Congratulations! That's a big deal. You've probably worked for years on manuscripts, written and revised countless query letters, read rejection after disheartening rejection and finally, you're there. If this is your debut novel and you're anything like me, you have no idea what comes next. Or you have some ideas, most of which will turn out to be totally wrong.
Looking back at my experiences this past year - and those of other debut novelists - here's a rough timeline of what steps our books went through and when...
Publishing Contract - this might come right away. Or not. It could sail right through your agent's gatekeeping or get hung up on negotiations over ebook royalties, option clauses or any number of other points. Mine arrived seven months after the deal when copyedits were already done.
Advance - depends on your contract, but its often broken into parts (e.g., 1/2 on contract signing, 1/2 on delivery of accepted edited manuscript). So if your contract takes a long time, your advance will too. The check typically comes about a month after you send in the contract/manuscript.
Edits - Like the contract, you might get these right away (I did), but I've heard of writers waiting over a year for their first editorial letter. Most people I know had their first round of edits at least a year before their scheduled publication date (even though they probably didn't know their pub date at the time).
A typical editorial letter is 5-10 single spaced pages and most of the debut authors I know went through at least two rounds of edits - so got a least two letters like this - not including copyedits.
Publication Date - often you'll be given a likely publication "season" relatively soon after the offer (Winter: Jan-Apr, Spring: May-Aug, Fall: Sept-Dec). Your official date is often set about ten months to a year out, but might change at any time.
Cover - one of the really fun parts...hopefully! The earliest I heard of someone seeing their cover comp (draft) was about a year out, the latest about 5 months before publication.
Author Questionnaire - not every publisher uses them, but those who do generally send them about a year pre-pub and might ask your education history, background, organizations you belong to or ever have, and other stuff to get an idea of places or ways they might market your book. Some will also ask your blurb wishlist.
Solicit Blurbs - these are the quotes from other authors that go on your cover. Some publishers will do this for you, some will ask you to do it, some won't consider it a big deal and skip this step (though if you want a blurb, they'll probably be open to your getting one, so ask!). This process usually starts about a year out.
Copy Edits - this is the final round of editing where punctuation, facts, timelines, etc are scrutinized. It usually happens around 10 months pre-publication. Your contract probably prohibits major changes at this stage of the game so take care with your earlier rounds of editing!
Dedication, Acknowledgements, Bio, Photo - you'll probably be asked for these around the same time as copyedits. A lot of this is optional. I know people who've included only a bio, those who've done acknowledgements, but not a dedication, etc.
Jacket Copy - This is the stuff that goes on the back cover and inside flap of your book describing the story and/or giving an excerpt. Usually your editor writes it and runs it by you anywhere from a year to 3 months before publication. A cover tagline might also be part of this.
Amazon Pre-Order - another cool milestone! Most of the time, books seemed to show up about 8-9 months pre-publication.
First Pass Pages - the guts of your book, pages formatted just the way the book will look. Its one final chance to find errors, generally 6-7 months before publication.
Get ARCs - anywhere from 10-4 months pre-publication, 6-7 months seems typical. Whether you get ARCs, when and how many depends on your publisher and contract. Generally, these are for your personal use and your publisher will handle mailings to actual reviewers.
Hear from Marketing/Publicity - Often you'll be assigned a publicist at your publishing house. This may happen up to 6 months pre-pub, but possibly as late as 6 weeks before. In rare cases, they'll arrange readings/signings for you. In most cases, they'll field review requests, send ARCs and possibly contact publications that might have an interest in you (local papers, alumni mags, etc). In some cases, you'll have very little contact with them.
Your Catalog - the publisher's catalog, used by their sales team, will come out about 5 months before the start of your book's season. Often your editor will write the copy for this on their own. They may or may not send you a copy.
Reviews - when you start seeing them depends on when ARCs were sent. Blogger reviews could be up to 7 months pre-pub, though conventional wisdom is that closer to publication is better. Professional reviews (Booklist, School Library Journal, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly) are usually around the month of/after release.
Full Book Jacket - I never really noticed before, but the back and spine of covers have their own design elements. The spine is especially important since most books are shelved spine out. Having something that pops here helps. You'll probably see the full jacket 2-3 months before publication.
Foreign/Audio/TV/Film Rights Sales - this stuff can happen anytime. Months before release, months after or never. If you've retained the rights and your agent is shopping them, you'll probably know if something's in the works. If your publisher owns the rights, you'll probably find out they've sold via an email after-the-fact which is a pretty awesome way to start any day!
Launch Party - if you have one, it'll be up to you to plan and finance it. Publishers don't typically get involved beyond helping ensure there are books to be sold there.
Release Day! The day you can finally see your book on the shelves! If stores bought it. And got around to unpacking it. To me, release day felt a little like New Year's Eve...anticlimactic unless you have a party to go to. The only person your release day is really meaningful for is you. And it should be meaningful...it took a long time to get there, much longer than the pre-pub year or so leading up to it, usually. So, plan something that'll make you happy that day...which may be nothing more than seeking out a store that has your book, even if you have to ask them to unpack it yourself.
Tomorrow I'll post about The Monkey Wrenches - stuff I've seen go awry in this process over the past year.