The process of turning an idea into a book

Many people have stories inside of them. Here’s a quick outline of how your story might be turned into a book:

Begin writing. There are many books for writers, and I won’t list them here. Just do a Google search and you’ll see what I mean–hundreds to choose from. And if you’re writing a fictional story, you must write the book from start to finish. At this stage, the book is called a manuscript.

Once you’ve finished your manuscript, you can do one of two things: you can approach an agent, who’ll represent you in the next step of the process, which is finding a book publisher. Or you can approach a publisher directly (some of the smaller publishing houses take unagented manuscripts.)

If you’re writing nonfiction, sometimes you won’t write the complete manuscript. Instead, you’ll write a proposal, which is a detailed outline of the book you intend to write. Nonfiction is oftentimes sold by agents to publishers on the basis of a proposal and one or two sample chapters. This is how my book, Roadmap to Holland, was sold.

When you have completed your manuscript, or your proposal, and if you’ve decided you want the help of an agent, you introduce yourself and your work in a query letter. Again, there are numerous books and sites online to help you craft a query letter; you can also go here, to a blog about this very process.

Once you have your manuscript, and your agent, your book will be shared with editors at the appropriate publishing houses. The list of whom to contact is prepared by your agent, and the negotiations are handled by your agent, too. At the end of this process, you will have a contract, which specifies details of your book’s delivery and acceptance, as well as terms for its publication, and also a publication date.

If you’ve written the entire manuscript, the book will be reviewed by an editor from the publisher, and revisions will be requested. If you’ve sold the book by proposal, you’ll begin writing it, as per the terms and timelines outlined in the contract. You turn it in to your editor, for revisions.

Assuming your revisions are satisfactory, the book moves on. Lawyers vet the content; a copyeditor checks for facts and points of grammar. During this time, a cover is developed, too.

Once the book has been vetted and copyedited, the text is typeset and a layout is chosen. The book, in this form, is called a galley, which the author checks and returns to the publisher.

During this time, advance reader copies (ARCs) are sent to book reviewers and other media people. The ARCs are usually paperbacks, often without any cover art. They’re used mostly within the publishing industry, and are sometimes still full of typos.

A proofreader checks the text one final time for errors.

The book is printed, and distributed, and eventually finds its way into the hands of the author, who maybe finally feels like the whole thing has been more than an elaborate daydream.

When the circle is completed, there’s usually just one question left: what will I write next?


10 thoughts on “The process of turning an idea into a book

  1. Whew. That is a great deal of work. I do know a bit about this from Gifts, but I had no idea about what happened after the book left the writer’s hands. It is a rather long process isn’t it?

    I can’t wait to read the book.

    I am equally as excited about what you will write next.

  2. This was so matter-of-fact and straightforward it makes me feel like “Sheesh. How’s about I finally just start writing that book already!”

    Of course, I need to remember the first step of approaching publishers/agents:

    Grow thick skin!


  3. I think it’s safe to say this is the most common path. For every rule, there seems to be an exception…but what I’ve described holds true for _most_ books.

    I hope this inspires and encourages all the writers out there!

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