From Charlie Stross at Charlie’s Diary:
Left to my own devices, in a good year with no major disruptions (which, alas, don’t come along as often as I’d like) I can write around 200-240,000 words of finished fiction — a pair of 330 page novels or one big doorstep plus a novella.
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However a modern trade-fic publisher is an organization dedicated to handling the work-flow of book production. Over the past 30 years they’ve ruthlessly outsourced everything that isn’t a core part of the job of publishing — including many tasks that an outsider might think were core competencies. Copy editors work freelance, paid by the book. Proofreaders ditto. Typesetting is carried out by DTP agencies. Printing is the job of a printer, not a publisher.
The stuff that remains in-house is editorial, marketing, accounting, and (occasionally) sales. “Editorial” in this context means workflow management — someone to ride herd on the pool of copy editors and proofreaders and to make acquisition decisions (in their spare time). “Marketing” includes book design, blurb writing, ARCs/review copies, presence at trade shows, glad-handing the big chain buyers, commissioning advertising, organizing signing tours and author promotion, and so on. (There’s also a “production” side, sometimes subsumed under editorial, whose job it is to organize typesetting and printing and the business of turning the manuscript into a physical product. Generating ebooks slots into this workflow in place of “send PDF file to printer, order x thousand copies”).
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So, I estimate a book takes roughly 2 months of publishing company employee labour to produce.
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When you add it all up: if I’m as efficient as a trade publisher, it would take me roughly 3 months to produce a book that also took me 6 months to write. More realistically, I’m likely to be less streamlined and efficient than a publisher who specializes in this job. This supposes I’m sufficiently plugged-in to commission my own copy-editor, book designer, cover artist, and typesetter. I then have to handle the contractual, accounting, and tax side of things.
Link to the rest at Charlie’s Diary and thanks to Ant for the tip.