The birth of a book from brain to binding

The birth of a book: From brain to binding

By Drummond Moir

06 May 2016

Here at Hodder HQ we sometimes forget that you book lovers don't necessarily know the quite substantial ins and outs of the publishing process. The life cycle of a book, both physical and digital, really is a labour of love for all involved. We asked our very own Associate Publisher Drummond Moir to give you a run down (significantly truncated of course) of the highlights.

Unlike readers, books can be born in various different ways.

With fiction, it generally involves an aspiring (or existing) novelist somehow weaving the threads of their imagination into that most prosaic thing, the Microsoft Word document. Having worked with a number of brilliant novelists over the last decade, this first and most basic step still manages to amaze, baffle and inspire me. More often than not they will submit their novel to literary agents, who represent authors. A good agent will not only have advice for the author on how their manuscript can be improved, but will also have a very good idea of which editors at which publishing houses are most likely to connect with it.

Non-fiction can start the same way (author writes book; agent likes book and submits to publishers), but often doesn’t. A historian will tend to write a proposal based on their idea for the book rather than writing the entire book up-front; a journalist may be approached direct by an agent who loved their most recent article; an entrepreneur might get a call from an editor asking if they’ve ever considering writing a book about their particular field of expertise. Editors will often hatch a book idea then approach prospective authors to write it, which as a method of commissioning is a wonderful complement to the way we tend to acquire fiction (i.e. assessing what has been submitted to us from both authors and agents and pursuing the ones we fall in love with).

While there are myriad ways a book deal can happen, the rest of the stages are broadly common across publishers*:

1)    The book is edited. There are normally a couple of stages here: structural edits (which look at the overall architecture of the book, whether that’s the plot of a novel, the argument of a polemic or the range of recipes in a cookery book), and line-edits (closer, more detailed edits). If you love books, there is perhaps no more meaningful, rewarding or privileged role than working with an author as their editor.

2)    Once the author and the editor are satisfied that the book has achieved the physical form of its Platonic ideal, it goes through various stages of production: copyediting (forensic checking by geniuses who make Rain Man look a bit sloppy), typesetting (by typesetters, which is why finished books look so much nicer than Word docs), and proofreading (more expert checking).

3)    While all this is going on (and well before) a separate tribe of imagination-weavers, the Art team, will be beavering away on the cover, and an expert production controller will be ensuring that the book will be as covetable as possible across its various editions.

4)    While all this is going on, the publisher’s sales, publicity, rights and marketing teams will be working on their campaigns to find readers for the author’s book once it is released.

5)    Once the text and cover are final, books are printed and bound within their covers, and files are converted for eBooks.

On the specified publication date, another book – whether fiction or non-fiction; physical or digital; falling into one of myriad genres of inventing something entirely new – is born. Something that likely started as a fleeting idea, a speck of neural activity amidst billions of others in an author’s brain, is now a book.


*I’m afraid there isn’t space, in a 500-word blog piece, to describe every variation or option here, so hope you’ll forgive some generalizing.