Publishing: Everything you’ve ever wanted to know (and then some by LakeGirl)
1. What is an ARC?
ARC stands for Advance Reading Copy. Advance reading copies of books are uncorrected paperback versions of future hardcover books. They usually become available about 4-6 months before a book publishes. They often contain typos, grammar, and type design mistakes, and sometimes even some of the content (usually only a few lines here and there) will be different from the finished book. ARC’s are created for bookstore buyers (the people who decide which books a store is going to sell), librarians, and professional reviewers—basically, all of the people responsible for getting finished books into the hands of consumers (that’s you). ARC’s are not for sale. The publisher prints a limited quantity and they are given to the people mentioned above in order to create buzz for the new book. Occasionally, and especially with books for which a publisher has high expectations, publishers will give away ARC’s directly to readers through their Web sites.
ARC’s are sometimes called “bound galleys,” although technically they aren’t the same thing. An ARC tends to be much closer to the final book than a bound galley, which often won’t have the final cover art and is created from an earlier ”pass” (or, version) of the typeset book. The purpose of an ARC and a bound galley is the same, though.
2. How can I get an ARC of my very own?
The easiest way to get an ARC is to make friends with your local librarian, who might be able to pick one up at one of the big book conventions that happen several times a year. Ask—she might be willing to share it with you. If you know anyone who works for a bookstore, you could also bug them for an ARC (careful though, not every single bookstore gets an ARC of every single book that gets published). And don’t forget to check out the publisher’s Web site. If you know approximately when a book is supposed to release, then you can start fishing around for ARC’s about six months in advance.
If you’re really desperate to get your hands on an ARC or bound galley, you can always try to hunt one down on EBay or at a used bookstore. Despite the fact that every single ARC that gets printed says “Not for sale,” people sell them anyway. Just keep in mind that you’ll most likely be handing over your money to someone who didn’t spend anything for that ARC in the first place. And no money will go to Stephenie, either. All in all, it’s best if you can wait to buy the finished book: it will have considerably fewer mistakes (if any); a durable binding that will withstand multiple reads; a pretty, pretty cover; and, best of all, Stephenie will get paid for all of her hard work!
3. Why does it take so long to publish a book? Doesn’t the publisher know that I need it, like, NOW?
It’s a sad fact of life that the best books always take too long to come out. But you have my word that the publishers are not trying to torture you, personally. The short reason behind the long wait is that making a book is a complicated, multi-step process that almost never works out for the best when rushed.
Here’s the long answer (deep breath):
First, the writer has to write the book. Sometimes the manuscript (ms) is complete when the publisher agrees to publish it; sometimes it isn’t. If the story isn’t done, obviously that’s going to slow down the whole process. But let’s say the story is finished when the contract is signed: First, the publisher has to decide when would be the best time to publish the book. Best-case scenario, they can publish it in 12-18 months. Then the editing process begins. On average—sometimes more, sometimes less—a novel-length ms will go through 2-3 rounds of developmental (or, content) editing. This is to get everything about the story—the plot, characters, themes, etc.—into the best possible shape.
Then, the ms goes into production. A different kind of editor, a copy editor, takes over the manuscript and looks for grammar, spelling, and sentence structure issues, as well as inconsistencies and factual errors. When all of that has been taken care of (it usually takes a couple months), the ms is turned from a Word document into typeset pages (or, galley pages). These pages are what get turned into ARC’s and bound galleys. Now, the pages go back and forth between the primary editor (who works directly with the author), the copy editor and proofreader, and the book’s designer until the pages are completely clean and mistake-free. This step usually takes 2-4 go-arounds. Meanwhile, the book’s cover is being created and perfected by the art department.
While all of this is going on, the marketing and sales departments are hard at work getting the word out that this book is coming. Web sites are built, tours are scheduled, press releases are written and sent out, ARC’s are distributed, and sales calls are made. Some buyers (like the big bookstore chains) tend to make their decisions about what books they’re going to sell—and how many initial copies they want—many, many months in advance of the release date. This means that if the publisher wants to rush a book out, they may not be able to even get it into the stores because the stores have already decided which new books they’re going to sell during that time period. Also, taking all of this time to market and sell the book creates tremendous anticipation for the new book (gee, Stephenie Meyer fans wouldn’t know anything about that, now would they?), which hopefully will pay off in the end by amounting to bigger sales.
Usually about two months before the book is scheduled to release, the master text file and cover art file are sent to the printer and the books are printed and bound. Then they ship to warehouses; then on to the bookstores and libraries.
Finally, keep in mind that most publishers publish lots of books each year, and each and every book has to go through this same process. It takes a lot of time and people to get the job done right.
4. Why isn’t Stephenie Meyer coming to my town (or even my state)?
Every book that gets published gets its own marketing plan, which might or might not involve an author tour. Not every author gets to go on tours; in fact, most of them don’t. Most authors have to be satisfied with doing local appearances and the occasional bit of travel, usually to a conference or classroom visit. The reason for this is that it’s e-x-p-e-n-s-i-v-e to fly people all over the place and put them up in hotels. So, publishers tend to be very selective about who they send on tour, and where. Bestselling authors generally get to tour, and might even get some say in where they go. But where an author visits is usually determined by who the publisher thinks can put on the best events (with “best” being defined as well-attended and where there will be the most book sales). Often, the publisher will try to set up multiple events in the same area in order to cut down on the travel expenses; unfortunately, this means that if you’ve only got one bookstore in your state who wants an author to visit, or a small local fan base, the author probably won’t get to go there. If an author is scheduled to attend a big convention (like the library convos mentioned above), the publisher might also try to set up some other appearances in the area around the same time. Some of the big conventions that authors might attend include ALA, Book Expo America (or, BEA), NCTE, and the National Book Festival.
5. How come certain stores have Stephenie’s latest book already but others are still waiting for it? So. Not. Fair.
Generally speaking, release dates are a problem for every single book published—for fans, bookstores, and publishers. Of course, the more anticipated the book, the more pronounced the problem.
Here’s how it tends to work: A book is given a release date and an on-sale date (sometimes called a publication date or a laydown date; sometimes these are even different from the so-called on-sale date). The release date is when the book is expected to release from the publisher’s warehouse and ship to bookstores. The on-sale date is, at best, approximate, due to variants in shipping and receiving. When you hear a book’s on-sale date labeled as a “laydown,” you need to ask if this is a one-day day down—the difference is that one-day laydowns are strictly held, universal on-sale dates (like what happens with Harry Potter). Usually, bookstores even need to sign a contract saying they will uphold a one-day laydown; the boxes of books then arrive stamped “Do not sell until xx/xx/xx.” The trouble is that most booksellers (the clerks—not the owners or managers) aren’t educated about the different terms—to many of them, “release,” “on-sale,” “publication,” and “laydown” all mean the same thing, with the exception that sometimes “laydown” is misinterpreted as “one-day laydown.” To the best of my knowledge, New Moon was NOT given a one-day laydown. If it was, then, yes, many booksellers are guilty of selling the book early.
Confusing things further is the fact that publishers are constantly changing release and on-sale dates by a week or two in any direction. This usually has to do with printer issues that are beyond the publisher’s control (book printers are separate from publishers; they are hired by publishers to print their books and determine their own schedules). If dates change, it’s often the case that not all accounts (the bookstores) get—or pay attention to—the updated information in a timely manner. So, while all of B&N’s stores might get the new dates (because they’re all a part of one company), the independent stores might not get it as quickly.
As many people have found, often if you go into a store you’ll have better luck finding a new book than if you just call to ask about it. That’s because when you call, the person you talk with probably doesn’t put down the phone to go check the shelf. He just looks up the title on his computer and sees that it’s scheduled to go on sale on xx/xx/xx, so that’s what he tells you. Little does he realize that the receiving department has already gotten the shipment and taken the books to the shelves. Classic example of the right hand not talking to the left.
Whether the to-sell decisions are the result of misinformed sales clerks or last-minute changes by the publisher, the arbitrary-ness of the situation is indeed frustrating, especially for booksellers who think they’re doing the right thing by keeping books off the shelf until the on-sale date, only to learn that they’re being beat out of the gates by the bookstore down the street (or online). Unfortunately, with so many players involved, and each business operating under its own set of rules, it’s pretty much impossible to impose any sort of blanket mandate. One-day laydowns are as close as you’ll get, and even then you’ll find stores that break that rule.
6. Why didn’t New Moon have a one-day laydown?
I don’t work for Little Brown, so I can’t say for sure. But, in general, one-day laydowns are pretty rare—J.K. Rowling, Lemony Snicket, and Stephen King are the only authors that come immediately to mind as authors who get them. They are very hard to enforce and are often tied to complicated marketing plans designed to highlight the importance of the one-day laydown. New Moon has a good post-publication marketing push: The author tour is big, as is the in-store display. But one-day laydowns usually require big pre-publication media pushes (i.e., author interviews with the media, online campaigns, etc.), and that didn’t seem to happen for New Moon.
To be fair, such things are incredibly expensive and it’s unusual for a publisher to put such effort into more than one or two books per season, and especially unusual to see it done for the second book of a series. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of one-day laydowns for future books in this series, though, especially for the last one.
7. Is the editing process really as scary as it sounds? How dare those editors make Stephenie’s life difficult!
I do not actually know Stephenie so I cannot explain her exact experience. But in general, every writer responds to the editing process differently. As Meg Cabot so eloquently put it, some writers are egg layers, some are egg polishers. What that means is that certain writers thrive on just getting the story out there. Others relish in the creative polishing that goes on in the editing process. One way isn’t better than the other; it’s like how some people are good at English and others are good at math. You might enjoy one more than the other, but both subjects are necessary in order to graduate.
The one thing I will say in regards to what I know of Stephenie’s situation is that, usually, the fewer people you have editing your work, the better. A good editor is supportive, constructively critical, motivating, and acts as a sounding board. Ideally, one editor is all any writer needs. However, publishing is Big Business, which means there are lots of chief-types who all have opinions about every single facet of the Big Books. Stephenie’s books are big for Little Brown, so it’s not that surprising that she has to put up with lots of feedback from them.
8. I want to be a published writer too. How exactly do I do that?
Stephenie gives a great answer to this question on her Web site.
Keep in mind that Stephenie’s rise to fame is unusual (as she has freely admitted). It takes most writers years to achieve the kind of success that she’s reached. So the most important thing you can do to help yourself get published is to have patience. Lots and lots of patience. You should also read everything you can get your hands on (especially within the area that you write, whether it is mystery, fantasy or whatever); and, when your confidence is built up, get some feedback from fellow writers. A terrific way to do this is to join a local or online writers’ group. But never, ever send your writing to an agent or publisher without letting someone else take a look at it first.
9. What’s with the cover art on Stephenie’s books? It must mean something, right?
Believe it or not, the author usually doesn’t have much to do with her books’ covers. Kind of shocking, right? It’s her book–shouldn’t she get to pick what goes on the cover? Well, yes…and no. If she has a clear vision of what she wants her book to look like, she can tell her editor and the editor should pass those ideas on to the design department for consideration. But more often than not, the writer doesn’t really know what she wants on the book—she just knows whether she likes or doesn’t like what the publisher decides on (after all, she’s a writer, not necessarily a visual artist). And it isn’t as though the designer just arbitrarily picks an image and type treatment. Cover design is actually an involved process that includes lots of trial-and-error and different approvals, the most important ones coming from the bookstore buyers. That’s because if the bookstore buyer doesn’t like a cover, they might decide to pass on carrying the book at all (talk about judging a book by its cover!). Shocking, I know.
As for the images on Twilight and New Moon, I wasn’t involved with those cover processes, so I don’t know why Little Brown decided on the tulip image over, say, the clock idea that Stephenie has mentioned. Probably they thought it would be a beautiful visual companion to Twilight (which it is) yet still a vague enough image to which people could assign whatever meaning they wanted (again, it is). Is it the best cover for the book? Who knows. Do I think it’s hurting sales or people’s appreciation for what’s inside the book? Absolutely not.
About:: LakeGirl ~ Staff Writer (Publishing Information)
One day in college, LakeGirl was mulling over the one question everyone was asking: What are you going to do with your English degree? That’s when she had the brilliant idea to combine her love of reading with her passion for expressing her opinions. An editor was born. She moved to New York, where she had the thrilling privilege of working with many very cool and talented authors. Now she is back in the Midwest, with her husband and cat, still telling people how to improve their writing (not that she necessarily knows—it’s just her opinion, of course). In her spare time she obsesses over Twilight and reminisces about her days as a band geek in high school.