Adventures in Book Production
or, how does that text file become a novel?
Hello, Scuttlebutt readers,
I’m happy to be back in your inboxes with another installment of this very occasional newsletter. If you’re one of the many folks who’ve subscribed since the first issue went out in November, welcome, and thanks for signing up! You haven’t missed much—but you can always check out the archives here.
News about Books
Today, I’d like to share a little bit about what happens in the life cycle of a book after it’s been written and revised but before it’s been published. This is the stage of life my upcoming middle grade novel, Wicked Marigold, is in right now, and I think it’s pretty interesting—mostly because my work on the story is largely done and the talented folks at Candlewick Press are busy transforming my words into a real, honest-to-goodness book. As an author, I don’t have a clear view of absolutely everything that goes into producing a book on the publisher’s end, but I do catch a few exciting glimpses every now and then. Here are some things I’ve gotten to see lately:
Cover art! Readers are usually surprised to learn that traditionally published authors don’t have a lot of control over their book jacket’s design. I don’t choose the illustrators who work on my books, and although my publishers have always asked for my thoughts about cover art, my opinion isn’t the one that matters most. (It shouldn’t be! I am emphatically not a designer or an artist, and it wouldn’t be reasonable for me to tell the artistic team how to do their jobs, just like it wouldn’t be reasonable for them to give me extensive notes on my writing.) The editor and art director work together to determine how the jacket should look, and then they hire an artist while I cheer wildly from the sidelines. This time around, my editor asked me if I liked the work of two different artists they were considering—fortunately, I loved both!
Usually, the artist sends black and white sketches first, then color sketches, and finally a finished work of cover art. For Wicked Marigold, I’ve seen black and white sketches and color sketches so far, and I cannot wait to share the phenomenal art in a few more months once it’s final. I think you’re going to love it.
Page design! The interior of the book gets designed at the same time as the jacket, and even for novels like Wicked Marigold that don’t have interior art, there are plenty of decisions to be made: How big will the book be? (This is called the trim size.) What fonts will be used for the titles and for the body of the text? Will there be extremely cool sparkly wingdings decorating each chapter title? (Oh, yes!) A few weeks ago, my editor sent me a PDF of the first two chapters of Wicked Marigold laid out as they’ll look in the finished book.
First pass pages! Once the entire book has been laid out, the designers, editors, proofreaders, and author all take a look at the designed pages to make sure no errors have been introduced and to catch anything else that isn’t exactly as it should be. Authors are also allowed to make very small changes at this point—tweaking a word, or maybe a sentence—but when you’re working with designed pages, making large changes to the text is complex and expensive, so everyone tends to be much happier if the text is more or less final before it arrives in the production team’s hands. (After first pass, there will be a second pass, a third pass, and possibly more, when additional changes are implemented and reviewed at the publisher, but my experience as an author has been that I usually only see the first pass.) First pass pages are often used to print advance reader copies (ARCs), so any changes made after this point will not appear in those advance copies—just in the final version.
The publisher’s sales and marketing teams get their own first looks at a book around this time, too, and they start to plan when and how they’ll introduce it to the world. I’ll be sure to let you all know as soon as we have a firm release date for Wicked Marigold, but right now I can tell you that it will be available in the spring or summer of 2024.
While all this work is going on behind the scenes with Marigold, I’m staying busy by writing something new—so new that it’s not quite ready to be talked about yet. It involves astronomy, rock climbing, lizards, some very finicky magic, and the world’s best mug of hot chocolate.
News about Events and Other Good Things
I’ve had fun getting back into the swing of school and library visits this spring! I hope to have more events that are open to the public soon, most likely in 2024 and beyond. In the meantime, if you’d like me to speak at your school, library, book club, bookstore, conference panel, or festival, you can always check out more information about my in-person and virtual presentations here.
What I’ve Been Reading
I couldn’t put down the YA graphic novel The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang—I read it in one sitting! It’s about a prince who sometimes loves to wear ball gowns, the dressmaker who’s hired to create those special fashions, and the complicated bond that grows between them. I loved The Genius Under the Table, Eugene Yelchin’s illustrated middle grade memoir of growing up in Soviet Russia, just as much. Both books touch on the theme of finding yourself through art—and being true to that self once you’ve found it.
Read something wonderful lately? Let me know in the comments!
Questions from You*
*Okay, this is not a question from you. It is a question from me. If you have a different question you’d like me to write about, please share it in the comments so I can answer it next time! It doesn’t even have to be about publishing.
What’s the worst typo you’ve ever seen?
This one, in Shakespeare’s Fourth Folio, which I saw on display at The Frick Pittsburgh last week. Somewhere out there, the ghost of a 17th-century copy editor is kicking itself.
I’ll be back soon to share Wicked Marigold’s cover with you all… and possibly to give away an ARC to a lucky newsletter reader. Until then, I’m wishing you many happy and typo-free days of reading.