrected galley (if you're lucky and they're not cutting corners this year). One of the laws of publishing is: the worst, gouge-your-eyes-out typo will be discovered by the first reader to open the first shipped copy of the book. It doesn't matter how many typos you hunt down and kill in the production process, there will be more, lurking in dark corners. But that's no excuse for not doing a thorough job ...

Finally the book is approved for manufacturing. Production send it to their printers (who are almost certainly a separate company — publishers don't own printing presses these days, unless they're newspapers, and not always then) and in due course a shipping pallet of hardbacks materializes in the warehouse and is distributed to boostores by the Sales Elves and the Distribution Fairies.

Believe it or not, this is not the end of the story. What's just gone out is a trade paperback or hardcover first edition. There will be errors, and your readers will email you to gloat about their genius in spotting them. So you save these errors up, and after a couple of months you email your little list to your editor, who will sigh and pass them on to production for the second printing or the mass market paperback. When it's paperback time, they'll go through the whole galley proof checking stage all over again, because as likely as not they've reflowed the typeset text for a new page size, and added corrections. But proofing a paperback isn't particularly onerous: most of the mistakes have already been extirpated.

Now, if you've been keeping track, you'll recognize that there are no less than eight mail shots involved in this process, where the manuscript or CEM or galleys have to go walkabout, and for each of which you need to allow a week (as many of them are trans-continental or trans-oceanic in scope. Because it's a whole book, you also need to allow a working week for each interim stage. We're up to 16 weeks, now. You're an idiot if you don't allow 25% for contingency time due to the usual vagaries of business (author has flu, editor is on vacation, typesetter is on maternity leave) so we're up to, say, 22 weeks. There's also disaster time. If the CEM goes missing in the mail on the way back to the publisher and the office photocopy goes missing, then it's possible that you'll have to re-do two steps (i.e. the initial copy-edit and then the author's check), taking another couple of months. Think it couldn't happen? I know an author it happened to just last year. (Me, I have a scanner and I scan my corrected CEMs to PDF before I mail them. But I'm paranoid, I hate checking CEMs, and I take pains to avoid ever having to do it twice.)

A publisher can rush a book through in just 10 weeks, if it's particularly time critical (see "Shock Election Outcome: Dead SF Author in the White House"), but the stolen time has to come out of various other books' schedules, and they also have to throw money at the process to make it work (i.e. expensive courier services instead of relying on the mail).

What you're left with is, a job that should be do-able in 30 weeks, even in the face of disasters, illness, and unscheduled excursions. And guess what? Once you cross out December (because like many businesses, publishing doesn't get a hell of a lot of stuff done in December) there will be approximately 30 weeks between my novel arriving on my editor's desk to the PDF being sent to the printing press.

Now. Can we do this any faster?

In theory, you might imagine all the above jobs could be done using email, Microsoft Word's change tracking facility, and some technical nous. Saving all that postal time would in principle result in a much faster-running production line. But the catch is, not everyone uses Microsoft Word. Not everyone is technically ept, or able to use Word's change tracking facility effectively. A publishing company has to be flexible enough to deal with uber-competent geeks and eighty year olds who still write everything in longhand and don't have email at all, or even a fax machine ... but who have an enormous and loyal readership. The production line can only crank out a finished product at the speed at which the slowest raw material supplier produces input. Also, if you try to run a production line faster, the effect of any delay is amplified. Delivering something a week late into a 30-week process isn't critical. Deliver it a week late in a 4-week process, and you can screw everything up. From the publisher's business point of view, consistency is more important than speed; thus, there is a positive incentive for larger publishers not to hurry things along.

Small presses are lithe, nimble, and lean. And they usually have laser printers and understand email. My Laundry novels were originally bought by Golden Gryphon, who're small enough that the editor handles copy editing issues himself. So we worked on the copy edits by bouncing annotated Word files back and forth in email and using change tracking. The trouble is, because it took about one minute (instead of five days) to deliver the CEM, we kept going back and forth across it, picking up more issues. The book got a very thorough copy-edit indeed, but the process ended up taking about as long as a normal pencil-and-paper cycle. On the other hand, there was no risk of the MS getting lost by the Post Office, we saved a bunch of shipping costs, and we probably did a better job on it.

Typesetting at a small press follows the standard pattern, except that rather than mailing me a dead tree they often email me a PDF, and I email back lists of changes: this ends up saving maybe two weeks in postage time. However, due to the repeated copy-edits using change tracking, the galleys were very clean compared to the normal pencil-and-paper routine: because they were typesetting from an already-corrected electronic CEM, rather than importing a rough manuscript file and then hand-inputting scribbled changes from a paper CEM.

The moral of this story is, if your editor, your typesetter and your author are technologically literate and have the right tools at each end, you can do the whole job a whole lot faster. But this was a small press, only publishing about four books a year. Companies who deal with hundreds of authors have to be able to handle everything between Neal Stephenson (writes his own Emacs LISP macros to format the output he wants to deliver) and Joe Schmoe who still uses a fountain pen and pays a copy-typist because he never learned to type. You can feed the technically literate types into the pencil-and-paper chain and they'll just grumble a bit and get on with it, but if you expect Joe Schmoe to grapple with Word's change highlighting facilities you're going to get a nasty shock to the production schedule.

And this is why, in a nutshell, my novels take somewhere between 6 and 18 months to appear after I deliver the finished manuscript.

36 Comments

1:

Ouch. I'd read up and learnt as much as I could about the whole process to try and figure out what I was letting myself in for.

But na'er did I really consider that it was this painful.

So...when's your next book out?

2:

Thank you so much for the author's-eye-view of the process! I've been trying to spec out what would be needed to start my own publishing/press company, and this gives another, very interesting page to the book (as it were).

So I guess my question is this: which do you like better? Is the increased sales (and cash flow) enough to make up for the longer lead time in publishing? Or did you like working with the smaller publisher better? And would you work with a smaller publisher again, assuming you could carry your readership back with you?

3:

"One of the laws of publishing is: the worst, gouge-your-eyes-out typo will be discovered by the first reader to open the first shipped copy of the book."

Second law of publishing: that first reader will probably be the author.


4:

Everything you never knew you needed to know, and now wish you didn't. Just imagine what it was like before e-comms, in the days of seamail. Is that the last chapter in your forthcoming book, how to be a writer and not starve?

5:

This is just the "critical path" of the algorithm. The strange things that can happen, each of low probability but high weirdness, are where debugging becomes either essential or too late.

Ted "Hypertext" Nelson famously wrote: "Literature is debugged."

What is debugged is actually just the chaotic attractor for the trajectory of all possible book evolutions.

I've had the proofreader's marks on the captions to the photos printed as if they were the captions. I've had whole paragraphs by Ray Bradbury disappear from a coauthored piece in an anthology. I've had my name disappear from the title page. I've had one publisher buy another in mid-stream and each thought that the other was to send me the royalty. I could go on -- but Charlie and his interactive readers can probably describe many stranger and funnier anomalies.

6:

Cumbersome as this process may be, it still provides many opportunities for error correction. In the old days, it was not so. Books were hastened into type from handwritten manuscripts, there were no proofs for the author to correct, and the original manuscript was mashed, scribbled on, and generally destroyed during the course of production. Which is why there are few or no manuscripts from the high-volume writers of the 19th century like Dumas or Balzac.

If the book had serial publication first, the author had a chance to make corrections between the magazine version and the bound work, but often the book was set into type straight from the magazines.

(I have viewed Jules Verne's original manuscripts, which somehow survived this process, I assume because of his close relationship with his editor. Incredibly neat, incredibly tiny handwriting in a narrow column down the left-hand side of the page, with the right side of the page reserved for Verne's notes to himself, copy-edits, alterations, his calculations [as for example his cannonball to the moon], and suggestions from his editor.

(I also noted that Captain Nemo's last words were changed. In Verne's original, Nemo cried out "Liberty!" before he passed. Verne himself changed this to "God and Fatherland!", though possibly it was at the suggestion of his editor.)

I'm reminded of the story of the Henry James novel--- possibly =The Golden Bowl= but I'm not sure--- that had an unusual structure, with some of the action out of sequence. Decades of academic criticism were written on why James had chosen to write the book in such an unusual fashion, when (in the 1970s, I think) some researcher thought to look at James' original manuscript. Turns out the publisher had inverted the order of two chapters, and that James had never read the book after publication and never noticed.

Oops.

7:

For a time, I was the production director of a weekly newspaper in a Central European country. It was instructive to learn how many things could go wrong, even when everyone involved in the process was sober, and the list is every bit as long as JvP suggests above.

8:

That was a very *large* nutshell! I'm exhausted reading it and I even knew the process going in! :)

9:

Thanks, Charlie, that was a much more complete and uptodate version of the author's eye view than I've seen in awhile. It's been some decades since I was directly involved in publishing, and it seems like things have changed in detail but not in the overall scheme of things.

BTW, I think you ought to write this process (minus the discussion of electronic transmission) up in patentese, call it the "Publishing Pipeline", and go after the big publishers who use it. If you get a rabid enough lawyer you might even push them into improving the process out of self defense:-)

Now, I'm curious about something: you've described the pipeline and some of the things that can go wrong, but I don't see anything that would explain why you would end up with 4 new books published in one year (if I can count Missle Gap). In the normal course of events, deviations from the 30 week norm should even out between books, shouldn't they? Or did you write them all in parallel?

10:

I can tell you from the designer's/typesetter's P.O.V., the standardization on Word is kind of momentum nowadays. Quark always preferred Word files. InDesign picked up the same trait. They're both able, conveniently, to pick up the style settings that Word uses, and if properly set up, automatically match those Word styles to the appropriate InDesign/Quark style. (Hence, flowing an entire book's work of text in, in style, with just about 2 clicks.) And it makes sense that you'd want a text format that can handle rich text, so that besides styles, you can also have "advanced" typographic characters. And for the Typesetter, Word has some of the best tools for cleaning up rich text. (Have received and processed over 5,000 word files, and never yet met one that didn't need "cleaning").

More than anyone cares to know, probably, but...

11:

Bruce: why four books in one year ...?

Firstly, "Missile Gap" is a novella. It was published last year in a limited-edition SFBC anthology, so this is effectively a republication.

Secondly, "The Jennifer Morgue" got squeezed out in the gap between two Ace and Tor books. After Tor chopped the original MS of "A Family Trade" in two, I was already well on the way with "The Clan Corporate" -- but they then had three books to publish instead of two, so it took a while for them to catch up. Meanwhile, I was doing a book a year for Ace. Thus, I had time to squeeze "The Jennifer Morgue" into the gap between two titles, in a year when I effectively wrote two and a half novels.

"Glasshouse" was also an odd one. I wrote the first draft in about a month, in a mad rush during a very fertile productive period, and got myself a whole year ahead of my Ace schedule.

Subsequently I've been in a much less productive period (less than two novels a year in 2005; only two novels in 2006) but I've still had enough works in the pipeline to look prodigously productive from the outside.

Part of the effect of that long production line at the book publishers is to even out such bursts of productivity. Next year folks in the UK who don't read this blog are going to think I've gone nuts -- they're due to get Glasshouse and both Laundry novels showing up for the first time the same year. But that doesn't mean I wrote three novels in 2006 ...

12:

R.I.P. Grandmaster Jack Williamson [1908-2006].

May you live longer and write more books than he, Charlie. *sigh*

=======================

Posted at Kathryn Cramer's blog by JVP.
http://www.kathryncramer.com/kathryn_cramer/2006/11/by_the_way.html#comments

=======================

Let us not forget what Science Fiction is all about.

SF Grand Master Jack Williamson, born 1908, died yesterday (Friday 10 Nov 2006) afternoon at his home in Portales, New Mexico, at the age of 98.

See Locusmag.com, and hotlinks including to wikipedia.

I introduced my wife to Jack Williamson when we met by
chance at a no-longer extant Pasadena restaurant, Brotherton's. Jack was in town for the Voyager encounter with Neptune, but did not have an invitation to JPL. I phoned Jerry Pournelle, who quickly got Jack
a VIP invitation. Jack had flown to southern California from New Mexico, in a small plane piloted by his older friend, a Dr. Champaigne, who I recall as 96 at the time.

Jack Williamson: covered wagon to outer planets. We shall not see his likes again.

Posted by: Jonathan Vos Post at Nov 11, 2006 2:39:09 PM

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13:

A fascinating description of the steps involved and very informative for the 99.5% of the reading public who are not involved in the publishing industry. Thanks for making it all so much clearer.

Re your MS Word comments plus all that dead tree shipping and the constant need to enter/reenter manual changes from dead tree copies with chicken scratches, etc.: It sounds like having one central copy of a MS that *everyone* works off at each stage of the process (after the initial writing at least) would improve things, at least accuracy-wise? Sounds like a job for (an improved, probably customised-for-publishers) Google Docs. Those pen-and-ink guys aren't getting any younger and Google-literacy is growing faster than almost any aspect of the net or computers in general.

Of course the next thing is to eliminate all that tiresome waiting for people to read it lag time - an AI to "assist" (i.e. replace) copy editors should be possible in the not-too-distant future. Beyond that I cannot see, the singularity gets in the way...

14:

Whoa. Thanks a lot. That is scarily thorough.

15:

I started emailing my manuscripts to the editors a while ago. Baen was early with that stuff, and went over to doing their own typesetting electronically very early too. I haven't sent anything on dead tree in a decade.

Most of my editorial consultation and rewrite is done exclusively by email now too, up to the page-proof/galley stage.

This all saves a _lot_ of time. My very first book was written on a manual typewriter.

There's a good time-travel story by Harry Turtledove, where a SF author from the future goes back to 1948, and rapidly wins a name with stories such as "Neutron Star" and the weird but compelling "Time Considered As A Helix of Semi-Precious Stones". (And "Tet Offensive", "Watergate" and "Apollo 13").

Another SF writer susses her out (she publishes a story he's in the middle of writing) and together with a John W. Campbell analogue, go to confront her.

One thing they see is a personal computer used for editing text. They cry out with heartfelt pain: I WANT THAT GADGET!

16:

My memory is a little hazy, but didn't someone at the publisher's - maybe even in the typesetting - 'revise' 'Ulysses' because they couldn't tolerate the content? And that was what we have come to know as one of the seminal works of art of the 20th Century.

I seem to remember a de-revised version being published a few years ago.

Sorry, I can't be more precise, finding Joyce as easily readable as post-'Midnight's Children' Salman Rushdie.

17:

Ugh, Word. Can't people use LaTeX or similar?

Sure, that's what typesetters get paid for, but using Word is very not fun.

18:

David: Ugh, Word. Can't people use LaTeX or similar?

Nope. Quark and similar commercial publishing systems are rather poor at importing LaTeX source files, oddly enough. And your typesetter is probably being paid $20-40 per hour. You do not want to get them to manually re-key a novel, or even waste time stripping out LaTeX codes and marking everything up again, because you're talking days to weeks of work and a substantial chunk of the profit margin on a typical midlist novel. Throughput is everything.

Again, why don't they typeset books in LaTeX instead of Quark? Answer: because it's bloody hard to redesign the layout in LaTeX -- those skills aren't common in the marketplace for $20-40 per hour typesetters, you really need to be a programmer in order to re-write a bunch of LaTeX macros. Book design in commercial publishing changes pretty regularly, and the overheads of using a non-WYSIWYG typesetting technology militate against it. Otherwise they'd still be using Scribe or Roff-type systems as they did in the 1980s.

(Word is !fun because it's a bastard collision between two different text preparation paradigms, steamrollered flat and homogenized beneath an inappropriate user interface, then turned into a horrendously complicated baroque mess of extra features by marketing fiat. It has become the industry standard through inertia rather than merit. I am not here to defend Word, but to explain why the industry works in a certain way. If you want to give authors the dizzy freedom of submitting manuscripts in LaTeX with the SFFMS macro set, then by all means write free Quark and InDesign import filters. Otherwise ...)

19:

Ugh, Word. Can't people use LaTeX or similar?

I've written two theses in my life, the first one using LaTeX and GNUPlot and the second one using Word and Excel. The second option was by far the easier. The problems I ran into with LaTex:

1. I had to change the formatting to comply with the university's requirements. This turned out to be very painful.

2. The documentation sucked. The LaTeX community seemed to operate by word-of-mouth. The only way to get anything non-trivial done was to ask one of the longtime enthusiasts.

By contrast, the only real problems I ran into with Word was some screwyness with diagrams embedded in text. Word kept moving the diagrams around, and chose placement poorly.

That said, I don't want to go too far in defending Word. Whatever if was designed for, it sure as hell wasn't elegance. I think somewhere in the midst of the bloat that is a modern word processor, is a handy and elegant little package with a well-defined feature-set. The closest I ever came to it was WriteNow on the Mac.

20:

Someone should make Neal Stephenson cough up those Lisp macros...

21:

A similar slow and error-prone process, with crummy odds, for those who seek a certain type of day job, occurs in another medieval industry: the University. The overlap with your nutshell is in the book publishing process for acedemic presses, which differ in more ways from SF novels than low print runs and microscopic advances and royalties.

Nice nutshell here:

A primer on faculty searches

It's been suggested that it would be valuable for me to post a brief description of the faculty search process. An obvious disclaimer: this is based on my experience, and may not generalize well to other
departments with vastly differing cultures or circumstances. Anyway, here are the main steps in a search:

1. The search gets authorized. This is a big step -
it determines what the position is, exactly: junior
vs. junior or senior; a new faculty line vs. a
replacement vs. a bridging position (i.e. we'll hire
now, and when X retires in three years, we won't look
for a replacement then).
2. The search committee gets put together....

22:

Has Golden Gryphon any plans to ship Jennifer Morgue? I notice from your last comment in that thread that they should have got the books, with new dust covers. Amazon is showing the book in stock, but no happy package of joy has shown up at my doorstep.

Anyone who complains about using Word should pause for a moment to think about the even worse fate of those forced to use WordPerfect. That once great program is a real nightmare to use. While Word is bloated, often intrusive, and far from perfect; WP is stunningly bad. Going back to word after a year with WP was a relief.

23:

Buckethead: I got mail from my editor on November 4th saying "THE JENNIFER MORGUE will be shipping next week, unless the truck with the books burns up, or something else equally as dreadful." But remember, it's a warehouse distribution job. Cartons of books don't travel by FedEx courier as a rule -- they take between one and three weeks to filter out to the wholesale warehouses and thence to the bookshops and direct customers.

24:

Thanks for the info - Golden Gryphon's site is not a fount of information regarding ship dates. Hopefully we can avoid truck fires and alien invasions long enough for me to enjoy your book.

25:

Thanks, Charlie. Very instructive.

Now, how about a post on how long it takes you to "write" a book and the process involved in that? :)

26:

Fortunately from my perspective, Open Office saves out word files pretty well :)

27:

Just to confirm, I'm in Philadelphia and looking at a real live copy of THE JENNIFER MORGUE right now. (The ones for the shops should be along shortly -- this one came to meet me via FedEx.)

28:

Posted by: Buckethead: "Has Golden Gryphon any plans to ship Jennifer Morgue? I notice from your last comment in that thread that they should have got the books, with new dust covers. Amazon is showing the book in stock, but no happy package of joy has shown up at my doorstep."

I got mine back on the 14th.

"Anyone who complains about using Word should pause for a moment to think about the even worse fate of those forced to use WordPerfect. That once great program is a real nightmare to use. While Word is bloated, often intrusive, and far from perfect; WP is stunningly bad. Going back to word after a year with WP was a relief."

I did that, a couple of years ago, on a campus PC - I was having trouble sticking a graph into Word, and WordPerfect was on the machine. I hadn't used WP for about five years; I found out that those five years had been rough on the ol' WP.

29:

How on earth do the Harry Potter plots remain secret during that sort of process? Threats involving cattle prods to the family jewels?

30:

Welcome to Tony Quirke prison. You're here by special rendition, right?

Right.

I'm Ali. I'm accused of web 2.0 fundraising for terrorists. Mustapha there is accused of recruiting in Second Life for for the embassy bombings. How about you?

Well, I'm a copy editor. I found out who dies in Harry Potter 7...

31:

That was very informative for me, I was very curious about the process that a book goes through.

32:

Charlie, I am not surprised that you have a copy, seeing as you wrote it - but I find myself jealous of Barry. Dark Forces must be aligning against me.

All I need is TJM and the new Schlock Mercenary book, and I'll be happy. Well, that and for the home loan underwriter to rouse him/herself from slumber and send the letter so I can move into the new house over Thanksgiving. That's all I need.

33:

Well, I'm a copy editor. I found out who dies in Harry Potter 7...

Could be worse.

"Well, I'm a copy editor. I found out who dies in Harry Potter 3."

"But no. 6 has been published!"

"Well, yeah, but they don't seem to have any procedure for letting people go..."

34:

If you want to give authors the dizzy freedom of submitting manuscripts in LaTeX with the SFFMS macro set, then by all means write free Quark and InDesign import filters.

Apparently Quark already has HTML input filters. Writing a translator from a subset of LaTeX to a subset of HTML seems like a pretty trivial task. At least one program already does it, but the output might not be the subset of HTML that imports cleanly into Quark.

If I read your post correctly, all you need is a way to slurp text into a Quark text box while preserving certain text styling information. You don't need to preserve fancy layouts or whatnot. What's preventing you from doing this now?

35:

"While this is going on, the book designer takes a look at the MS and the art director reads the marketing synopsis of it and commissions a cover painting and they put their heads together to design a cover."

Slight correction: this usually takes place weeks, and more often months, before the copyediting stage.

And often the art director will see the art description (usually written by the editor, or possibly the editorial assistant/assistant editor) first at a preliminary production meeting and then take it away to be processed as paperwork along with assigning the job to an artist.

Also, somewhere in there, unmentioned by you, at the larger houses the book, or at least a summary of it attached to the book, gets assigned to a copywriter (at smaller houses such as Tor and Baen, this is usually done by the editor or editorial assistant/assistant editor, last I looked, which is a while ago) for some copy to be done for the monthly bulletin for sales and to the trade, and maybe for an ad, although again that might be handled either by the editor or possibly a promotion department.

36:

Boy, what a downer. Thanks Charlie. It seems even the writing is done done to a production schedule once you've arrived. But hey, writers gotta eat too. Want to thank you for inspiring this week's War Room blog of the extreme other side of the whole equation/adventure: w/ links to your wonderful eye-opening quasi-expose here.

How to write your first novel:
http://www.fairwriting.com/blog.php#20061120

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on November 10, 2006 10:55 AM.

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