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Being Published 6: The Book

This is the sixth in a series of posts inspired by my new book, This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin, which was published on Tuesday - Darwin Day - 12th February 1019. In each post I'll try to shed light not only on the practicalities of what happens when your book is being published, but also the sometimes surprising ways that this stage of the writing life can affect you and your writing. The whole Being Published series is here.



The moment when you first hold your book, or see it on your tablet, is one of the great moments of being a writer so do let yourself stroke it, cuddle it, do the Happy Author Dance, show it to everyone including the milk(wo)man, and open a bottle of something fizzy. The fact that you are bored to tears by the text, have already poured endlessly over the typeset .pdf looking for typos, have worried yourself sick over the cover, and are in any case convinced it's all going to be a disaster, is neither here nor there. If you want to take it to bed with you for a few days, then do just that.

To be honest, there's not a lot more to say on the how-it-feels front about this. Yes, if your next project has got stuck, you may have a flare-up of self-consciousness and panic, as can happen whenever you're more than usually conscious of outside eyes on your work. If you loathe the cover it may strike you afresh, not in a good way, or you may be pleasantly surprised, now it's in context. And I'd certainly say, don't be surprised - and certainly don't be cross with yourself - if you find this moment, however happy, a bit derailing or at least distracting. But your book is born - so enjoy it!



The first incarnation of your book as a book almost certainly won't be the one that will ultimately be sold in bookshops; it will probably be an ARC, or Advance Reading Copy, otherwise known as a bound proof, galley proof, advance proof or just "the proof". It's quite different from the proof which you and the proof-reader will be combing for typos and literals - though in the old days they were made by the printer at the same time, gathered up, and shoved in some kind of cover to send out. These days proofs will have a proper cover, probably looking more-or-less like a book, though sometimes tweaked, or done in an eye-catching way: this was the proof for The Mathematics of Love: 20190210_221017 20190210_221020

If things have got behind with the designer, the proof may go out with a quick, knocked-up-for-now cover, which isn't ideal but absolutely not a disaster. Somewhere on the front it will say "Uncorrected Proof Copy" and it will have details of the publication dates and formats, and contact details for sales and publicity departments. The idea is not to gather corrections, it's just warning reviewers that there are mistakes, and that anything like a quote for a review must be checked against the final, about-to-be-published book when it arrives. 

The paper, cover and binding will not be as good quality as the finished book will be, and coloured illustrations may only be in black-and-white, or not in at all. But, make no mistake, proofs are expensive to produce, because the print runs are relatively short and the distribution costs fiddly and individual: your publicist will be stuffing jiffy bags with the things.

And that's why, increasingly, some or all of a book's proofs are sent out as digital .pdf files; there's even an industry website, NetGalley, where reviewers and bloggers can sign up and download a proof. The fact that proofs are marked "Not for Resale" doesn't mean they don't turn up on eBay sometimes, and there may or may not be DRM programming on a digital proof. After all, the whole exercise is an investment in selling the real thing, not about expensively providing the world with free copies.

Bound proofs are a key promotional tool for both marketing and publicity. They will be sent to: 

  • the sales team, to persuade the booksellers and buyers to love it, order it, and maybe include it in promotions, BOGOFs and so on (all of which will cost your publisher money, by the way). 
  • authors you're hoping will give a quote - aka "puff" or in the US "blurb" - to garnish the published book, press release, online seller sites and so on
  • newspapers, magazines and broadcasters who might commission a review, serialise extracts, ask for an interview or commission the author to write an article on some related subject 
  • well-known freelance reviewers who might pitch a review to one of the above
  • the big review blogs

For example - it would have been a bound proof, sent to The Literary Review, which reviewer Lindy Burleigh read to write this review of This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin. They would then have asked for a final copy of the book to check quotes and facts.

Author's Copies

By contract you will be sent a certain number of free copies of the published book - anything from five to twenty - which you will probably be giving to some nearest and dearest as a hopelessly inadequate thanks for the years they put up with your writing. But don't forget that you will need a copy for doing events - and I personally like to keep one pristine copy for, well, I dunno. Posterity?

You may well be sent one by your editor from their office, with the rest coming from the warehouse; either way, at your first, delighted dive in I can guarantee that you will spot one appalling typo, and one incredibly irritating phrase which has managed for all these months to elude you, your editor, your copyeditor and your proofreader. It's probably too late for the hardback, though it may be changeable in the ebook, but it should be correctible in the paperback. This really is only for howlers, though: it's surprising how a small change can have knock-on effects on the layout etc. - plus it can feel a bit odd to have different versions out there.

You should be able to get more copies from your publisher at some kind of discount, to give away to friends (but why aren't they buying them?) or promotionally (though maybe your publisher should be paying for those) or to sell at events; with this last one, contracts do vary about how this works, and what you can do with these copies.

On which point, it is worth practising your answer to the very common question: "When do I get my signed copy?". I suggest it should be along the lines of, "When you buy a copy and bring it to me."


If your book is coming out in hardback, it and the ebook will be the first to be published, and the main publicity efforts will be centred on this moment. The book trade has been predicting the demise of the hardback for thirty years but for adult fiction this still hasn't quite happened. Older reviewers are still sometimes resistant to reviewing paperbacks seriously, and the libraries like hardbacks, where there's the budget, because they wear well. What's more, the hardback is, actually, a good way of making readers aware of the book for several months before the paperback arrives.

But not only are hardbacks more expensive to produce - they're bigger, the binding is dearer and more complicated - because they're more expensive the print-runs are shorter which makes them more expensive still. Increasingly, books at all points on the literary-commercial spectrum may skip this stage and emerge in paperback from the off. 

However, one of the unexpected effects of the rise of ebook has been to recognise that hardbacks can court early-adopters and people who love books as objects, by being more than just like the paperback only bigger. There are embossed boards, clever jackets and so on, to lure buyers away from the disposable, insubstantial ebook - though it has to be said that the paper and binding inside the gorgeous covers doesn't always live up to the outside. 

Trade Paperback

An alternative to the hardback is a "trade paperback". This (in the UK) is a big, handsome paperback, with good paper and nice, spacious pages, aimed similarly at the early adopters and reviewers. It's cheaper to produce but still a bit special: in fact, it's very like a hardback that just happens to have rather thick paperback covers.

You may also meet a trade paperback "export edition" of your hardback, which will be the version that is sold in, for example, the Commonwealth countries that your UK publisher has rights for, and also be the one sold in airport bookshops (don't despise those airport sales or the books labelled as them: apparently the highest sales-per-square-foot for any Waterstones is or was Gatwick North).


The ebook will have the hardback cover, until the paperback comes out when it will change its clothes, and the formatting inside will reflect the design on the physical book too, in fonts. However, the formatting may be a bit simpler, as it has to be able to cope with resizing, and different tablets' and e-readers' programming, and so on. This is certainly true of how-to books, and others full of boxes and pictures: the ebook of Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction is much simpler in design than the paperback.

Some genres - commercial crime, for example - sell more than half their total copies as ebooks, and "digital first" imprints and contracts are increasingly common. With the latter, the core format is the ebook, but if sales either before it's published, or later, persuade the publisher there is a market for a paperback, then they will put one into production - which of course means it will be available in the shops as well as online, and catch the percentage of readers who just don't do ebooks. 


Traditionally, the "mass market" paperback usually comes out somewhere between six months and a year after the hardback - and, ebook aside, it will be these sales that are the bulk of your book's mileage. If the hardback cover went down well with the trade the paperback will be similar, though tweaked for the smaller size, and to reflect that the markets for each are subtly different. If it didn't go down well, the cover may be drastically re-thought for the paperback.

The normal size now is "B" format (same size as a US "trade paperback"), with the littler "A" format only cropping up for super-commercial books often selling in non-book outlets; if the export equivalent of the hardback was a B-format paperback, the export equivalent of the paperback may also be A-format.

Large Print

If your agent or publisher has sold the Large Print rights, it will be produced by a specialist publisher, mainly for the library market. It may have a very different cover, or a similar one, and inside will be designed with bright-white paper (off-white or cream is otherwise usual for fiction), and fonts which are bigger but also designed to be particularly easy to read for people with impaired vision.


You or your publisher may have sold audiobook rights, which will be to a separate company. They will either be aiming at the library market for people with disabilities, or more widely at the mainstream audiobook companies who feed Audible and similar platforms.  There may be a chance to go and see some of it being recorded - respect to the actors who make the recordings, which is hard work, and needs great preparation and focus. When it's published, it will also be dressed like the hardback, and sell on the back of the publicity the latter generates, and any promotions that are arranged with the audiobook seller.

And that's it. I'm off to celebrate the publication of This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin with a Darwin Day event tomorrow in Norwich, but I've got quite a few events lined up already for the next few weeks. For more about the book and to buy a copy, click that link, and to find out more about what I'm doing where, click through to Events on my website.