Jeanne: How a Manuscript Becomes a Book

Now that I have a finished manuscript, I get asked this question a lot: when is your book going to be published?

This is a simplified version of the publication process. It doesn’t include:

  • The agent asking you to revise and resubmit (sometimes multiple times)
  • The editor selling the rest of the publishing house on why they should buy this particular book
  • and it glosses over the entire production process

It should give you a good idea of how things work, though. I threw in a few statistics I’ve picked up along the way to give you a sense of the likelihood of success at any given point and some of the factors to consider in choosing whether to go with traditional publication or to self-publish.

I am currently on the second box on this chart: “show to trusted readers.” I hope to be at “query an agent” by the end of May.

What about you?

23 thoughts on “Jeanne: How a Manuscript Becomes a Book

  1. Love the chart, Jeanne. I’d like to get this printed on a card so I could hand it to my non-writer friends every time they ask ‘When/where can I buy your book?’ And ‘Don’t you have an agent yet?’

    I’m in the ‘Query Agent/wait’ and ‘Send Manuscript/Wait’ limbo. Another thought for your chart – quite often new authors don’t sell their first manuscript, but their third or fourth or whatever. So that’s several passes around the write/edit/query merry-go-round.

    • There were several other things I thought about adding, (like contests!) but I wanted it to fit on one page.

      Can you tell me how to get rid of the duplicate picture (I’m guessing it’s the “featured image”) now that it’s published. (Argh!)

    • Great chart, Jeanne. I submitted my first manuscript to a lot of editors and agents. All turned it down. Then I took the Romance Writing Certificate Program and realized it sucked. Jilly, I’m hoping, my fourth manuscript will be more successful.

  2. Ooh, this is depressing since I’m still bogged down in writing my book. Maybe I’ll post a chart like this for writing a good book next week. Then I’ll be covered for both questions:

    “Isn’t your book finished yet?”
    “When will your book be published?”

    • Don’t despair, Kat. I went to a writers’ conference in the UK a couple of years ago, and the keynote speaker was JoJo Moyes. If I remember correctly, she was working for one of the main UK newspapers while trying to get her fiction career off the ground. It took her a long time (see above) and she said it became a kind of standing joke in the newsroom. Every day there was some variant on “JoJo’s writing a book, right, JoJo? Ha, ha, ha.” Guess who’s laughing now?

    • In addition to Demon’s Wager, that’s on Box 2, I have 3 others that are in various stages of box 1. And that’s okay. It takes the time it takes.

  3. I love this graphic Jeanne – I’d also like it for my wall.

    I just dodge the possibility for questions by not telling anyone I’m writing a book (except, whoops, I just did online!).

    As Jeanne’s graphic was just a wee bit depressing, here’s something happier to cheer everyone up. A friend of mine is a member of the Write Romantics Blog Group ( They’ve pretty much all been slaving away trying to get published for ages. When I first met my friend, only about a year ago, one of them had just been offered a contract, but none of the others had anything at all. Then, over the past year, they all reached some kind of tipping point because I think that now either all or almost all of them are published: some self-pubbed, some trad-pubbed. And, looking into the future, I can quite confidently predict that is what will happen with the Eight Ladies.

    • I think you’re right, Rachel–for you as well as everyone else. Every writing class/conference I’ve ever been to, they’ve said, “The writers who get published are the ones who don’t give up.” I used to think they were just blowing smoke to keep me paying for classes, but I’m starting to believe it’s true.

  4. LOL, brilliant chart! Can I see your day job peeping through? Concise and organized.

    It’s particularly discouraging if one is writing topical stuff (for example, if someone was writing about pandemics last summer — I bet in three years, we’re going to see a lot of Ebola-type epidemics in fiction if the first one sells well). SF still will do serializations of novels, but I’m not sure how that works these days . . . they may also have a significant time lag, and probably aren’t open to new writers.

    (-: Thank goodness, I’m stuck back in 1899 for my book. The era will be just as popular as it was 10 years ago.

    • That is definitely a benefit of doing historical fiction. I wrote a suspense thriller about ten years ago that referenced all kinds of up-to-date technology–like WiFi. Even if I’d gotten it published right away, that stuff would have been dated by the time the book came off the press. It was a definite lesson to steer away from time-bound plot devices.

      As far as day job peeping through–yep. I love flowcharts.

  5. Great post! I’m currently editing my first manuscript and getting some feedback from readers. I’m continually weighing up whether I want to self-pub or pursue the traditional route. I feel like self-publishing might save a lot of stress in trying to get a contract, despite being a lot of work. I’m definitely not afraid of hard work but I’m worried of shooting myself in the foot in terms of my ability to get sales. I’d love to hear of people’s good experiences with self-publishing.

    • Check out Bella Andre or Barbara Freethy, Monique. Both have self-published very, very successfully and are generous in sharing their know-how. Courtney Milan is another great source of advice and inspiration. And last but not least, are you a member of RWA? There is a self-publishing loop there that’s a gold mine of information.

      Self-pub is a different type of slow game. From what I’ve heard, the keys to success (apart from having a great story, obviously) seem to be: write a series, brand it consistently, make sure it has a professional-standard cover, editing and formatting, write a lot and publish often. The consensus seems to be that it works best when you have at least six titles available.

      • Thanks Jilly! I’ll be sure to check out those authors. I’m a new member of RWAus so I’ll have to check if there’s a self-publishing community down here. The good news is I have a series planned 🙂 Thanks for your advice!

        • Another positive self-pub story: one of the members of my long-time writing group, Joe Downing, wrote a non-fiction book called The Abundant Bohemian, How to Live an Artistic Life Without Starving to Death in the Process. It’s stories and quotes about people who chose “the road less traveled,” and it’s fascinating. He self-published it in paperback plus electronic last winter. The last time I saw him, he’d sold over 500 copies–more than enough to pay for publishing. That’s not a huge success story, like Eragon, but it’s one that can be achieved by anyone with a story to tell that resonates with people.

          As the chart inidcates, is that you have to sell 10x as many books through a traditional publisher as you do through self-pub to make the same money. Given how slowly I write and how long it would take me to have six books available, I think I’m better of traditional, if I can swing it. But if I can’t, I’ll definitely self-publish.

  6. Pingback: Jilly: Memory and Mistakes | Eight Ladies Writing

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