The Publishing Process explained for new authors

reading about the publishing process for authors

How do books get published?

It’s not really that complicated, but getting your book published can seem quite daunting to new authors. While this isn’t an in-depth look at book publishing, it should help you to break down the process and understand what happens at each stage. Bear in mind though, that publishers work their own way, and self-publishing can take you down some different paths. Also, if you’ve written a book, you must be realistic … not every book should, or can, be published.

So whether you are a fiction writer, writing an academic text or non-fiction book, or creating a book for your business, here’s what to expect from the publishing process.

just write

In the beginning – write your book

Writing your book can take years, so you want to make sure that you do it right. Take your time, create a style sheet to help you keep consistent, and track your plot to make sure it holds up to scrutiny (or make sure your non-fiction book is factually correct and engaging to read). Ask yourself if it could be published for a wider audience, or just for family and friends, or within your organisation if it’s a business book. Research your target audience and the market … is the book idea a viable one? There’s no point in spending months or years writing a book if realistically no-one will want to read it, or it will be out of date by the time it’s published (harsh, but true). If you’re sure you have the commitment, crack on.

Then …

  • Finish your book. Make sure you’ve edited as much as you can yourself, used the spellcheck and basically hone your book to perfection (but remember, it will never be perfect).

  • Send it to some beta readers to get their opinion (try not to rely on family and friends as they can feel the need to only tell you how brilliant it is, rather than help iron out the faults). Readers’ forums on Facebook and Goodreads can help you find beta readers.

  • Make some changes depending on what your beta readers say. Again, finish your book.
  • Decide whether you want to get an agent or self-publish
My book pile is growing!

Using an agent?

The agent will have access to publishing houses – this is the ‘easiest’ way to be published by mainstream publishers (unsolicited manuscripts sent to publishers have huge competition, if the publisher actually accepts them in the first place).

How to find an agent is a great resource, both online and in print. Look for agents online and on social media (you’ll often see them letting writers know that they’re looking for submissions). They’ll hang out where the writers are, so Goodreads and Facebook, again, are good places to be. Choose agents who work in your genre, because if you send your manuscript to someone who works on romance and you write horror, your book is going to get rejected immediately. Look at their submission guidelines and stick to them. Send to an agent belonging to a reputable agency, or if they’re independent check to see that they’ve actually had books signed up by publishers. If they’re new agents don’t discount them, but find out what qualifies them to have set up as an agent.

book stack cartoon
  • Write a synopsis of your book. You’ll send this off to agents, so you need to write a quick breakdown of the plot (and yes, include the ending and any spoilers), which genre it fits into and a little about yourself. One page should be enough, this is your chance to hook the agent as they won’t read a full manuscript unless they’re interested. Include a nicely thought-out quote to pull the reader in, and make your book sound as enticing as you can.
book stack cartoon
  • Write a query letter to send to agents. This is just a formal letter to send to build interest in your book. Don’t write a generic one ‘Dear Sir/Madam…’, find out who you need to send the letter to. If they require a snail mail letter, write it as a formal introduction – tell them why you’re writing to them, what your book is about and who you are. It doesn’t need to go into as much detail as the synopsis, as you’re going to send that to them anyway, but it needs to be enough to pique their interest in what you have to offer. If they ask for email correspondence include the same information.
book stack cartoon
  • Send your synopsis, query letter and first three chapters to agents you’re interested in working with. Most will ask for the first three chapters, but again be very clear about what they ask for and send them exactly what they want. Be as professional as you can be.

When you find an agent who’s interested in your book think very carefully about their offer – the agent will be with you for a long time so make sure their terms and conditions are acceptable. If in doubt, consider taking advice.

Once the agent has submitted the book to publishers, commissioning editors will read the manuscript and decide whether they want to go forward with the book. If they do, the publishing house will take care of the rest of the process, with input from you as they go along.

Victorian photo albums


Many people these days decide to self-publish. This means you have to deal with the publishing process yourself, from finding the right editor to finding the right publishing platform and formatting for ebook and print. The marketing is up to you too – there’s no point in having a brilliant book if no one knows it exists.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to hire an editor to look over your book. Even if you’re confident that you don’t need a structural edit, a copy edit is important to catch all the things you will miss yourself.


The publishing process

If you’re using an agent, this process will usually be taken care of by the publisher. If you’re self-publishing these are the steps you need to take yourself, finding professionals to help along the way.

Once your book has been accepted it will go through a series of edits, these cover everything from the overall structure to the spelling, grammar and flow of the sentences and paragraphs. It will also be designed, which is something that should be done with care – everything from the font used to the cover design must be in keeping with the book’s contents and the expected look for your genre. You’re looking to produce a book that is as attractive as it is readable.

book stack cartoon

The process goes like this:

  • Structural / developmental edit – where the ‘big picture’ is looked at. Things such as narrative pace, structure of the book, characterisation and plot are examined. All the contents of a non-fiction book are examined, such as pace and structure, and whether pictures, tables, maps and illustrations, as well as indexes, references and bibliographies are needed. A structural edit doesn’t go into detail with the writing, it looks at the overall look, feel and structure of the book.
book stack cartoon

Next comes the …

  • Copyedit – which looks for errors and inconsistencies in grammar, spelling, style, sentence structure, flow and sense. This is sometimes broken down into line edits and copy edits, although the term ‘line edit’ is mainly an American term and is only just starting to be used in the UK.
book stack cartoon

When the copyedit is done …

  • Design / typesetting – The cover design will often be started before the editing is completed (it’s an important part of marketing your book, so it has to be appealing to your target audience). Make sure your designer knows what your book is about and, if they have time, they might want to read the book to get a feel for what the cover should look like.

    Once the edit is finished the final document will be sent to the typesetter to create the page proofs. If you are self-publishing search for book designers and typesetters online. Page proofs are generally paper mock-ups of the book interior, however, they can also be digital files, sent as PDFs.

If you’re self-publishing you’ll have to decide if you want to publish as an ebook, as a paperback, or both. Rather than a hire a professional typesetter who tends to work with publishing houses, it’s more common to hire a book designer/typesetter who will set out your book for you. Many will set out your book as both ebook and print, but there are differences in the setup for both, so be prepared to see a different layout for both of your formats. And be patient – images and tables can still be tricky for ebook design.

Here is where some self-publishers decide to format the book themselves for uploading to online publishers such as IngramSpark and Amazon. There are help files and documents available to help you, but you might find you get a better result (and less frustration) if you hire a professional. No matter which direction you take, you will have to proofread for the last stage of the process.

book stack cartoon
  • Proofreading – When the proofs come back they’re usually sent to the proofreader and the author to check for any final alterations. The proofreader will mark up the proofs with any final errors they find, and the author will also flag up any errors they see.  The file will get sent back to the typesetter, and once the alterations are made, the proofreader gets to look at the file again to make sure the changes have been made correctly (and to make sure that all of the changes have been made). The index is then created (the indexer will have been scheduled in at the beginning of the publishing process) and when the final proof comes back, complete with the index, if all the changes look OK, the book is ready to go to press.

Sometimes the indexer gets to work before the final proofread, but the index will have to be checked again if the proofreader’s check moves any text between pages.

book stack cartoon
  • Off to press – Once the book looks just right the file is sent to the printer. The publisher will have already negotiated a slot with the printing company, which is why the schedule can be tight if changes need to be made.

If you’re self-publishing you will now give the OK to your designer, or upload the file yourself to your preferred publishing platform.

book stack cartoon
  • Sales and marketing – If you’re being traditionally published the sales and marketing department will now take over and work their magic. If you are self-publishing you should hopefully have already told the world your book is coming, and now you must start marketing your book in any way you can, for example, social media, local book and online groups, press releases, bookshop talks and your Goodreads and Facebook page.

You’re now ready to finally see your book in print, send it out into the world and wait for the reviews to pour in. And remember, not everyone will like your book – enjoy the positive reviews and ignore the rest; most of all never, ever get into a verbal war with bad reviewers, it will only make you look bad. Accept all reviews with good grace and be proud of your achievement.


Hopefully this has demystified the process and you’re now set to start on the path towards getting your book published.

To find an editor or proofreader head to the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading in the UK

or the Editorial Freelancers Association in the US

or have a chat with me if you feel I’d be the right for your project.

3 Comments on “The Publishing Process explained for new authors

  1. Thank you for the article, it is so insightful. Thanks again for recommendations. Do you perhaps know South African editors and publishers? I am writing my first non-fiction book and sometimes I feel I should get a publisher when publishing time comes, marketing is not my strong point.

  2. Pingback: Exercise 1: What is your role – Emclemmie Creative book design

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