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How an Eerdmans Book is Born (In Sixteen Easy Steps)

The following piece was published back in August 2011 by Rachel Bomberger on EerdWord, the blog of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. We think that it gives an invaluable insight into what goes on at a major publishing company when they receive your manuscript.

You can access the original article here and find many other interesting posts on the main EerdWord site. This article has been republished with permission from EerdWord and the author, Rachel Bomberger. Rachel is the Internet marketing manager at Eerdmans. She loves reading, writing, and accidentally blurting out, “You’ve just got to read this amazing new book. Oh, wait, sorry, nevermind — I guess you’ll have to wait a few more months until it’s published.”

Things have been a little chaotic here at Eerdmans this summer. Eerdfolks have left; Eerdfolks have been shifted around; new Eerdfolks have been (and continue to be) brought in to fill the voids. The frenzy hasn’t left much contemplative space for creative reading and writing. All this is to say: I’ll have another book review coming soon. (I don’t know whether you enjoy reading them, but I sure enjoy writing them.) While you wait, however, here’s a little something I put together to help introduce all our new Eerdfolks to the magical world of book publishing. (It’s a smidge more up-to-date than our last “How a Book Is Made” document on record.)

Step One: Acquisitions

An editor finds a good book and talks the company into publishing it. (Sometimes these are “diamonds in the rough” — unsolicited manuscripts mined from the ever-present slush pile. Sometimes they come from literary agents. More often than not, however, our manuscripts seem to come from (a.) authors we’ve worked with before, (b.) authors published by other companies whose previous books we like, or (c.) first-time authors recommended by other authors with whom we have established relationships.) The author will be sent a formal contract, and the book is then on its way to publication, either heading straight to Step Three: “Disk-fixing” or taking a (sometimes lengthy) detour through Step Two: Project Development.

Step Two: Project Development

An editor works with an author or editor to turn a good idea into a good book. This can take a while, but it’s almost always worth the investment of time and effort that goes into it.

Step Three: “Disk-fixing”

Freelancers prepare a book’s electronic files for editing. We could call it “file conversion,” but that doesn’t have quite the same poetic ring as “disk-fixing.” This step can take between one week and many months, depending on the state of the files when they arrive and how long and/or elaborate the manuscript is.

Step Four: “Ready to Edit”

A book goes into the wine cellar for a time to mellow until it has taken on a smooth, oaky flavor. (Speaking less metaphorically, a disk-fixed manuscript sometimes has to wait a spell until its editor can finish up other projects and be ready to tackle it.)

Step Five: Editing

Editors work their editorial magic on manuscripts. They help authors organize and reorganize their thoughts; flesh out or condense their writing as needed; double check facts and data; make sure evidence is properly documented and footnotes are properly formatted; bring the book into line with house (and Chicago) style; smooth out uneven sentences or awkward wording; and generally whip the book into tip-top ship-shape. This can take as little as four weeks or as much as a year (or even longer). At this point the art department begins conceiving of a general design for the cover and a cover image and collaborating with the editorial team to make sure that the cover they have in mind adequately conveys the subject matter of the book. The editorial department will also be working to make sure that the book’s title is as strong, accurate, and attractive as it can be. It is at this stage, too, when a book is finally on the road to completion, that the marketing department will begin promoting it to booksellers, book distributors, and the like through Advance Title Information sheets (ATI) and catalogs and online.

Step Six: Design and Typesetting

Once the editors are at last satisfied with the style and content of a book, it is released to the production folks for typesetting — i.e., turning a collection of words and images and into something instantly recognizable as book pages and chapters. This takes an average of four weeks, but for some books with lots of photos, tables, and other tricky design elements, it can take years. After this, the book moves (rarely) into Step Seven: Galley Proofs or (more commonly) into Step Eight: First Page Proofs.

Step Seven: Galley Proofs

Very few books at Eerdmans go through “galleys” — generally only when the editorial team wants to move forward with typesetting and corrections but knows that the author will still be supplying a substantial amount of additional information down the line. Galleys are a sort of tentative page proofs — with footnotes tucked away conveniently at the end of chapters — that can shape-shift some as needed later on without causing too much extra trouble for the production folks.

Step Eight: First Page Proofs

By this step, the book is really starting to look like a book, with page numbers, margins, a title and copyright pages, and all the other “bells and whistles.” It’s still just a digital file of the interior pages, but several important processes can now move forward. Editorially speaking, both the author and a proofreader have the opportunity now to go over the book with a fine-toothed comb, picking through it for any and all errors, typographical or otherwise. (This usually takes about three weeks.) Once a book is “in proofs,” the marketing department is able to ramp up its efforts another notch as well. Publicists will begin sending perfect-bound page proofs to reviewers and media. The promotions department will also begin approaching endorsers to offer laudatory comments (“blurbs”) that can later be featured on the book cover and in other promotional materials.

Step Nine: Collating

Either the book’s editor or the managing editor will spend about a week transferring marks from both the author’s and the proofreader’s sets onto one master set of proofs.

Step Ten: First Corrections

The production team will use the collated marks to make corrections to the master PDF over the course of about two weeks.

Step Eleven: Linechecking

A diligent editor with a good eye (usually Milt) goes back over both the collated and the newly corrected proofs to make sure that every correction indicated by the author or proofreader has, in fact, been made. This usually takes less than a week. (Milt’s good.)

Step Twelve: Intermediate Corrections

(We’re not done yet. Aren’t we meticulous?) The proofs at this point will keep going back and forth between the editors and the production team until both sides are satisfied that all needed corrections have been made successfully.

Step Thirteen: Final Corrections

(Nearly there!) During this second-to-last step, the index and other end matter are completed and other last minute details and corrections are dealt with. This usually takes a week or two, but can very occasionally take much longer. Once a book is in final corrections, it’s also time to finalize the back cover or jacket copy. The copywriter will assemble catchy descriptive copy, endorsements, and biographical information about the author, which will then be edited and fine-tuned by the promotions manager. Once it’s just right, cover copy will be released to the designers for typesetting, and cover proofs will be proofread three or four times until every design element, every line break, and every jot and tittle in the text is perfect.

Step Fourteen: Interior at Printer

When both the interior and the cover of a book are ready, the production team issues a purchase order and releases the files to a printer for production. It takes three to four weeks to produce a paperback, about six weeks for a hardcover book.

Step Fifteen: In Stock

The books are here, and aren’t they beautiful! After taking a brief moment to gaze lovingly at them, the publicity and sales teams get straight to work. Copies are sent to the author, to other contributors, to endorsers, and to select reviewers. The publicist continues working to set up author interviews, book signings, and other promotional events. The sales team continues promoting the book to all their accounts, using each new review or piece of publicity to enhance their sales efforts.

Step Sixteen: Readers

Books are read. Stories are enjoyed. New and challenging ideas are pondered and discussed. Life is better, richer, and more thoughtful.

The end.

1 reply
  1. Avatar
    David says:

    I’ve enjoyed your interviews with Alvin Plantinga and Nick Wolterstorff, Rachel. In your post, you write about alligning books “with house (and Chicago) style.” Are the Eerdmans and the Chicago style ordinarily identical or are they distinct? Plantinga’s most recent book is arriving in a few days so I’ll be able to take a look there, but perhaps you would be willing to address Eerdmans’s general policy on the matter.


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