• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

What “Finished” Means To An Author

The delightful Karen Henry suggested to me that this might be a Good Time to repost this informative little flow-chart, so on August 2, 2015, I posted this information on my Facebook page:

As my husband often remarks, "’FINISHED’ is a relative term to a writer." This is true! <g> I thought y’all might be interested in Just What Happens to a book after the writer is "finished" writing the manuscript:

(NB: This is the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). Owing to the tight Production schedule for MOBY (and now for THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION, Volume 2, aka "OC II",) a lot of these steps have been done concurrently, rather than sequentially, and a few repetitive steps have been skipped. But by and large, this is how it works. FWIW, I’m presently at step "M" for OC II…)

  1. Books don’t go directly from the author to the bookstore.
  2. Books go from the author to the Editor, who
    1. reads the manuscript
    2. discusses the manuscript with the author, and
    3. suggests minor revisions that may improve the book
  3. The book goes back to the author, who

    1. re-reads the manuscript
    2. considers the editor’s comments, and
    3. makes whatever revisions, emendments, or clarifications seem right.
  4. The book goes back to the editor, who

    1. reads it again
    2. asks any questions that seem necessary, and
    3. Sends it to
  5. The copy-editor. This is a person whose thankless job is to

    1. read the manuscript one…word…at…a…time
    2. find typos or errors in grammar, punctuation, or continuity (one heck of a job, considering the size not only of the individual books, but of the overall series), and
    3. write queries to the author regarding anything questionable, whereupon
  6. The book comes back to the author—yes, again— who

    1. re-reads the manuscript
    2. answers the copy-editor’s queries, and
    3. alters anything that the copy-editor has changed that the author disagrees with. After which, the author sends it back to
  7. The editor—yes, again!—who

    1. re-re-reads it
    2. checks that all the copy-editor’s queries have been answered, and sends it to
  8. The Typesetter (aka Compositor, these days), who sets the manuscript in type, according to the format laid out by
  9. The Book-Designer, who

    1. decides on the layout of the pages (margins, gutters, headers or footers, page number placement)
    2. chooses a suitable and attractive typeface
    3. decides on the size of the font
    4. chooses or commissions any incidental artwork (endpapers, maps, dingbats—these are the little gizmos that divide chunks of text, but that aren’t chapter or section headings)—or, for something like the OC II, a ton of miscellaneous illustrations, photographs, etc. that decorate or punctuate the text.
    5. Designs chapter and Section headings, with artwork, and consults with the
  10. Cover Artist, who (reasonably enough) designs or draws or paints or PhotoShops the cover art, which is then sent to
  11. The Printer, who prints the dust-jackets—which include not only the cover art and the author’s photograph and bio, but also "flap copy," which may be written by either the editor or the author, but is then usually messed about with by
  12. The Marketing Department, whose thankless task is to try to figure out how best to sell a book that can’t reasonably be described in terms of any known genre <g>, to which end, they

    1. try to provide seductive and appealing cover copy to the book (which the author has to approve. I usually insist on writing it myself).
    2. compose advertisements for the book (author usually sees and approves these—or at least I normally do).
    3. decide where such advertisements might be most effective (periodicals, newspapers, book-review sections, radio, TV, Facebook, Web)
    4. try to think up novel and entertaining means of promotion, such as having the author appear on a cooking show to demonstrate recipes for unusual foods mentioned in the book.
    5. kill a pigeon in Times Square and examine the entrails in order to determine the most advantageous publishing date for the book.
  13. OK. The manuscript itself comes back from the typesetter, is looked at (again) by the editor, and sent back to the author (again!), who anxiously proof-reads the galleys (these are the typeset sheets of the book; they look just like the printed book’s pages, but are not bound), because this is the very last chance to change anything. Meanwhile
  14. A number of copies of the galley-proofs are bound—in very cheap plain covers—and sent to (NB: This is SOP, but we haven’t been doing it for the last few books, owing to the fact that the book itself is coming out on the heels of Production; there’s no time to distribute ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies).)
  15. The Reviewers, i.e., the bound galleys are sent (by the marketing people, the editor, and/or the author) to the book editors of all major newspapers and periodicals, and to any specialty publication to whom this book might possibly appeal, in hopes of getting preliminary reviews, from which cover quotes can be culled, and/or drumming up name recognition and excitement prior to publication. Frankly, they don’t always bother with this step with my books, because they are in a rush to get them into the bookstores, and it takes several months’ lead-time to get reviews sufficiently prior to publication that they can be quoted on the cover.
  16. With luck, the author finds 99.99% of all errors in the galleys (you’re never going to find all of them; the process is asymptotic), and returns the corrected manuscript (for the last time, [pant, puff, gasp, wheeze]) to the editor, who sends it to

    (1. The ebook coding happens somewhere in here.)

  17. The Printer, who prints lots of copies (“the print-run” means how many copies) of the “guts” of the book—the actual inside text—are printed. These are then shipped to
  18. The Bindery, where the guts are bound into their covers, equipped with dust-jackets, and shipped to
  19. The Distributors. There are a number of companies—Ingram, and Baker and Taylor, are the largest, but there are a number of smaller ones—whose business is shipping, distributing, and warehousing books. The publisher also ships directly to
(1) Arrangements are made in this phase for ebook distribution through retailers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble.)
  20. The Bookstores, but bookstores can only house a limited number of books. Therefore, they draw on distributors’ warehouses to resupply a title that’s selling briskly, because it takes much longer to order directly from the publisher. And at this point, [sigh]…the book finally reaches
  21. You, the reader.

And we do hope you like it when you get it—because we sure-God went to a lot of trouble to make it for you. <g>

This essay is also available under "What I Do" under the Resources menu:


34 Responses »

  1. Diana:

    Thanks for posting this! I figured that a lot of people hadn’t seen it before. Many thanks for mentioning me and linking to my blog, Outlandish Observations. :-)


  2. Wow, I hadn’t read this before and I knew it was an exhausting process because my grand daughter wants to be a copy editor, but I really had no idea just how exhausting. Thanks for posting this!!

  3. This is a wonderful series….I have it in both hardback and books….great to be able to take the iPad and read the whole series rather than take a stack of very heavy books with me.

    Never realized how much back and forth went into the book publication after it was written, but can understand why and now have a better understanding of why it takes so long to publish a book.

    am anxiously awaiting this new book and know it will be as interesting and well researched as the others. In fact while waiting for “MOBY” I went back and re-read the first seven and found little things that I missed the first time.

    Thank you for a wonderful series….Be

  4. Fabulous flow chart. Also, somewhere between P and Q, the printer sends “bluelines” of the printed pages for the editor to proof for out of order pages, front and back matter where it belongs, illustrations right side up, etc. As these usually need to be turned around in a day or two (maybe your editor gets a few extra days…), the author doesn’t get a crack at them, so that still lets you end your description with U for Us, who love reading the culmination of all this effort.

  5. I love the Outlander series, especially the audiobooks narrated by Divinia Porter. I appreciate all of you talent & effort to bringing us the pleasure of reading Outlander. Thank you!! Just one request.. I’m 68 years old please rap up the series before I’m gone from this world.

    • Cindy, you are worried at 68………(you wrote 4 years ago) I’m 85 and hoping that I get to read the complete series before I go, too. I’ve read and re-read all of the first 8 books, plus several of the extra books. Love them all.

  6. So much interesting work! all worth it, thanks to this in the end we get a beautiful story!!!

  7. Diana,

    If it makes it any easier, I’ll settle for a first draft. I have the utmost confidence in your story-telling and writing skills. Just saying.

    Thanks for a look behind closed doors.


  8. Diana, I do hope that in your upcoming book that the issues of Will’s relationship with Jamie and Brianna will be resolved, and that they can all enjoy each other- finally! It’s been so poignant to see (at least in Claire’s eyes)how much father and son resemble each other. Everyone wants for Will to be proud of his father who loves and feels protective of him, and for Will and Brianna can have wonderful dialogues with each other as siblings.

  9. Somewhere in there needs to be the part where the book is sent to Audible so that Mrs. Davina Porter can read it, make her notes, and then start recording. I’m praying that she agrees to come out of retirement to not only read book nine but also if there is a book ten of which I’ve heard rumors. I cannot imagine anyone other than the fabulous Mrs. Porter voicing these characters.

  10. Wow ! It’s a wonder any book ever makes it all the way to be sold at the bookstore ! Thank you for writing your wonderful books.

  11. Diana,

    I once worked in a building that housed the press for a big campus. The manager had a piece under the glass on his desk from Ripley’s. It said that the proofs of a book had been read by one hundred people, and only after publishing, did anyone notice that there was a misspelled word on the title page! Guess he used that as a fall back if someone found a booboo in the final product.

    I didn’t work for the press itself, but worked closely with them. Since our office did the designing for many types of publications, I got to learn much of the process. So I know what you are talking about with all of the “toing and froing”. When I am reading a book, I mark mistakes if I find them, and no, I am not looking for a job!

    Well, not unless you know someone who needs a children’s book illustrated. I am semi-retired and enjoy doing that.

    Love your books and have read all but this last one. Will get to that one soon.

  12. I read all of the previous Outlander novels in about three months during the fall of this year. Once I started, I was obsessed. So, needless to say, I’m chomping at the bits waiting for “Bees”. Thank you for your wonderful books!

  13. I loved this! I read it to my mother so she could enjoy it too! While the process sounds daunting, we are grateful for the books! For the effort, research, the Characters, the saga that our entire family enjoys together! I must say, the writing is done so well…I love that each time a read the books I get something new out of them. I have also found that I love the Unabridged audio books! My family and I think Davina Porter brings your words to another level, in a different way, one we truly appreciate. We look forward to Bees! Merry Christmas to you and your whole team!

  14. Do you mind if I use this with my students? Kids/Teens in the library within English classes. They always seem to think a first draft means Done.

    • Hi, Andrea,

      Diana’s busy this week, so I’m answering web comments for her (that I know the answers for, anyway!). I’m the nerd that keeps her website running.

      Add a reference link to the webpage, credit Diana as author and copyright holder, and don’t alter her text, and all should be okay.

      FYI: Diana just released a blog entry on the same topic that your students might enjoy, too. It’s “A Brief Explanation of How Publishing Works,” at:


      I hope your students enjoy it! Diana has such an entertaining way of writing about this topic.

      Thanks for being a teacher; you’re a hero!

      Diana’s Webmistress

  15. What about the translation? You have to do all steps again so people from other countries can read it as well.
    I discovered your books in french. Now they doesn’t translate them anymore and I have to struggle with my dictionary but it is worth it.
    Thank you for this wonderful series.

  16. L. v. – LOL!!! I rarely get into the city anymore but I’d make a special trip just to watch this part of the process. Well, maybe not. Wouldn’t tea leaves be less messy and more apropos? Well, I guess with all those pigeons on hand…

    Hi Diana, this it first chance I’ve had to read the Long Version of the final steps of Finishing. Here’s hoping this go round will be a lot less stressful.


  17. Thank you for this! I’m curious…at what stage does the audiobook recording take place?

  18. This is so incredibly helpful and is the best explanation I have seen of this process. Thank you for being so open to sharing your knowledge of the writing world with all of us readers and aspiring writers!

  19. Just wondering, where in the long list does Davina Porter get to start prepping for the task of reading (to us)? Excellent job.
    Can we hope, maybe, sometime this year to finish that list of “Post Production” work?

    My niece and I usually get each other a new Outlander/Lord John book for Christmas, but we are caught up now. (I lent her my copy of Outlander just after the TV series started. Then it was either get her her own copy or go for joint custody.)

    We wait. Not entirely impatiently.

    • Hi,

      The timing of release of the audio version of a new book is dependent on a lot of factors, since it is published by a different company than a print publisher. The audio publisher of a publishing region determines the release date, and of course tries to time it as soon as possible after the print book comes out.

      So all those tasks for the audio versions are interwoven somewhere, but dependent upon the print version. :-)

      Diana’s Webmistress

  20. Thank you for this explanation. In 2018 this same web page stated that the book was going to be finished sometimes in 2018. The same happened in 2019. I appreciate this is a very long process. Would it be possible to know at which stage is the book now? Many thanks.


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