What Happens At Your Publisher After You Submit Your Final Manuscript?

Hi Manuscript Workers,

Just in case you didn’t know, the official release date of The Book Proposal Book: A Guide for Scholarly Authors is NEXT WEEK! The book’s primary goal is to help you increase your chances of publishing success by (1) demystifying the publishing process and (2) guiding you through the creation and submission of the proposal package itself in discrete, manageable steps.

I also had a sneaky secondary goal, which was to use the process of publishing this book as a case study that could further illuminate what actually goes on when you publish a book with a scholarly press. To that end, I’ve been incessantly tweeting about this project since summer of 2019 when I first wrote and submitted the proposal for it. (Sometimes I’m afraid I’ve been a little too incessant about it, but if you’re here reading this, I’m guessing you haven’t noticed or minded much.)

I’ve also written a series of newsletters offering peeks inside the process at various stages:

This brings us to today’s newsletter, which is about what happens after you submit your final draft of your manuscript to your publisher. The details might vary from press to press and project to project, but I’ll tell you what happened in my case (which I believe was pretty typical).

I’m actually only going to cover about half of what happens after submitting a final manuscript. That’s because there are two important publishing processes going on at the same time at this point: production and promotion. Today’s newsletter will be about production. I’ll cover promotion a couple weeks from now.

July 6th, 2020 was the date when I submitted the final draft of my manuscript—the one that had incorporated all substantive changes I intended to make based on the peer reviews and comments from my editor.

There was one major piece of the book still missing at this point: the title. For a couple weeks in July, my editor and I kicked title ideas back and forth. Here are a few of the ideas we considered and rejected:

The Book Proposal Handbook: An Instruction Manual and Reference for Academic Authors (the original working title from my proposal submission)

The First Pitch: A Book Proposal Handbook for Academics

The Big Pitch: A Book Proposal Handbook for Academics

Book Proposals with Power

None of those felt right. Finally, I was talking to my spouse about the title in my kitchen one day, and The Book Proposal Book: A Guide for Scholarly Authors hit me. It feels like an extremely obvious title now but somehow it took over a year to land on it. I shared the idea with my editor and he liked it very much, so that was that.

Two weeks after I submitted my final manuscript, the senior production editor at Princeton UP reached out to me to initiate the copyediting stage. She would handle the first part of it, finalizing the formatting of the manuscript and prepping it to be sent to the freelance copyeditor the press had engaged. A few weeks after that, the production editor let me know who the copyeditor would be and what the timeline was, including the estimated release date for the book.

Two months after I submitted the manuscript, I received the copyedited files to review. I was given about three weeks to review the file and return it with my approvals and amendments to the copyedits. I ended up spending about 8.5 hours reviewing and responding to the copyedits, over the course of one week. (I think that’s definitely on the shorter/quicker side, but I wanted to share my numbers as a baseline for anyone wondering how long this part takes.)

At the same time that I was reviewing copyedits, I received an initial cover design from my editor, with a choice of two color schemes. I slightly preferred one of the color schemes, and had a few suggested tweaks to the design. My editor strongly suggested going with the other color scheme and keeping the design as-is. Because he seemed so certain about it, and has decades of experience selling books, I decided to just go with it. (Ultimately I think he was right about the color — I love how it turned out. To learn more about the cover design from the actual designer, read this post.)

About four months after submitting the manuscript, the production editor let me know who the press had engaged to index the book (I had negotiated for my publisher to arrange the indexing and charge the cost against my royalties when I signed my contract). I was told that I would receive the proofs in about six weeks and would have a month to review and return them. (Three weeks is typical — my month included the week between Christmas and New Year’s.)

Around the same time, I noticed that my book had a webpage and preorder link on the publisher’s website. This was about eight months before the estimated release date.

Five months after submitting the manuscript, I received the typeset proofs and proofreading instructions. At this point I discovered a few relatively major issues that somehow no one had caught during the copyediting stage. The back matter was formatted incorrectly, which I should have noticed before that point, but it became much more obvious once the manuscript was typeset. Fortunately I also noticed that the one image in the book (a flowchart depicting the acquisitions process) didn’t reflect the final version the designer had landed on several months previously. I also found a few passages of my writing that I thought were overly repetitive to the point where I thought they would seem like mistakes rather than editorial choices.

Because these could have been rather complicated issues to fix, resulting in pagination problems and inaccuracies in the index, I asked the production editor if we could have a phone conversation to discuss solutions. I provided suggestions about how to alter the headings in the back matter so that the pagination would not need to change there. And I offered to double check the final version of the index myself before it was typeset to make sure that my removing the repetitive passages wouldn’t affect the page number references there. For the record, this is why authors aren’t supposed to make substantive changes after the copyediting stage! It costs time, labor, and money to create and update the page proofs, so I tried to do what I could to offset those costs myself.

A couple weeks after receiving the proofs, I received a draft of the index from my indexer. I reviewed it right away and we discussed (via email) the entries and subentries I thought could be added, as well as a few other changes and questions I had. The indexer made some of my changes and explained why others shouldn’t be made according to best indexing practices. Within a few days we settled on the final index and she sent it to the production editor.

In total, I spent about 14 hours over 2 weeks reviewing the proofs and index.

Six months after submitting the manuscript, I received the revised proofs. I took one last pass on them and found just a couple tiny lingering issues. I sent the corrections back to the production editor and that was it. The manuscript was finally out of my hands for good and on its way to the printer.

As you can see, this whole production process—at least the parts I needed to be involved in—took about six months. That wasn’t six months of constant work; there were really just a few weeks where I needed to be engaged and ready to spend several hours doing what needed to be done. The estimated timeline the production editor shared with me toward the beginning of the process ended up being very accurate, which allowed me to plan my calendar around when I would need to work on the book.

It took about five months from final-final proofs to actual books being shipped in mid-June, about a month before the official release date. Which is next Tuesday! Hooray!

I hope this rundown helps you know what to expect when you reach this stage with your book. If someone at your press doesn’t give you an estimated production timeline when you submit your manuscript, this is definitely something you can and should ask for. This isn’t nagging — it will help you help them.

Before I go, I wanted to let you know that there’s just a couple days left to register for my Developmental Editing for Academics course. It’s entirely self-paced (and non-interactive) so you don’t have to be ready to complete the modules right this minute. I’m not sure when or if I will make the course available again, so if you think you might want to do it at any point in the future, now’s the time to register. The course is geared toward working editors who want to sharpen their developmental editing skills, but academics who want to learn some techniques for DIY editing their own manuscripts (or offering help to students and advisees) may find the course useful as well.

Sign up now

I’ll be back next week with a celebratory book launch post plus some info on a contest I’ll be running to promote the book. See you then!