Archive for August, 2009

When’s that book coming out?

I’ve seen quite a bit of speculation recently about why it seems to take so long for books to be released after the author has turned in his or her final manuscript. So for this post I am taking off my manga letterer hat and putting on my production manager hat.

A couple of things to keep in mind: I work for a large academic publisher, so not all of this translates exactly into trade publishing. Trade production managers, feel free to jump in with any differences. Also note that this is production-centric. There are many other reasons why a book may seem to take a longer or shorter time – for example, the timing of the release might be important for marketing reasons. I am just addressing how long it actually takes to turn a raw manuscript into a bound book.

The basic stages are as follows:

1. Copyediting A professional copyeditor can get through a manuscript at the rate of approximately 125-150 manuscript pages per week, depending on content and the copyeditor’s own workload.
2. Copyedit review This is where the author gets to check the copyeditor’s work and either approve or reject (stet) her changes. It takes as long as the author needs (though we do give them a deadline, of course!).
3. Typesetting Typesetting takes about 100-150 typeset pages/week, though a complex text design can drop that down to 80 pages/week. A simpler design and manuscript can go more quickly. The rate can depend on the typesetter’s workload, too.
4. Proofreading Proofreading can be done by the author and/or by a professional proofreader. It generally goes faster than copyediting; a professional proofreader can go through 150-200 typeset pages/week. Add about a week to ship hard copy proofs back and forth between the proofreader and publisher, between the author and publisher, and between the publisher and typesetter. (Yes, sometimes proofs are distributed electronically as PDFs, but in my experience at this point very few authors and proofreaders are sending the corrected proofs back electronically, too.) Add another week (at least!) for the typesetter to make the proof corrections and deliver finalized files to the publisher.
5. Printing Once the files are sent to the printer, the books are usually bound in about 5-6 weeks. I’ve managed to get very short schedules sometimes, but as usual it depends on the printer’s workload and that everything goes perfectly smoothly.
6. Shipping Books are first shipped (via truck if overland; ship if overseas) from the printer to the publisher’s warehouse. If the printer is in the US, this takes about a week. If it’s an overseas printer in a place like Hong Kong, we’re talking more like 6 to 8 weeks. Once the books arrive at the publisher’s warehouse, they are shipped to retailers and directly to customers. So if you want your copy ASAP, order direct from the publisher to skip the extra shipping step!

As you can see, much of the schedule depends on the length of the manuscript. Let’s work out an example: If you have a 132,000-word manuscript, this is approximately what the schedule will look like.

132,000 words = ~528 ms pages = ~352 final book pages at a trim size of 6″ x 9″ (Warning: Very rough castoff! Can vary widely depending on the text design!)

1. Copyediting 5 weeks
2. Copyedit review However long the author takes. I usually ask for a 3-week turnaround.
3. Typesetting 4 weeks
4. Proofreading 5 weeks
5. Printing 6 weeks
6. Shipping 1 week (domestic); 6-8 weeks (overseas)

So our totals are, roughly:

Domestic printer – 6 months
Overseas printer – 7.5-8 months

You may have noticed that I used the longer amount of time when I gave a range. This is partly to account for administrative tasks and partly as a “buffer” against the many small (or not-so-small) problems that can arise and cause delays. Some problems I have encountered are:

  • Copyeditor has too many projects at once and needs extra time.
  • Author goes on vacation just when he is scheduled to review copyediting or proofs.
  • Typesetter messes up page layout and proofs need to be redone.
  • Library of Congress doesn’t pony up the CIP data until after files are scheduled to go to the printer.

    So when I draw up a schedule, I do build in some extra time (thus avoiding getting everyone’s hopes up and then having to dash them later on when there’s a delay). I would estimate 6 to 8 months as a “normal” schedule from raw manuscript to bound stock in the warehouse for a 300-page book with no color, few figures and tables, printed in the US.

    In addition, there are a number of other things I have not addressed that can add time to the schedule. Some of these include:

  • Text design (can sometimes be done on an early draft of the manuscript)
  • Cover design (usually done in parallel with all the text stuff, but sometimes before the finished manuscript is in production)
  • Indexing
  • Drawing, redrawing/retouching, and/or labeling art
  • Researching and applying for permission to reproduce figures, tables, and articles from other publications (should be complete before the manuscript is turned over to production, but sometimes things will crop up during production, too)
  • And of course, each delay can cause delays further along the line – a delay in returning copyediting can bump the manuscript from the typesetter’s schedule to a later date; a delay in typesetting can cause the proofreader to take on another job and we lose more time searching for a new one; a delay in sending final files to the printer can move that job down in the printer’s queue relative to other jobs that come in on time. So you can see how this can balloon into extra weeks and months of time even on a short and fairly simple book.

    Cutting out any of the first 4 steps can lead to much worse disasters that reflect poorly on both the author and the publisher. I’d be happy to expand on that, but this post is getting awfully long already! I just want to assure you that we never (okay, never intentionally – we are human, too, and humans do make mistakes) let a manuscript sit on our desks for weeks doing nothing. I want your book in your hands as soon as possible, too!