What’s Taking So Long?

By Carol Hinz
Editorial Director, Millbrook Press

stopwatch To someone not involved with book publishing, it can come as quite a surprise to find out how long it takes to make a book. What do I mean by this? Well, this past week, we held a meeting to plan the new series we’ll be publishing in 2012.

Once you break things down, this isn’t quite as crazy as it may first seem. The majority of the series we publish are developed in-house. We brainstorm new series ideas once a year, and we bring the top ideas to a meeting with representatives from many different departments to decide which ideas we’ll proceed with. Once an idea has been approved, we need to develop guidelines so that the writers working on the the series all create manuscripts that have the same general tone and structure.

Coming up with the guidelines takes time. While we’re working on them, we’re also working on the books coming out between now and 2012. The writers for the series then need time to write the manuscripts. Once the first manuscript is in, the art department needs to come up with a series design. The designers are also working on other books while making the time to develop the new designs. Our designers often come up with a few different options for series design, and a design may go through several revisions before it’s final.

Visual elements take time too, whether they’re photographs provided by our photo research department or original artwork. Original artwork can take an especially long time if we want one illustrator to work on all the books in a series—particularly a series like Life in Ancient Civilizations, which has about 20 full-page illustrations per book.

You need to allow still more time for manuscript editing and copyediting, plus time for the book layouts to route for approval by various departments. We also need to come up with a final series title, book titles, cover design, and cover copy. And these various elements need to be finalized early enough that we can put together our catalog on time. It all adds up.

Our single titles (books that aren’t part of a series) can come together more quickly, but we still generally need a minimum of a 12-18 months from the time the author turns in the draft manuscript until the book is available for purchase. If a book is particularly timely, we can move it along more quickly if everyone involved with the book drops everything to work on it the moment it’s ready for them, but we couldn’t handle all of our books that way.

This schedule is what allows each editor and each designer to juggle a number of books at any given time. The biggest problem with working this way? Every time I write a check, I have to think long and hard about what year it actually is!

photo credit: (cc) Erica Marshall of muddyboots.org