From Contract to Store Shelves

It’s a dream come true – you have a contract with a Big Publisher!


© 2014 R. Lex-M, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

Hooray! Bring out the fireworks!


Your friends are all excited. They ask when the book will be available in their local bookstore. What’s the answer? A lot longer than you think.

What happens next? The first thing that hits you is that the publisher chooses a title for your book. Never mind that you spent weeks agonizing over just the right title and searching the internet to make sure no one else had used it first, the publisher found something else. Maybe you like it, maybe you don’t. That matters not in the world of Big Publishing.

Next a designer, who has not read the book, produces a cover. We all know that everyone says you can’t judge a book by its cover, but they do it anyway. Again, your opinion has very little weight with the publisher.

The title, cover, and description must be ready 12 to 16 months before the book is published. It must get into the publisher’s catalogue that their reps take around to distributors. Printing catalogues, orders, sales calls… it all goes on long before the book is ready for print.
W. Terry Whalin’s article, “What Happens Inside a Publisher, After I Sign the Contract?” ( describes the process.

It can take a year and a half or two years to appear on the shelves, according to Michael Larsen’s How to Get a Literary Agent. A lot can happen in two years…The stock market could crash, the world could end, the reading public may not be interested in your topic, the publisher may have been eaten by a bigger fish…


In the meantime you attend book launches for your author friends who published books completed long after yours began its search for the right agent, who could connect it with the right publisher, who will (hopefully) distribute it to the big brick and mortar bookstores. You console yourself with the knowledge that your book will have the prestige and marketing expertise of a Big Publisher. You have the ticket to bestsellerdom in your pocket.

But do you? What will happen when your book appears on the shelves among all the other books that have caught the brass ring of Big Publishing?


Photo by Joanna Penn, author, (via

That’s the next story.


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