Authors, Editors and Book Publishing

September 28, 2006

This afternoon I sent a book manuscript by overnight mail to Moody Publishers in Chicago. This particular book started as a sermon I wrote in early February on Asymmetric Spiritual Warfare. When it is published sometime in the first half of 2007, it will be called Stealth Attack.
Turning in a book manuscript always comes as a huge relief to me. Since nearly all of my books start as sermon series, the process of research and writing covers many months. I do the initial research for the sermons, then I do a second round for the book manuscript. Once the manuscript goes to the publisher, I generally don’t have to worry about it for awhile. First, someone at the publisher reads the manuscript to make sure it is acceptable. That means making sure that the the author wrote about the topic he agreed to write about (spiritual warfare) and not something else (growing carrots). It also means checking to see that the manuscript is written well enough that it will eventually be publishable. All manuscripts are edited, but publishers don’t like to do a total overhaul. Finally, it means there isn’t anything strange, unexpected, embarrassing or heretical in the manuscript.
Once it has been approved, the manuscript goes to an editor. At this point the process can vary a bit, depending on the type of book. Academic books are edited one way, fiction books another way, Christian living books (my category) another way. Editors look at everything from word choice to sentence structure, grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax, thematic development, quotations, sources, flow of the text, plus the all-important readability factor. Editors typically make many minor changes in the manuscript. Usually I will get a list of questions from the editor within a few weeks, mostly questions of clarification or suggestions about stating something a different way. I answer those questions and the process continues. Within a month or two, I will receive a set of page proofs, sheets with a typeset version of the edited manuscript. The author can then make any corrections he needs to make, understanding however that he should not do a major rewrite of a chapter. Of all the various steps in getting a book published, this is the one I like the least. I find it very difficult to look at an edited version of what I wrote in order to find things I want to change. Often I will just read through it quickly and submit a handful of changes. Some authors go to the other extreme and request hundreds of changes. This would obviously happen more often with academic books that have copious footnotes and intricate argumentation.
Along the way the publisher sends the manuscript out to two or three readers who do fact checking and also scrutinize grammar, word choice and sentence structure. So it passes through many hands before it finally goes to the typesetters. The publisher also sends along cover designs for approval. Titling and cover design generally rest with the publisher, although the author is always consulted. In my early years, I would submit suggested titles, which were never accepted, so I finally stopped worrying about it. The one title I actually got approved ending up not selling very well so I happily realize that I write books and someone else names them.
It generally takes 6-9 months from the time the manuscript is turned in until the book is published. The exact publication date depends on how long the editing process takes, other books in the publisher’s pipeline, and which selling season they want to hit. Once the book comes out, I begin a round of radio and TV interviews. And in the interim I usually start working on another book.
I suppose all of this is a lot of “inside baseball” talk, but I get enough questions that I thought a few people might be interested in knowing more about the nuts and bolts of book publishing. I just remembered something else. The manuscript ended up being 50,000 words. That’s shorter than most of my books, but longer than the 40,000 I intended to write. Two years ago Crossway asked me to write approximately 55,000 words on the Apostles’ Creed. When I turned in a manuscript with 71,000 words, they told me that they had decided to make it even shorter than anticipated. My editor, Ted Griffin, managed to trim it down to 48,000 words. He did such a good job that Credo was nominated as a finalist for the ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publishing Association) Christian Book Awards. That’s the first time any book I’ve written has been nominated. In the case of Stealth Attack, I wrote until I had said everything I had on my mind. I told the folks at Moody not to worry but to go ahead and take out the knife because I’m not in love with my own words. One of the few things I know about writing is that there is no good writing, only good rewriting. I write to help people, to encourage them to keep believing, and to point people toward the Lord. It has been my experience that the editing process substantially improves the final product.
In any case, I was glad to put the manuscript in the mail this afternoon. When people ask, “Do you enjoy writing?” I tell them, “No. I enjoy having written,” which is exactly how I feel tonight.

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