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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
    jmmarine1  January 24, 2019

    You have blogged about writing for Harper and now for S&S. In each case, you were very positive about the editors who had been assigned to review your work. Does this sort of rigorous editorial practice happen when you publish your more academic books? I have read (not yours) some academic books from otherwise prestigious publishing houses that were either poorly edited or, seemingly, not edited at all. For all the dollars that some presses ask for their academic titles, you would hope that some editing would have taken place!

    • Bart
      Bart  January 25, 2019

      It completely depends on which publisher it is, but, for example, with Oxford University Press, with whom I’ve published a number of my academic books, the answer is absolutely yes.

  2. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  January 24, 2019

    Off topic, sorry. But I am aware (from reading this blog and your books, thank you) that Mark is dated to approximately 60 CE and that P45 (circa 200 CE) is fragmentary. Is there any estimate about when the disputed final 12 verses were appended?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 25, 2019

      It’s debated. They *may* be known to Irenaeus at the end of the second century. Since they are found in both (later) Latin and Syriac mss, that usually points to a second century origin. They don’t start showing up in Greek mss until the early fifth-century, but we only have a couple of Greek mss with Mark 16 before that.

  3. Avatar
    MaryPetra  January 24, 2019

    What a stunning revelation! You and your likes are my heroes!
    Thank you!!

  4. Avatar
    Stephen  January 24, 2019

    “…I will be sending the very final manuscript of my book…off to my editor…”

    I will assume this does not mean a folio of loose-leaf parchment wrapped in silk delivered by horseback. Or even a satchel of type-written double spaced pages.dispatched by Fedex.

    So what does “sending the final manuscript” mean in 2019?

    Thanks, looking forward to the new book very much!

  5. Avatar
    Judith  January 25, 2019

    It will be my hope that thousands of us bloggers will email Terry Gross as soon as your book comes out. Will provide address closer to that time!

  6. Avatar
    Bwana  January 25, 2019

    Book title suggestion: “A Brief History of the Afterlife”.
    In a rather ironic way it summarizes the main premise of the book that ideas about the afterlife have always been prone to continuous development. And bonus, you would position yourself in the company of the illustrious authors that wrote brief histories of Time (Stephen Hawking), Humankind / Tomorrow (Yuval Noah Hariri), Almost Everything (Bill Bryson).

    • Bart
      Bart  January 27, 2019

      Not bad. We’re toying with something similar. We’ll see!

  7. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 26, 2019

    Wow! Incredible to think how often you have done this. Doing it once would probably be more than enough for most people. it’s like having a baby.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 27, 2019

      Yeah, lots and lots of scholars don’t get past publishing a dissertation, or at most a second book. As my wife and I say to each other virtually every day, It’s *hard*!!!

  8. tompicard
    tompicard  January 27, 2019


    if a person thought sinners were going to be annihilated (or stay in eternal torment) he would likely say something on the order of
    “Anyone who breaks God’s rules and teaches others to break the commandments will NEVER SEE (or enter) the Kingdom of God”

    rather than

    Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly WILL BE CALLED LEAST IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:19)

  9. tompicard
    tompicard  January 27, 2019


    Regarding your understanding about Jesus words
    in Matt 25:41 “eternal fire” and
    in Mark 9:48 “the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched”

    It’s a great insight that Jesus doesn’t say nor even imply that the sinners stay in this fire eternally, rather only that the fire and worms themselves are eternal.

    And therefore a possible and even reasonable conjecture is
    1) that the sinners are annihilated.
    on the other hand it seems a no less reasonable idea that the the
    2) sinners may eventually be removed from the torments of these never ending flames and worms

    And If we were only to look at Matt 25:4 and Mark 9:48 above we probably wouldn’t be able to guess which view/conjecture was more likely the one held by Jesus.

    Yet I personally think the second coheres much more nicely with other components of his teachings, consider for one obvious example Luke 15:11-32 (the prodigal son) The son wallows in his misery for a ‘long’ time before he realizes his utter foolishness and returns to his Father who immediately accepts him, (ie the son doesn’t realize his mistake and then ceases existence)

    • Bart
      Bart  January 27, 2019

      Yes, interesting about the Prodigal Son. But I’m not sure it’s a saying that goes back to Jesus himself (found only in Luke, e.g.) It’s a nice thought that Jesus believed in ultimate salvation for all, but he talks too much about “destruction” and “annihilation” to make it certain (or even probable in my view, though I do see the problems!)

  10. Avatar
    pmwslc  January 27, 2019

    Once is a great while I notice a typo or grammatical error in a published book. Is it worthwhile to bring these instances to the attention of the author or the publisher?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2019

      Never hurts! Though it only helps if there will be a new printing, or even better, a new edition!

  11. Avatar
    Kirktrumb59  January 28, 2019

    Decent, relatively brief (for the New Yorker) article on heaven/hell origin (“The Bad Place”) in the 1-21-19 issue. My guess: would not have been useful to you even were you still writing.

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