Farmers Market




Lewis & Quark


How does the Publishing Industry Work?

        Greetings, and welcome to a new series where I take an in-depth look at a process to see how it happens. Today, I will demonstrate how our modern-day publishing industry functions, specifically in relation to novels. The best way to illustrate the procedure is by looking at this all from the viewpoint of the author.

        So we have an aspiring writer - let's call her 'Sara' - and she wants to get her novel out to bookstores so she can start making a living off of this hobby. The problem lies in the fact that Sara isn't the only hopeful out there. Thousands of other writers are trying to get published as well, and each publishing company will take the comparatively small number of 10-12 novels and publish those. Already, the problem is shown: they can't publish everybody.

        When someone is an established author, with their name recognized by publishers, it is far easier to publish their work, but for the first-timer, companies aren't just going to take pity. Sara isn't special in that crowd of hopefuls; everyone else is just like her on this playing field.

        Naturally, the effect of this problem results in a rigorous process. Editors have hundreds of manuscripts to go through every day, and they need to separate the wheat from the chaff. Let's break it down.

        The first thing an editor does is check whether or not the manuscript actually complies with publishing company's guidelines. Most publishing companies follow the standard of 1 inch margins, double-spaced, with the font Times New Roman, size 12. Nevertheless, each company can be different. The editor's logic, summed up, is that if the aspiring author in question isn't even going to take the time to read their guidelines, they probably don't have the determination and persistence that it takes to be a writer.

       If the manuscript complies with the company's standard, then the next part is the reading of the first line. Novels need a hook to survive in the competitive, internet age. There is so much entertainment to consume that if a writer doesn't grab the reader's attention quickly enough, the latter will simply go look for a different book. It is the publishing company's job to get their books sold (obviously), so they have to look for what will grasp a readers' attentions as quickly as possible, getting them to buy both paperbacks and hard copies.

        From there, if the editor likes the first sentence, they'll move on to read the first paragraph, and if they like that, then they'll move on to the whole page. At that point, they will be able to make the decision on whether or not to progress to the next stage. The decision in question regards the writer's voice. Voice is an elusive quality, which is hard to pin down exactly as to what it means, but here is how I interpret it. An author's voice is the way the sentences are written, the cadence, the rhythm, the word choice, the humor, and a hundred other factors. Voice is the way a writer tells the story, and if the editor thinks the writer in question doesn't have a good voice, or hasn't cultivated a good enough one, they're out of the running.

        At this point in the process, almost all of the hopefuls have been eliminated. Even if the writing is good, if it's not great, then the author will receive a rejection letter. Every writer has received rejection letters, over and over again until they're either published or they find another career path. The rare event of an acceptance letter, however, can occur if the editor thinks the story is good enough.

        It is a miracle to get even this far. With the acceptance letter in hand, however, Sara has escaped the difficult part of the publishing process. Receiving the letter indubitably proves her skill as a storyteller and an author. Everything is mostly downhill from here. After signing contracts and agreements, the publishing company would put Sara in contact with a professional editor, usually someone from their company, perhaps even the same editor who approved her work in the first place.

        With the editor's help, more drafts are written and revisions are suggested until finally the manuscript is complete. While these revisions are being created, the advertising and graphic design sections of the publishing company are informed about the story. Cover art is created, and advertisements are put out. Finally, Sara's journey can end with the novel's publication, and distribution to local booksellers, likely a deal with Amazon taking place for online orders.

        But wait! This method is only the traditional means of getting published. I will cover, more briefly this time, the other means.

        The first unconventional means of publication differs only slightly from the normal route, and it uses what is called a Query letter. A Query letter is a letter that a writer can send to a specific editor in a publishing company. This can help in two ways: (1) The editor is aligned with the genre of the novel. This fact may come as a surprise, but manuscripts arrive to various editors regardless of genre, immediately reducing an author's chances of becoming published. (2) The novelist can introduce him or herself more professionally to the editor and also has a chance to intrigue the editor about the story.

        Secondly, there are agents. This method, however, has very little chance of success, especially without having published at least one novel beforehand. Agents can interact more directly with publishing companies; they help sort out business dealings and advocate for their writer's work. Once again, however, it is highly unlikely that this means would work.

        After agents, are conventions. Conventions aren't just a great way of meeting up with fellow readers and published authors they're a way to meet editors, too. Often, publishing companies send some of their editors to these events where they attend panels but can also be mobbed by aspiring writers. If a novelist can track down one of these elusive editors and give a successful story pitch, the editor might even agree to look at their manuscript and publish it.

        The final approach is self-publishing. By far the easiest way to get your book onto the web, it is a simple matter to click some buttons with Amazon and publish your book. Unfortunately, because of the ease of this method, the online market is saturated with poor-quality novels. Because of this fact, it is highly unlikely that anyone will even see the self-published novel in the first place. To succeed, the novelist has to figure out the complicated business of self-advertising on the internet, which is difficult but possible.

        That's the publishing industry in a nutshell. Well, not really a nutshell; my explanation did take a while. Nevertheless, those are the important aspects of the business! I hope this has been insightful.


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