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From Ideas to Books: The Creative Process of Children's Publishing

How does an idea become a book? This post dives into the story of how we journey from ideas to a finished booked and who helps along the way.

Pages from a published book

The Author:

The author comes up with an idea for a story. Be it a picture book, chapter book, middle grade or young adult novel. They do the appropriate research (because every book needs research). Then, they get a start on drafting a manuscript.

Different genres have different manuscript requirements. A handy reference is How Long Should A Children's Book Be? for word counts.

The author must draft and then self-edit their manuscript until they have reached a point where they are happy with the plot, character development, et al. Then, they submit it to a publisher.

The Publisher:

Publishers are the companies which acquire and publish children’s books. Most publishers have specific submission windows where they accept manuscripts. Quite often, publishers have a catalogue with spots they want to fill for upcoming seasons. That means they might need two picture books, one middle grade novel and one young adult novel. Once those spots are filled they move on to consider the needs for the next season’s catalogue. That’s why the competition for manuscripts is so intense. There are a lot of books and very few spots.

The publisher will acquire a book from an author. Both parties sign a contract. And then, they get to work on moving the manuscript through the publishing process.

The Editor(s):

A publisher will have an in-house or contract editor or multiple editors who will edit your manuscript, starting with developmental editing (editing for big picture issues like story and character arcs). Next is line editing, which can include both stylistic (editing for style) and copy editing (editing for spelling, grammar, and consistency) of the manuscript. This helps polish the manuscript to its best presentation. After the book is typeset, there will be a final stage of proofreading to catch any mistakes that might have made it through editing before the book goes to press. The same editor might do all stages of editing, or different editors might take different stages.

A managing editor can also work as a liaison between the publisher, author, proofreader, book designer, illustrator (if there is one), cover designer, and the marketing department.


Once editing is complete, the manuscript will go into typesetting. A typesetter or designer will set up the print file. They'll pick fonts and page layouts, add the text and any illustrations, make sure there are page numbers and all the other typical markers of a published book, and then, after sending it to a proofreader, implement all changes and finalize the files.

At this point, the book is finished and can go to the printer and then be distributed to booksellers.

Generally the steps for publishing a book include:

  • Acquisition

  • Developmental edit

  • Re-writes

  • Copy editing

  • Initial typesetting

  • Proofreading

  • Finalizing typeset files

  • Printing

  • Distribution to book sellers

It can take years for a book to journey from idea to bookshelves. Most publishers work at least a year in advance if not several years. So for as long as it took the author to come up with the idea, write the manuscript and self-edit, once the publishing contract is signed they are in for another long wait. Though it is a lengthy process it is worth it to see an inspiring idea become a book.

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