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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!


    Ahahaha, I just discovered the 801 Media YouTube channel! Here are the books I worked on: The Devil’s Secret (kinda odd, melancholy music – the book’s a comedy) and The Prime Minister’s Secret Diplomacy (ah, so pretty). Man, I can’t watch those all the way through…all I can think about is: “Why did I break the lines there? And that isn’t centered at all! What was I thinking??” *shudder*

    Wow, I have to start following the 801 Media blog again – they had a guest post by Ruri Fujikawa!

    #amazonfail: The aftermath

    I realize it’s been about a decade, Internet-time, since the events of #amazonfail, but I dislike leaving my last post with no follow up. (I got busy last week finishing On Bended Knee. All turned in now; just corrections left!)

    I don’t think Amazon is anti-gay. That said, however, there are a couple of things that are rather troubling about the incident. First, as you probably know, Amazon took about an Internet-year to respond to the crisis and basically said, “Calm down, kids, Daddy’s taking care of it.” Via AP. No direct response? No apology? No explanation? Saying “We know about the ‘glitch’ are are fixing it” isn’t exactly enough to inspire confidence these days. Their response frankly made them seem archaic and it does not bode well for their ability to adapt speedily in the future.

    More disturbingly, why were these particular books (some gay- and lesbian-themed, some feminist studies, some straight erotica etc.) specifically flagged in the first place? And why weren’t the anti-gay books similarly flagged? (Not to mention straight mainstream porn?) Very suspicious, Amazon!

    So now we have been made graphically aware of how easy it would be for one large retailer to influence what consumers can access. This time someone spotted the issue and the word was spread rapidly (which was amazing to watch, incidentally. Go, Internet!), but what about next time? It was the final straw for me, at least; I am researching alternative bookstores now (IndyBound! A Different Light!) and have stopped using my credit card.

    BTW, I also wrote to cancel my Amazon Associates account — not exactly a hardship, since I never actually made anything with it — and made the mistake of telling them amazonfail was part of the reason. They wrote back the by-now-standard excuse (“We recently discovered this glitch in our systems regarding GLBT books and it’s being fixed.”) and didn’t cancel my account! I have to write them AGAIN. How irritating.

    I admit, one thing I’ll miss from Amazon is the universal wishlist. I’ve been looking into others; I used a while ago and didn’t care for it; Kaboodle looks promising, but I haven’t really checked it out yet. Anybody got recs?

    (Hey, my Twitter feed is showing up again! It’s like magic.)


    Today Smart Bitches, Trashy Books redefines Amazon Rank.

    Read more here, here, here, here, etc.

    ETA: Removed my Amazon links for Recent Books in protest. Should’ve been linking to the publishers’ websites (or affiliates) anyway! Amazon takes a big cut from publishers’ profits, too–always better to buy direct if you can. If you’d rather buy via a retailer, here’s a list of non-Amazon online bookstores. Also, there’s a possibility Powell’s may have a sale on LGBT books!

    (In other news, I don’t know why my Twitter feed is no longer showing up….)

    Old news

    I have been remiss in not blogging about the fact that Yen Press announced their new BL license at NYCC: The Crescent Moon Story by Hyouta Fujiyama! And I’ll be lettering it, yay. That will bring me back to my roots, as the first manga I ever lettered was also by Fujiyama-sensei. It seems like a cute story and I like her artwork, so I’m looking forward to working on it.

    In other old(ish) news, Higurashi 2 is out. Ah, that series is so insane. My favorite pages are 204-205, naturally. 😛 (And why are the volumes so long? Just wait until volume 2 of the Cotton Drifting Arc – 274 pages! Of CRAZY. It’s pretty awesome.)

    Coming out* next: Mr. Flower Bride, Yen’s second BL title. Yes, with Crescent Moon Story I’ll have lettered 3 of their 4 BL titles so far (I tried to fight Tania for Love Quest, too, but what kind of chance did I have against someone in-house? Sigh! 😉 ).

    *Heh. (Sorry.)

    How I got started in manga lettering

    Luck had a great deal to do with how I get into manga lettering. I am lucky enough to have a friend from college who is not only even more manga-obsessed than I am, but far more proactive in going after what she wants. Somehow, she got to know just about everyone in the industry (or so it seems to me) even before she landed an actual job in manga publishing. Around a couple of years ago, one of the publishers she knew was looking for new letterers and set her up with a lettering job. When I heard about it from her, I (of course!) begged to be introduced. Fortunately, the publisher was open to other new letterers and the production manager was kind enough to take a chance on me. I guess I did okay, since they kept sending me work after the first book.

    In terms of prior experience, I had about a year and a half of book production management under my belt at the time. I was interested in book design, but had no professional design experience. I also knew Photoshop inside and out, though, again, I had no professional experience and I certainly wouldn’t consider myself an artist. I don’t know how much of that they took into consideration when hiring me: I had little experience that was directly related, but I was familiar with Photoshop and book production. Photoshop is definitely a prerequisite; one of the publishers I’ve worked for uses Photoshop and Illustrator; the other requires Photoshop and InDesign. I imagine others use Quark, too, so I’ve become proficient in all of them (though I hardly ever use Illustrator).

    But notice my post isn’t called “How to get started in manga lettering” – I don’t know how other people into it, after all! However, it can’t hurt to introduce yourself to publishers at cons to get your name out there (also known as “networking” 😉 ). If they don’t have any openings at the moment (and now is a really bad time, unfortunately), they may very well keep your contact info on file in case they need new people in the future.

    Anyone else want to share their stories about how they got into the biz?

    NYCC coming up this weekend

    I was really on the fence about whether to go to NYCC this year – last year I just spent most of the con hanging out at the Yen Press booth, getting in the way, and it didn’t seem quite worth the entry fee and the long, cold walk over to the Javits Center. But now that it’s almost upon us, all the excitement from my friends and the possibility of running into some industry people I haven’t seen in a while are making me want to go. It’ll be good networking, right? 😉 And I can always take the crosstown bus.

    (Okay, I may also be slightly influenced by the fact that Sakurai Sho is going to be there.)

    In other news, I added the feed to my Twitter (which I update with far more regularity than this) over on the side. So stalk away, Internet! (Why “danasmyth,” you ask? A play on David M. Smyth, inventor of machine book sewing. Yes, I am a book production geek.)