On the train home this evening, INTERN had a nice conversation with an older woman who, upon learning that INTERN was pseudo-employed in the publishing industry, asked the question that forms the title of this post.
It is a great question. In this age of Print-on-Demand, when you can bang out a novel over the weekend and load the back of your station wagon with boxes of objects more or less resembling books by Tuesday morning, the geologic time in which a traditional publisher cranks out a book must seem absurd. Psychotic, even. Assuming the contract is already signed and the manuscript delivered, how in hell does it take another ten months to (train-lady’s words again) just print the damn thing and stick it in stores?
For you then, dear train lady, here is a partial list of reasons publishing a book takes so effing long.
1. Publishers are working with a list, not just one title.
This is super-obvious, but easy to forget. If your publisher is putting out 20 books a season, that’s 19 other books besides yours that need wrangling. Sure, they have different release dates, but that’s a lot of projects for the production team to be working on simultaneously. Your book can only get so much attention each day/week.
2. You can’t just print the damn thing.
The damn thing needs to be formatted and coded and stuck into fancy expensive layout programs so some brilliant design person can make your words look good on the page.
3. The damn thing isn’t perfect yet.
It needs copyediting, and proofreading, and then another round of proofreading just to make sure. And after each round of editing and proofing, the manuscript needs to be FedExed to the author for checking-over, and then to the editor. Figure a couple weeks minimum for each player for each round—like playing chess with someone who takes *forever* to move.
4. The damn thing needs cover design.
Coming up with an awesome cover takes time. Rounding up permissions for photographs or artwork for covers that make use of these things also takes time. Having the proposed covers bounce around between the designer and the marketing people also takes time. Yes, using clip-art from Microsoft Word would be, like, a million times faster, but that’s just not how most publishers roll.
5. The damn thing needs endorsements and jacket copy.
Contacting fancy celebrities and imploring them to endorse your book takes time. Fancy celebrities are busy! And writing jacket and back cover copy that will make readers fling multiple copies of your book at the cashier is a task on par with painting the Sistine Chapel.
6. You can’t just “stick it in stores”.
Your publisher wasn’t born in a barn! Nothing's getting stuck anywhere, thank you very much. Someone at the publisher needs to make a beautiful and enticing catalogue featuring your book (and those nineteen other pesky books that are coming out in the same season) to woo buyers at bookstores to stock your book. Putting together a graceful and un-barnlike catalogue (and other sales-y materials) takes a lot of time.
7. Print runs are expensive.
If there’s an embarrassing typo, say if a key instance of the word “carp” shows up as “crap” in the book’s most emotionally charged scene, and you do a print run of 25,000 books, that’s 25,000 books that, if distributed, would make the publisher look very, very sloppy. Having to do a second, corrected print run would be extremely expensive and wasteful. Hence spending all sorts of time and expense making sure there are no embarrassing typos or grievous page number mix-ups before pulling the big red lever that says PRINT.
8. Publishing a book takes so $&@#@ long because everyone in publishing secretly spends all their time playing World of Warcraft and getting Swedish massages.
Oh yeah, there’s that too.
INTERN hasn't covered nearly everything that makes publishing a book take so long, but she needs to go out and find a vegan cookie, which she has been craving all day!