So, what actually happens once you sell a book? After the negotiations are over and the contracts are signed, once you've had the first-date conversation with your new editor during which you alternately gush at each other and then apologize for gushing, and generally both hope to make as good an impression as possible (Hey, editors are people too--and when they buy a book, they are hoping for a long and profitable relationship.) what happens then?
Well, ideally, what happens next is that you enter a partnership. (And we're going to talk ideal scenarios here, because it's easier.)
This is all from the writer's POV, of course, because that's what I am. I know at least one book designer, one literary agent, several novel editors, and one professional copy editor read this journal, and I hope all y'all will sing out with what the process looks like from your ends, too.
The first thing that happens is that you wait. At some point, the waiting will be interrupted by one or several rounds of revision requests. Some of these will be negotiable ("I really feel that the ending would be stronger if you didn't kill off minor character A, because I think his death is stealing thunder from the death of major character C.") and some will be less negotiable ("and cut 5,000 words."). Depending on your editor and how well you write, these notes may include extensive line edits, or they may not. You will read over the revision notes and decide how best to address them, and if any of them are changes you're not willing to make.
Pick the hills you're going to die on. Be assured your editor is doing the same. Hope they're not the same hills. Bear in your mind the awareness that both of you want the same thing: the best book possible.
Generally speaking, this first round of revisions will be electronic. Your editor may also send back a marked up MS, but it's generally understood that these revisions are likely to be extensive enough to require an entire new manuscript.
Once this round is gotten through, there may be a second, lighter round of revisions ("line editing") which will mostly be clarifications and line edits. These may be carried out on a manuscript, by hand. Your editor will go through and mark up the MS, and you will
Your editor will usually work in blue pencil. You should pick another color. One that's dark enough to show up, and not easily mistaken for blue, or for red, which seems to be the CE color of choice. I use green or purple.
Some editors may skip this step, and proceed directly to the next bit, which is turning the line-edited manuscript over to the CE (copy editor). In that case, you will see the editor's line-edits when you see the copy edited manuscript (CEM).
At this point, the book is "delivered" and your second advance check is in the mail. Hopefully. (You get the first check on signing and the third check on publication.)
However, during this time, mysterious things happen. The manuscript goes to the production editor, for example, who tears her hair out over it, and assigns a CE (and can ask the CE for various things--including a "light" copyedit or a "heavy" one--here's another good reason to turn in the cleanest MS you can!) and a book designer. Also, marketing copy is being written and art is being designed and so is the interior of the book, and the sales force is being made aware that it's coming. If you have a very, very nice editor, or a very good agent, you may be asked what you think of the cover art or cover copy, or even allowed input into same. However, you may very well first see this stuff when the flats are UPSed to your house a month or two before the book hits the shelves.
The book designer is the person whose job it is to make sure that you 750-page ms looks pretty crammed into the 400 hardback pages they can afford to give you to hit a $24.95 price point. Be nice to her.
The art, marketing, and sales departments are the people whose job it is to make sure the outside of your book looks good to store buyers and prospective readers, and to convince the B-chains that your book is the next big thing. Be nice to them, too. You will have a publicist. He has 50 other books to pimp this year, too, but he's hopefully doing his best for yours, as well. You may even meet him someday. (Mine shared his dessert with me. It was chocolate. He is a nice man.)
Okay. Back with our friend the manuscript. It's currently being copyedited (see deannahoak's livejournal for details of this (hopefully) painstaking process.) A good CE lives to make sure you don't go out in public with your skirt tucked into your knickers. Be nice to her, too.
After it is copyedited (which is different from line editing in that line editing is an aesthetic process, while copyediting concerns itself more with accuracy) it comes back to you the writer. At which point you get to go over it again (in your differently-colored pencil!) and stet changes you dislike, and answer queries. You then return your (hopelessly dizzy and jetlagged) MS to your publisher, again.
The editor goes over it again, and sends it to be typeset. In my experience, this is where a lot of errors creep in. After it is typeset, Advance Review Copies (aka galleys or ARCs) and page proofs (also aka galleys) are produced. The ARCs go to people who are expected to produce reviews, buzz, blurbs, or all three. The page proofs go to you, and (hopefully) to a proofreader.
This is your last chance to fix what is broken. Some writers rewrite extensively at this point. As I generally have done five or more complete drafts by this point, I, um, don't. Because I couldn't think of many changes to make if you paid me. But I do keep an eye out for rhymes, errors, infelicities, and things. The real trick with that is that you don't want to change the page composition at this point: the book needs to stay the same length, in other words, and if you keep crawling lines up and down the page your contract contains a clause that says the publisher can make you pay for the new typesetting.
If it was big, in other words, you should have fixed it on the CEM.
You send the page proofs back and that's it. The next time you see the puppy, you'll be signing it for somebody.
Good luck. *g*