Booklife Essentials: Knowing the Lifecycle of a Book

(The remains of writers who never did understand the lifecycle of a book. Photo by the highly recommended Jeremy Tolbert.)

In this first week at Booklifenow, it’s important to provide a breakdown of the lifecycle of a book. While this information might appear basic, very few first-time authors seem to receive it prior to publication. As a result, many writers are unable to take advantage of possible opportunities. Even worse, not knowing what happens when results in the following unfortunate scenarios: writers asking for things at the wrong time, writers not understanding their role during a given part of the process, writers being really irritable about quick turn-arounds on tasks like approving edits, and editors wasting time answering questions that could be forestalled with some simple documentation.

If there’s one way that agents and editors could help their writers it would be by not assuming any prior knowledge of this lifecycle—although it is true that the process can change from publisher to publisher. (The lack of internal documentation of process at most publishers is a bit of a crime.)

The process set out below the cut constitutes a general breakdown of events and timing issues that occur during the lifecycle of a book. A week-by-week breakdown would be too long for a blog post. (I recommend supplementing the information I give you below with Colleen Lindsay’s excellent post on working with publicists.)

However, the traditional lifecycle doesn’t approach the “book” as a mutable object that can take many different forms in the modern era. If you boil the process down, stripping off the detail and making a “book” a more fluid creature, the lifecycle roughly becomes:

• Creation and perfection of content.
• Acquisition of a platform (or format) for the content.
• Creation and perfection of the “skin” (aesthetic) and context for the content.
• Accessibility to the content.
• Visibility for the content.

In creating your plans for your book, always keep this simplified version of the lifecycle in mind. It helps focus your efforts by reminding you of what’s important.


Pre book-deal:

• Writer finishes manuscript.
• Writer seeks publication by finding an agent, or contacting publishers directly.
• An editor accepts the manuscript.
• The writer and publisher sign a contract, usually negotiated by an agent.

Between 18 months and 9 months before publication:

• The writer and editor agree on any changes to the manuscript, and the writer implements said changes.
• The manuscript enters into a series of quality control processes, including copy-editing, and the writer assists in this process by reviewing the manuscript at various points prior to publication.
• The editor sends the writer a questionnaire that captures all of the writer’s thoughts about the public description of the book, unique qualities of the book and author, an author bio and photo, any publicity contacts, etc.
• The publisher begins to work on the book’s cover while the marketing department discusses the book in terms of strategies for selling it to booksellers. Other than the questionnaire, the writer may or may not have input with the marketing prior to publication.
• The publisher prepares the book’s initial cover and description for its catalog. The catalog is a tool for letting distributors and booksellers know about the book well in advance of publication.

Between 8 and 6 months before publication:

• Marketing begins to form preliminary advertising plans. The writer provides any ideas now, before the budget and advertising schedules are set.
• Some advance copies, either still in manuscript format or typeset, are sent out to influencers (usually other writers) to collect blurbs that can be used for the cover of the book and for further publicity.
• The editor either puts the writer in touch with the publicist assigned to the book or acts as the contact with publicity. The writer provides input on publicity.

Between 6 and 5 months before publication:

• The publisher prints Advance Reader Copies and sends them out to early adopters (influencers and gatekeepers) as well as review venues, like the Big Four: library/book buyer publications (Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, Booklist) that require a copy of the book anywhere from three to five months prior to publication.
• The editor and publicist, along with marketing, implement any strategies or advertising to make sure it coincides with (or occurs after) the date the book will actually reach bookstores.

One month before publication to a year after:

• The book is published and finished copies are sent by the publicist to relevant review venues and gatekeepers. The writer also receives copies.
• The book is published, reaches brick-and-mortar bookstores and the warehouses of virtual booksellers through the publisher’s distributors, and the writer enters into the public publicity-cycle for the book, which can last for three months (more, if the book has legs). The writer and publicist pursue further opportunities as they arise, although on the publicist’s part this will mostly consist of passing on communications from gatekeepers about interview opportunities, etc.
• After the review phase, there will be a period during which the book is considered for awards, and another phase if the book is released in another form. (For example, first publication in hardcover, with a trade paperback published a year later.)
• The writer continues to follow up on opportunities, but most energies will be turned toward the next creative project.

>>>Testing this Section of Booklife: How did this process differ from your understanding of the process? Are there additional details you’d need to be an effective advocate for your book?

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