This post, from mainstream-published author Shannon Hale, originally appeared on her Squeetus website.
Before going through the process myself, I was pretty clueless about the route a book takes to get to the shelf. Here are the major phases of traditional book publishing, based on my own experience.
Offer—When an acquiring editor finds a book she’d like to buy, either from an agent or the slush pile, she then calls agent or author to make an offer (huzzah!). The offer details how much money the publisher will pay the author as an advance on royalties (for a first book, generally $2000 – $10,000), the percentage of royalties the author will get (for a children’s author, generally 10 percent on hardcover, 6 percent on paperback), and the rights the publisher wants to buy (i.e. North American rights, World English, or World. Bloomsbury bought World rights from me, meaning if any of my books are sold for translation, Bloomsbury gets 50 percent of those royalties).
The Counter Offer—Often a counter offer is made, wherein the author/agent negotiates a slightly higher advance, percentage, or asks to retain more rights. This can be brief or haggling might go on for weeks. The actual signing of the contract can delay for months, but once the offer has been accepted, business goes forward.
Editing—For me, this phase lasts six to nine months. See Working with an Editor for more details. After several revisions under my editor’s supervision, we decide the book is ready to go. Such a good feeling! Sometime during the process, my editor is also shopping for cover art, running different artists by me, deciding on a feel and design. Bloomsbury is good at consulting with me, but ultimately the decision is theirs. They send me initial sketches of the cover art for input and accuracy. Eventually, I get a jacket proof in the mail and I go over the front, back, spine, and flap text. That’s always very exciting and makes the book feel more real.
Copy Editing—Now the publisher sends your manuscript to the copy editor (inhouse or outsourced). My editor will send me a xerox of the ms with copy edited notes and I often have just a weekend to go over it. I usually find a couple of errors she missed (though those copy editors are incredibly thorough and very good) and find some changes she made that I don’t want made. I also find adverbs I wrote but now hate and other minor changes. When I go over these corrections with my editor on the phone, our call can last three hours. It’s quite an intensive process, but the ms is so much cleaner for it.
Read the rest of the post, including Typesetting & Proofing, ARCs, Printing, The Release, and Now What? on Shannon Hale’s Squeetus website.