9 Things You Didn’t Know About The Publishing Industry


“No reviewer ever says, ‘By God, this book was well edited.'”
-Betsy Lerner

6 DIVIDER1. Publishing a book takes a really, really long time.

Writing and editing, if done well, are extremely slow processes. And it strikes me that taking a certain amount of time to consider a project is warranted.” – Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees

“Publishers ideally like to have nine months from the time the book is completely edited to its publication date, during which time the book is copyedited, typeset, proofread, and manufactured.” – Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees


2. Authors have almost no say in the design of their book jacket or cover art.

As soon as a publisher comes up with the first pass at a jacket design, he has started to spend money… If the author hates the jacket and the publisher loves it, or if the budget and deadlines are used up, the editor can be in the unfortunate position of having to convince her author that it’s a great jacket or, taking a more politic stance, that it’s right for the book.” – Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees

Authors at every level and for all time have felt themselves ill served by their jackets.” – Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees


3. Sometimes getting the title right comes down to the wire.

Peter Benchley claims to have tried more than a hundred titles before settling on Jaws twenty minutes before going to press.” – Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees

A good title is one that sold.” – Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees


4. The blurbs on books can tell you more about an author’s connections and personal life than you think.

Americans tend to trust personal experience or expert endorsement… While some consumers are among the literary cognoscenti, know who’s slept with whom, and thus can deconstruct the connections that bind a book with its blurbers, most readers don’t know that A is friends with B, who was taught by C, who was married to D, who went to school with E, and so forth.” – Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees


5. When an author’s photo is featured on the book jacket, it is usually because they are good looking.

“It’s obvious when a publisher is trading on an author’s physical beauty to sell the book, and while this strikes most people as venal and banal, given that it’s literature we’re trying to sell, it’s impossible not to be intrigued by a gorgeous photograph.” – Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees


6. If you read the acknowledgements in books you will find out a lot about an authors connections and their personal life. You will also gain insight into who they had read their book before publishing, other than their editor.

“In many cases, authors will thank their spouses for reading their book in the acknowledgments. However, in Betsy Lerner’s opinion, spouses or partners shouldn’t be allowed to do anything for the book, just like surgeons are not allowed to operate on their loved ones.” – Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees

If you are considering submitting a manuscript, “Read the acknowledgments in books that you love or that are in the category you hope to break into and see if an editor or agent is mentioned.” – Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees


7. Not all authors have mastered the art of writing yet, and they utilize many people in order to assist them on their journey to success.

Not all writers have an innate sense of structure. As a young editor, I used to think that those who couldn’t structure their books where somehow inferior to ‘real’ writers or people with ‘natural’ ability. I imagined that skill in the handling of time was akin to having an innate sense of rhythm in music, and that you either had it or you didn’t. I’ve since revised that notion, having worked with brilliant authors over the years who committed all kinds of time crimes and didn’t see the structure their own sentences and paragraphs suggested. I have also worked with writers who were flummoxed when it came to connecting two scenes or coalescing a week’s events into a day to advance the narrative more swiftly.” – Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees


8. The editor and agent make more contributions to the book than you may think.

A lot of great books have been vastly changed, cut down, or redrafted by their editors. This makes some wonder at what point do the contributions of the editor, if they are substantial enough, become co-authoring?

Only a writer knows for sure whether an editor is making a serious contribution to and improvement of his work. Only the writer really knows how good an editor is on the page. While industry watchers are eager to point out how few editors edit, they never report on those books that were nearly rewritten by editors or that were cut to within an inch of their lives.” – Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees

“At a magazine, the writer can always withdraw his piece, but basically the editor is in charge. In book publishing, editors are the servants of writers, and if we don’t serve writers well, they leave us.” – Robert Gottlieb, The Art of Editing

An editor does not exist without her authors.” – Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees


9. Every author-editor relationship is unique.

Each author needs a certain amount of attention and guidance while creating their work and each editor has a specific way they edit and work. Most editors have to teach their new authors how to not be overly needy throughout the revision process.

It is the dream of most editors to amass a group of writers and work with them over their writing lives.” – Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees

The first thing writers want is quick response… The editor gives or withholds approval, and even to a certain extent controls the purse strings. It’s a relationship fraught with difficulty, because it can lead to infantilizing and then to resentment. Somehow, to be helpful, an editor has to embody authority yet not become possessive or controlling.” – Robert Gottlieb, The Art of Editing

“There are editors now who basically make deals; they have assistant editors or associate editors who do the actual editing for them.” – Robert Gottlieb, The Art of Editing

6 DIVIDERExcerpts from:Betsy Lerner

The Forest for the Trees:
An Editor’s Advice to Writers
Betsy Lerner
Revised & Updated
October 2010

The Art of EditingRobert Gottlieb
Robert Gottlieb
The Paris Review
Issue 132
Fall 1994

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