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How Does A Book Actually Get Published?

I will be sending the very final manuscript of my book Heaven, Hell, and the Invention of the Afterlife off to my editor at Simon & Schuster tomorrow (I still don’t know what the actual title will be).  As is always the case, it has been a very long haul, and I want to explain how publishing a trade book like this for a general audience “works” and “happens” since most people who’ve never done it have no idea, or rather, have completely wrong ideas.

But before doing that I need some help so I don’t have egg on my face.   One of my many, many faults as a human being is that I don’t keep good enough records of really important information.  Just ask my tax person.

As most of you know, in the summer, after writing the first draft, I asked members of the blog if they would be interested in making a donation in order to have the right to read the book in manuscript and make suggestions for improvement.   A number of people responded that yes, they would love to do that.  I sent them each the manuscript, they read it, and they returned comments to me.  I found this extremely helpful.

Now I am writing the Acknowledgments for the book and obviously want to thank everyone who has helped – the editorial staff at Simon & Schuster, the scholars who are experts in one area or another who read part or all of the book, and, of course, these blog members.   But I need to make sure that I haven’t left anyone off the list!  I know, it’s pathetic – there should be no issue here.  But just to make sure, these are the names I have.  If anyone is NOT on the list who needs to be, please let me know ASAP.  Apologies for this!

The names I have are:  Will Ballard, David Ballinger, Alan Bishop, Paul, Ellis, Rob Gilbert, Steve Otteson, Bobby Ross, and Steve Sutter.  Anyone else?  (If so, I definitely read and used your comments.  I just inadvertently didn’t keep good records.  Sorry.   Just send me an email).

Now, some people may wonder why I’m sending the manuscript in on January 24 when I finished writing the book in August.   Ha!  Good question.  But this is not strange, it is typical.

Writing a book is a long process, and you might think that when you’re done writing it, you’re simply done, and can sent the thing in to be published in a few months.  No, no, no!  Would that it *were* that simple.

When I finished the draft over the summer …

The rest of this post is for blog members only.  You too can be among this elite corps, the chosen people!  Join!  It won’t cost much, you’ll learn so much your family won’t be able to stand it, and you’ll be helping good charities!

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On Being Just a Textual Critic
If Jesus Wasn’t God, Was He Necessarily Either a Calloused Liar or a Raving Lunatic?



  1. Avatar
    Matt2239  January 23, 2019

    Interesting. Remember to make your name very big on the cover and spine so that people know it’s written by a scholar/author, not a humble cleric.

  2. Avatar
    RDB5  January 23, 2019

    Fascinating! Thanks for sharing that with us.

  3. Avatar
    TimKendrick  January 23, 2019

    Is it as long a process with a scholarly book? I assume things like book cover, blurbs in back, title discussions, etc. are not as important, as it’s not intended to have appeal to the general public. Or is it still basically the same process and same length of time from finished manuscript to book in hand?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 25, 2019

      Yup, just as long and complicated. Blurbs, title, cover — all very important! Even publishers of scholarly books want them to be widely sold!

  4. Avatar
    clifh  January 23, 2019

    It is intuitively illogical for a publisher to choose book titles. To me choosing a title is part of writing the book’s text.

    How about asking your blog followers to suggest titles? Maybe this would help whoever it making that decision.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 25, 2019

      Actually, publishers are much, much better at this in most cases than authors and the general public. Especially for trade books. The ynow exactly, from decades of experience, what actually works/sells. Most of the rest of us are just guessing. And usually guessing very badly indeed.

  5. Avatar
    Hon Wai  January 23, 2019

    What are the differences with the publication process for academic books?

  6. Avatar
    ayunas  January 23, 2019

    Hi. I’m a new member of the blog. Is there a way to get access to the book before it’s published? Or should I wait for it to hit amazon?

    Also, in your book, do you conclude that Heaven and Hell are figments of the bible author’s imagination? Just curious.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 25, 2019

      Like the afterlife, it’s just something you need to wait for. And hope it turns out well!

  7. Avatar
    saavoss  January 23, 2019

    I have a comment and a question:
    First the question: with all these steps and all these people involved in the production of a book, what is the end result, financially? What might an author expect to receive as compensation for all their hard work over many months/years of researching, crafting & editing a book (in general terms, I’d never ask about your particular finances)?
    Now the comment: I would think that a book about Heaven, Hell and the Invention of the Afterlife would best be released in the Spring, in time for the Christian season of Lent and Easter (just my opinion, whatever that’s worth).
    Good luck with the book. I’m looking forward to reading it.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 25, 2019

      THe author typically expects to make millions and to retire in the Bahamas. But what actually happens is that the author is given an advance contract that provides a percentage of the sales of a book as “royalties” — say, 10%. So for a book that sells for $24.95, the author would be given a royalty of $2.45. For that to reach millions — it almost never does unless you’re fantastically famous. Think Michelle Obama — well, do the math! Most even pretty good books sell in the thousands.

      • Avatar
        hoshor  January 25, 2019

        Dan Brown sold what–80 million with The Da Vinci Code? I’m sure that just puts you in “seventh heaven!”

  8. Mizraim Martínez
    Mizraim Martínez  January 23, 2019

    Hello Bart,

    What about the translation to other languages? Does that depend only on the publishers? I have seen that you have some books in Spanish, but it would be good to have your latest too.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 25, 2019

      Part of the contract includes “translation rights.” Normally a foreign publisher (say in Germany or Spain) is interested in publishing a translation; they contact the original publisher; they work out a financial deal; the author gets some of the income, and the publisher some. My books have been translated into 27 languages.

  9. Avatar
    ajohns  January 23, 2019

    Wow, successfully getting a book published is a ton of work. I understand now why self-published books almost always never match the quality of a published book, the process for publishing is much more rigorous and thorough.

  10. Avatar
    JohnKesler  January 23, 2019

    Off-topic question: Do you think that mundane events in the life of Jesus were embellished to make them miraculous (e.g. the feeding of the 5000/4000), or do you think that they were mostly composed from whole cloth? What about healings, exorcisms, etc. Any basis in fact?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 25, 2019

      My sense is that they were generated by later story tellers; I’m not a fan of naturalistic, real-life explanations (e.g., when walking on the water, Jesus actually knew where the stones were….)

  11. Avatar
    AstaKask  January 23, 2019

    I suggest you call it either “Highway to Hell” or “Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be”.

  12. Avatar
    BrianUlrich  January 23, 2019

    My current project is producing the index for my book, and I am realizing why so many people pay a professional indexer to have it done. I realized after the first chapter I was producing a concordance more than an index, and so will definitely need a second pass.

  13. Avatar
    jwesenbe  January 23, 2019

    How exhausting. I have no idea how you do all you do. Congratulations on completion of the manuscript.

  14. Avatar
    fishician  January 23, 2019

    Even though you write on a PC (I assume), do you ever find yourself committing mistakes like the Bible copyists, like omitting a word or skipping a line, or misspelling a word so that it changes meaning? I wonder what the Bible would be like if ancient scribes had our word processing technology.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 25, 2019

      Yes, some mistakes are even easier to make. If you’re deleting a sentence, sometimes you delete more than you meant to, and don’t realize it till months later!

  15. Avatar
    Paul  January 23, 2019

    A Year before it’s out? Can’t wait!

  16. Avatar
    chixter  January 23, 2019

    Don’t care (within reason) I just can’t wait to read it!

  17. Avatar
    nichael  January 23, 2019

    This is more a “mechanical” question, but could you say something about the process of merging the “multiple/parallel” edits?

    For example, when you get back a set of _multiple_ edited versions from, say, the “domain experts” (or the “blog-readers”), then once you’ve decided which changes to “accept”, how do you actually go about merging the changes?

    Do the readers receive (and return) hardcopy which they return with “red-pen” markups? Or electronic copies (in which case, how are changes noted and kept track of)? Do you then maintain a “master” copy into which the changes are merged?

    (Presumably a real problem can be merging after one or more of the “helpers” has made significant changes to the original –e.g. re-ordering or re-writing sentences/paragraphs, etc– into which any other changes need to be merged. Hard to keep track of I would imagine.)

    • Bart
      Bart  January 25, 2019

      Ah, that too is complicated! When I received comments (from about a dozen readers), I looked at each comment carefully, one by one, and decided whether to go with it or note. Took a while!

  18. Avatar
    b.dub3  January 23, 2019

    Congrats! Can’t wait, but guess I’ll have to.

  19. tompicard
    tompicard  January 24, 2019

    Dr Ehrman, regarding ‘The Invention of the Afterlife’ and whether Jesus more likely held a view of
    eternal torment, or
    universal salvation, or
    salvation for some and annihilation for others

    Do you think Mark 10:31 is consistent with a belief in annihilation . . ., or eternal torment?
    > But many who are first will be last, and the last first

    Doesn’t it sounds like the ‘first’ will eventually arrive at same destination as the ‘last’, the destination likely being the Kingdom of God. if they are annihilated, this verse doesn’t work without injecting some tangled sense to normal manners of speech.

    Also doesn’t Mark 10:31 imply entrance to Kingdom of God occurs over a somewhat large span to time, rather than occurring with some short cataclysmic phenomenon such as a guy appearing on a cloud then moving quickly to a divine court of justice. Just like the time it takes for a mustard see to mature into the one of the greatest of all trees.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 25, 2019

      I don’t think it gives an indication one way or the other about whether torment is involved. And no, I don’t see why the reversal of fortunes could not come at a single point of judgment, as in a court of law.

      • tompicard
        tompicard  January 25, 2019

        i was more asking in regards to universal salvation


        if i am in line for a movie, sure I prefer to be first, cause I get the best seat, but if I am last at least I can watch it (but maybe in a very poor seat in the very first row).

        Not so in the case of annihilation or eternal torment in neither of those cases do I even get into the show (ie the Kingdom of God)

        doesn’t LAST probably imply, if we are talking of the Kingdom of God, they will eventually get there?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 27, 2019

          Yes, this saying could indeed be used to argue that Jesus held to some universalistic view; of course that would stand at odds with other things he says (sheep and goats)

  20. Avatar
    Actual_Wolfman  January 24, 2019

    Hello Dr. Ehrman,

    Thank you for your posts about the new trade book. I’m looking forward to reading it. Question: Is there a fear (either with yourself or editors) that if too much time goes by, the general public will lose interest in certain topics and when a book is finally released, it lacks the impact it could’ve had if published sooner?

    Have a great weekend!

    • Bart
      Bart  January 25, 2019

      For some books, certainly. If someone were to write a response to The Da Vinci Code today, everyone would yawn and buy something else. But a book on the afterlife is perennially relevant, for obvious reasons!

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