Ever wonder what happens to a manuscript once it’s acquired by a publishing house? I mean like, how the design is put together and who makes all the little decisions?
Well, strap in guys, gals, and non-binary pals—here’s one man’s recap of how a manuscript was turned into a book.
Two days after my publishing deal became official, my agent Allison and I received a welcome letter from Lauren, my editor.
(I had an editor!)
The welcome letter laid out the editing agenda, to take place during Summer 2018:
- Developmental Editing (i.e. “big picture stuff”)
- Line editing (scene by scene stuff)
- Copyediting (handled by a copyeditor before sent back to me for approval)
It closed by informing me that my publication was schedule for the 7th of May, 2019.
The editing, as it turned out, was the easiest part of all this. I knew how to make revisions—I’d done it one or two or a million times before. And Lauren was excellent at finding all the right weak spots in the manuscript, pointing out obvious oversights I hadn’t caught in the past two years of staring at it.
But work on the manuscript itself was just the tiniest–and simplest–cog in the machine. Because alongside all this editing, a dozen different facets of the physical book itself were debated, and decided, by a dozen different people. Here are a few of the biggies.
On April 27th, 2018, I got an email from Lauren:
When I explained the plot of DEPOSING NATHAN to Macmillan, they felt that the title wasn’t quite working, as the title is focused more on the legal aspect. What do you think? Since it’s largely about the emotional journey of two teens, maybe there is a way we can hit on that more in the title.
The title, as it happened, was one of my most precious babies, proudest creations, and a product that I’d defend until Douglas Macmillan himself crawled out of his coffin and wacked me over the head with his own tombstone.
But like, I couldn’t say THAT.
Hi Lauren, I’ll be honest and say I’m rather attached to the title; however, I’m entirely open to having a discussion about alternatives—maybe we’ll find something I like more!
And don’t get me wrong, I did earnestly start brainstorming possible alternatives. Allison also gave me a quick call to let me know that—contrary to my belief at the time—titles carry a LOT of weight in whether a book sells or not, and I should listen to Macmillan on this one. Both she and Lauren told me the same thing: “We’re just brainstorming here…there are no bad ideas.”
Cut to June:
Hi Lauren and Allison, here are my title ideas so far, with my thoughts on each. I want to emphasize I’m still looking to dive deeper into this, and find a title I like more than these.
- THE WORD OF NATHAN
- I like this one because it refers to the depo as well as “the Word of the Lord.” But I think it also sounds too religious.
- DISCOVERING NATHAN
- At least this also refers to a “discovery deposition,” which is what this is.
- QUESTIONING NATHAN
- I could live with this one, but it sounds like a watered down version of the original.
- JUDGING NATHAN
- I bet you’re regretting saying there’s no such thing as a bad idea, now aren’t you.
…we agreed to put this on pause.
Lauren also mentioned that they really wanted to add a tagline to the book, to reveal a little more about its themes.
Me: I’ll be honest and say I’m rarely a huge fan of taglines, but we can certainly look at our options.
Lauren: To be honest, I am also not a huge fan of taglines, so when I do write them it usually takes me a while to come up with something that I don’t find cheesy.
Cut to July:
Hi Lauren, I wanted to let you know I thought of a few tentative ideas for taglines:
- Say Something
- So Help Me God
I want to emphasize these are both just the products of initial brainstorming.
…yeah, we put this one on pause too.
While all this was going on in the background, I was working on additional materials just about every night. This kind of stuff included:
- My author bio
- The pub summary for the book (aka the description that goes online and on the inside flap of the book jacket.) We traded five versions of this before I rewrote it with an inverted structure, which they polished, which I tweaked, which they approved.
And yes, throughout all of this, I Lauren and I were still editing the manuscript itself. First the big picture stuff, then the line edits, then a brief respite when we sent it off to the copyeditor, only to reexamine everything once we got it back from them.
Throughout all of this, while there was no longer the stress of querying agents, there was an all new kind of stress altogether. A slow-burning, ubiquitous kind that I knew would be perched on my shoulders until the 7th of May, 2019. Because this was happening now. The world knew about my book, and people could look up the announcement or the Goodreads page or the placeholder Amazon listing. And they were. And half the time when I checked, it involved a nasty surprise. Which led to me generally calling Allison, semi-frantic about any number of road bumps.
Me: “So who told [name of online magazine] about the book? Their description calls it a coming out story.”
Allison: “Well, most of this is pulled from a central database, but a lot of them update at different times.”
Me: “This is not a coming out story.”
Allison: “I know.”
Me: “It’s super, super critical that we present this book accurately.”
Allison: “I know.”
Me: “Also, Amazon hasn’t updated their blurb yet.”
Allison: “This is all fixable.”
Allison, bless her soul, was a superwoman at filtering all of my unmitigated reactionary emotions and taking care of whatever oversights (such as that wildly tiny one) came our way. Usually all it took was one phone call to Lauren, who was lightning fast at finding the source of those types of discrepancies and making sure they got fixed. As for me, I set up a Google alert and took up meditating.
And yes. I was still editing the manuscript during this.
The Title, Revisited:
The end of summer rolled around, and we had yet to pull the trigger on any of the major decisions. Which meant Will Kiester, founder of Page Street and final authority on most of these, hosted a conference call with me and Lauren.
“Well first of all, I want to ask you something, Zack,” he said. “Forget for a second about what title you think will sell or what we want it to be. What do you want for it?”
I explained to him, politely but pretty earnestly, that there was no doubt in my mind that DEPOSING NATHAN was the only title for this book. Yes it was legal-sounding, but we could mitigate that via the description and tagline and cover. No other title fit this book.
Will mulled it over. Lauren added, “Most of us do still call it DEPOSING NATHAN. That’s the one that stuck with us.”
I asked Will what he wanted for all this. And I don’t think I’ll ever forget what he said.
“We want to make a book you’re proud of.”
And DEPOSING NATHAN was born.
We didn’t know our tagline yet, and I had no idea when the final cover would be ready or what it would look like, but we had a title. The title. And I told myself, with that in place, I could live with whatever everything else turned out to be. Even if we had a tagline like “So Help Me God,” though I hoped we’d find a better one.
I mentioned in my last post about wanting to find my exhale—a milestone to celebrate unrestrained. Oh, those were the days. Reader, I could barely breathe by the end of that summer. I was running a race that would end on May 7th. And on days where it felt like a pause—such as after that phone call where we had our title—something else would always come up. Something like an email I suddenly got from Allison:
Hi Zack, It’s time to get ourselves ready for book two.
So Help Me God.