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On Publishing: Making It Pretty

I started the week with the story of the evolution of Unstressed Syllables — which was significantly driven by the birth of Consortium Books — and ended that post with the promise that I’d tell you how Consortium Books does what it does.

I’m dividing that into two parts: “Making It Pretty” and “Getting It Out There.” That’s the publisher’s job, in a nutshell. And the process involves several steps and several incredibly talented people. I’ll go over all of them in order.


The first step in any publisher’s process is acquisitions — bringing in projects to consider, and then rejecting all the sub-par submissions. Those two pieces tend to find an uneven balance, to the extent that, at most traditional publishing houses, this step would better be labeled “Rejections.”

And don’t get me wrong — an indie company with four volunteer staff members and a $0 annual operating budget isn’t going to beat any of the Bigs on throughput. The Consortium is different, though. We’re not looking to acquire a hit manuscript, package it up, and then sell it for millions (most of which we’d pass along to our shareholders).

The Consortium is a home for artists, so we’re going to do something publishing houses used to do in the dim and distant past — we’re going to train up our writers. As a result, our acquisitions process has more to do with recruitment of writers than solicitation of manuscripts.

Right now, our initial focus is getting my backlist and Courtney’s backlist published, so the acquisitions process is mostly a priority ranking. Which ones are most ready, and which ones can we get ready in time? That’s going to see three Ghost Targets novels on the market by the end of 2011, two of my high fantasy novels, and two of Courtney’s Christian fantasy.

We’re also working to ramp up our production speed, though, and as part of that we’re hoping to get Joshua Unruh‘s weird western published in late 2011, and Jessie Sanders’s young adult fantasy in early 2012.

So here’s the acquisitions process as it will be:

  • Courtney and/or I reviews a draft manuscript by one of our artists to decide if it’s ready for publication.
  • If it is, we figure out where to put it in the publishing schedule (we’ve already got it mostly filled out through mid-2013).
  • If not, we provide a detailed description of why, and send it back to the writer.

Of course, our company being what it is, “send it back to the writer” is usually going to mean a friendly lunch and a long chat on the topic. The job of our Master Writers is to teach the students how to write publishable books, so I see no reason for us to outright reject anything. We can send books back for rewrites, but that should always come along with specific, detailed feedback on why and what.

Editorial Review

Once a book is ready for publication, we set up a project folder for it in Google Docs. That includes

  • A blank “description” document (which will become the back-cover copy and the product description at Amazon)
  • A project metadata file (which we’ll fill with things like official title, series name, series volume number, ISBN(s), etc), and
  • Template files for the various bits of internal text (title page, copyright page, dedication, manuscript body, teaser, etc).

(You’ll see what happens to all those later in the process.)

And the very next step is to drop the novel manuscript into that folder for our editors to start reviewing. At the moment that’s Jessie Sanders, but we’re working on getting her some interns to help with the enormous amount of reviewing we anticipate come 2012. (And, y’know, to give back to the community. And to catch them young.)

Jessie gives the manuscript an intensive copy- and concept-edit — she checks the manuscript for story structure, characterization, plausibility, and at the same time she scans the lines for typos, poor word choice, and inconsistencies. Like most book publishers, we follow the Chicago Manual of Style, and Jessie’s the one who makes sure that happens.

She leaves all of the copyediting feedback inline, with color-coded highlights and sidebar comments throughout the document. Then once she’s done, she puts together a detailed concept report giving her overall opinion of the story and suggested changes. That all goes back to the writer, and once the writer’s had time to review it, the writer and editor get together for a meeting (which, again, is often a casual lunch or a Google chat, and could frequently be a dozen of them).

The writer and editor work through all the editorial changes right there in the Google Doc, and once they’re satisfied that everything necessary has been addressed, we’ll have a “final edits meeting” between editor (Jessie), author (Courtney, for instance), and publisher (me). We go over the final manuscript, discussing any major changes or sales elements that came up during the editing process, and especially any special layout or design requirements.

That last bit is important, because once the edit’s done, the book goes straight to layout and design.

Layout and Design

Layout and design is probably the most complicated part of our process. For one, we’ve got to take hundreds of pages of content files and get them all set up properly not just so they look right, but so they read right to an unforgiving, unintelligent machine. I’ll talk more about that in tomorrow’s post.

We also need to design several other elements. We need back-cover copy, so this is the stage when the author and editor get together with our Marketing Director (you know him as Joshua Unruh) to fill out that description document I mentioned before.

We’ll also need our art department (that one’s case-by-case, but we’re usually talking Julie and Carlos Velez for photography and Amy Nickerson for design) to come up with cover art. To make that possible our Director of Art, Becca Campbell, first reads the book, then meets with the author to design a cover image the author will love.

Then she conveys that information to the artists involved (in a meeting that the author almost always participates in).That usually gives us two or three weeks for the artists to come up with something to give the designer, and then the designer puts it all in the right format for our printers.

And then the book goes to publishing. But that’s tomorrow’s topic. See you then.

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