Monday, 11 October 2010


I was driven to write this post by two things: people nagging me politely suggesting it and the horrible moment the other day when someone tweeted that she'd just pre-ordered Write To Be Published on Book Depository and that it would arrive on her doormat in 246 days. Which, considering I have only just finished writing it and it hasn't been edited yet, which it badly needs, is very seriously scary.

She then freaked me out by saying she was also planning to pre-order my book on writing for children. Which is apparently going to arrive on her doormat in 429 days, despite the fact that...brace yourselves...not only have I not written a single word of it but also I also didn't know I'd agreed to write it. So keen is the fabulous Emma Barnes at Snowbooks that she's played a blinder of a tactic. Basically, Book Depository and Snowbooks say I'm writing it, so I must be. Bugger.

Note: I have now agreed to write it, but Write for Children is not the title, and nor is Dec 2011 the pub date. It's to be called So You Think You Can Write For Children? and will be published March 2012. AGES away. Relax.

Anyway. Let's talk about the length of time it takes to publish a book.

Here are two things which don't happen:
A. Author finishes book, sends to publisher, publisher says yes, book goes through editing and production process and is published when it's ready.
B. Publisher says, "Yes, we like your book proposal idea - when do you think you can write it by? Christmas? Lovely. So, we'll arrange our publishing schedule to fit your time-scale. Cheers."
    Here was my first actual publishing schedule:
    1. Egmont commissioned me to write a series of home learning books, based partly on some books I'd self-published. Series to be called I Can Learn. (Which I mention because it became and still is, very successful. And I'm very proud of it. So there. I don't earn much from it, as it's the sort of thing that's based on fees, not royalties, but parents email me and tell me I taught their child to read. So, that's nice. More money would also be nice but you can't have everything.)
    2. At the initial meeting, Egmont said they'd like to publish in twelve months. Lovely, I said.
    3. But the design, illustrations and production would all need to be done after I'd done the planning, layouts and writing of the content, they said. Fair enough, I said.
    4. And all that design, illustration and production would take ten months.
    5. Leaving me with two months? For twelve books?
    6. Um, no, they said.
    7. Oh, so, more than that, somehow? I said
    8. Um, no. Less. See, we need you to do the plan for each book and have it okayed by the team first.
    9. Leaving me with four weeks. For twelve books. From scratch.
    10. Yes.
    Readers, I did it.

    Is that normal? Not exactly, because home learning books are not like full-length books.

    Let's look at two more examples
    1. My recent publishers for fiction and some full-length non-fiction, Walker Books, introduced an exceptionally cautious publishing schedule a couple of years ago, meaning that I/we had to deliver the MS of a novel 17 months before publication date. SEVENTEEN MONTHS?? WTF?

    2. Write to be Published, with Snowbooks, had a delivery date of Oct 1 2010 - done! - for publication June 1 2011. That's a low-normal amount of time and I wouldn't want less time between delivery and publication. After all, my delivered MS could be drivel and need massive editing.

    "Normal" is anything between the Snowbooks and Walker examples. 

    So, what has to be done during the time between delivery of the complete but unedited MS and publication? (Bear in mind that a huge publisher may need more time than a small one, because they have more books to handle and you do need to make sure that yours gets enough attention at every stage. And YOU should be informed and involved at every stage, too.)
    • Editing - including perhaps a major revision. At this stage, you and your editor may send the MS back and forth several times until you both agree everything.
    • Copy-editing - and more going backwards and forwards as the 12-year-old copy-editor suggests foolish changes to your MS and also some very important ones that you really should have noticed.
    • Proof-reading - when tiny typos and widows and orphans and double spaces and wrong sort of commas are spotted.
    • Cover design - and its approval by all parts of the company, and you.
    • Back cover copy.
    • Advance Information sheet with info for Amazon and all booksellers - this AI info is crucial and if it's not right it will be not right for ever and a day.
    • Wooing of major book chains.
    • Marketing plans.
    • Typsetting and production.
    • Insertion into appropriate catalogues.
    • Bribery, corruption.
    • Nail-biting.
    • Sales conference.
    • Sending it to lots and lots of reveiwers who use it to prop up a table.
    • Lots of things to do with distribution which I don't understand.
    • Quite a bit of getting cross because things could always be so much better.
    • The realisation that you've actually written a terrible book and everyone's going to hate it.
    • Eating of chocolate.
    • I've probably forgotten a few things.
    Which perhaps explains why it's not quick.

    Learn the art of Zen.


    Nicole said...

    I'm scared for you! Good luck!!

    catdownunder said...

    Oh miaou - you forgot the pacing backwards and forwards and the certainty that someone else has written an identical book (only rather better) and your critics telling you that you could have done this or that or something else...or does that just happen when you write a thesis at university? Thought not.
    Reading this was nicely refined - torture! I shall return to herding words into their proper places!

    Rebecca Brown said...

    *slinks away and hides* I feel almost infamous now!

    Thanks for the post. As ever, very useful & informative fot us newbies.

    And, by the way, you are CURRENTLY teaching my don to read through the I Can Learns, for which I am one of those grateful parents as well as a slightly hysterical tweeter.


    Ebony McKenna. said...

    It is a bit spooky when the title appears on Book Depository before it's finished. :-) Then again, I find it reassuring because it makes me feel like it's a real thing, and that it will be really happening. For real.

    Mark Jones said...

    We lovely people at the Book Depository just really want you to write the book!

    I thought (self)editing would be the the worst of it...

    Karen Jones Gowen said...

    I especially like the last 3 items on your time line :)

    Catharine Withenay said...

    I'm delighted that chocolate is part of the time-line. Is Gin & Tonic also?

    Go away google said...

    Having been on the other side of that Egmont desk (though not on the I Can Learn project) I feel I ought to issue a sort of evil laugh around now. Believe me, gentle Morgan-readers, on that kind of book the time you allocate to the writer is a small concern among many more inflexible ones.

    Joanna St. James said...

    good luck! and i think this is more of a motivation for you.

    Anonymous said...

    Chocolate is essential! No doubt about it. Great post - thanks!

    Nicole Zoltack said...

    Good luck! Eat lots of chocolate, that's my advice.

    JaneF said...

    And when things go wrong...

    When I worked for an academic publisher, journal articles would sometimes get lost 'in the system' for years.

    Sometimes authors can be too patient!

    Mary Hoffman said...

    No-one needs to be scared for Nicola. Both books will be fabulous.

    Anonymous said...

    That must have been a sleep-deprived four weeks. I'm getting twitchy just thinking about it.

    Rin said...

    Ha ha, excellent post Nicola, you really made me smile. Will ensure I have chocolate on standby should I ever get as far as having a full length MS accepted for publication.

    Nicola Morgan said...

    Rebecca - yes, twas you!

    Mark - ah, you're a Book Depository person, are you? Excellent.

    Book Maven - your faith is touching. Thank you!

    Everyone else - thanks for your good luck wishes. Actually this post was supposed to be directed at all of you, not me...

    Melinda Szymanik said...

    I don't mind the time waiting for the book to come out as much as the time it takes for them to decide on it in the first place. The former is only an eternity whereas the latter is ...

    Alice Turing said...

    One thing that is particularly daunting is the way you can hear nothing from anyone for months and then suddenly you have to deliver a major revision in a small amount of time. For me, it was the foreign-language editor of my book, who asked for a new revision of a full-length novel just weeks after I had given birth to my second child. He was a tiny baby, and they have their very own inner timetables which relate to nothing else on earth. I just had to work whenever he was sleeping, which was sometimes in daytime and sometimes in the middle of the night, and I didn't bother much with sleep myself. I can still remember that awful feeling when I would be on a roll and then the baby monitor at my elbow would transmit the dreaded "waaaaaaaaaah!"

    Colette McCormick said...

    Well that's given me a new perspective. Don't worry though, you'll amke the deadlines.