George R. R. Martin recently announced that he wouldn’t be finished The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in his Song of Ice and Fire series, in time to have it out before the next season of Game of Thrones on HBO in April. In his blog post, he indicated that his publisher could probably get the book out on the stands within three months of his turning in the manuscript. Some people questioned why it takes even this long to produce a book, most likely people who haven’t had any involvement with the publishing industry where the normal production cycle is usually at least a year long.
In How Could The Winds of Winter Be Published in Only Three Months? on Tor.com, Chris Lough examines the typical trade book production process in great detail, and then looks at how it could be shortened in this case. In doing so, he’s written one of the best primers on the publishing process that I’ve seen anywhere. What I found most interesting is that, despite advances in technology over the last few decades, the basic work flow of publishing a book hasn’t changed much since I was working at James Lorimer Publishers, a small Canadian publisher, in the mid-1980s. If you find it hard to understand why it takes a year from when your favourite author announces on Facebook that she’s turned in the manuscript of her latest book to when you can get it at your local bookstore, read this article, and have a little tea and sympathy.
Book production, from the delivery of the manuscript to the book arriving on shelves, typically takes nine months to one year, so how is it that Bantam and Martin’s non-U.S. publishers could turn around an undoubtedly massive work like The Winds of Winter in less than three months? Learn about the typical book production process below, along with how unique marquee titles like The Winds of Winter can circumvent, compress, and alter that process.
Book production processes differ depending on the type of content featured in a book. Full-color art, for example, adds time to a book’s production process by requiring additional outlay for printing, extra time to clear the usage of images, and/or extra time to prepare and create additional images. An image-heavy non-fiction book can add even more time to a production process by requiring rigorous fact-checking in addition to content editing. In comparison, the production process for a text-only fiction title like The Winds of Winter is straightforward.
Market forces also affect the production process of a title. While a novel begins as a work of personal expression by its author, it will eventually be seen by a bookseller as primarily a product. The task of a publisher is to balance the artistic expression of the author with the demands of the marketplace on the product. For a debut author, the publisher and bookseller must work together to generate initial demand for that author and their story. In George R. R. Martin’s case, booksellers want the product as quickly as possible, so a publisher’s task becomes maintaining the integrity of the writing while satisfying the intense demand for the product.