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The Process of Publishing a Book

I mentioned yesterday that I have now sent in my manuscript on The Triumph of Christianity to my editor at Simon & Schuster.  It occurs to me that readers might be interested in knowing how the editorial process works.  I know I was almost completely ignorant of the process when I first started publishing books.   My unreflective thought then is that once I would finish writing a book and editing it as best I could, the process would be more or less over, without much left to do.  Wrong.  The process goes on and on and you think it’ll never end!

So leading up to this point I have written the book.  That itself was a long process with a large number of stages.  I started by accumulating bibliography on the topic, reading the classics in the field, finding new books and articles that needed to be read, reading those, discovering other books and articles that had to be read, reading those, and so on.   On everything I read I took notes, so I could refer back to my notes to recall all the important and key points, and then reread portions of a book if necessary.

After doing that till I had read and noted everything that I was sure was relevant to the book, I worked through all my notes, made an outline of the book, expanded the outline, made it into an outline of each chapter, expanded each outline of each chapter by thinking through how I wanted to say things and reviewing all my notes to make sure I included everything I wanted to.

And then I wrote the book, one chapter at a time.  My procedure is usually to …

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The Inerrancy of the Bible? And Those Who Doubt. Readers’ Mailbag October 2, 2016
Writing Books that Are Interesting and Important



  1. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  September 30, 2016

    I really enjoy these behind the scenes looks! How long, on average, does the process take from the time you send it to the editor for the first time until it hits the book shelves? Have you ever been unhappy with the way a book was edited and did they, the editor(s), change your words and style of writing a great deal from what you originally wrote? Do you have a say in the way the cover is designed including the picture?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 2, 2016

      It normally takes about a year. The author is allowed to review all proposed wording changes and agree or not. Cover: that’s usually the publisher’s decision — though they will normally consult with the author when they have come up with something (or provide some options)

  2. Avatar
    VaulDogWarrior  September 30, 2016

    You seem so down to earth Bart. I love that. You don’t sit in the proverbial ivory tower. I’ve had the notion of writing a book once or twice and honestly I wouldn’t know where to start, so reading this makes it a little clearer and confirms my fears of just how hard it would be to do a good job of it…

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  September 30, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, I have to say that one thing that separates your books written for a popular audience from those by other scholars is how easy your books are to read (e.g. getting through a JD Crossan book is like wading through molasses). I chalk this up to the quality of your editors, because whatever it is they’re telling you to do it really makes the text flow naturally and the content easy to follow.

    By the way, I felt guilty about always writing lengthy comments to your posts, but I simply couldn’t help myself, so I set up a recurring payment of $5 every month to the blog. 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  October 2, 2016

      Brilliant! Thanks. May everyone on the planet follow your lead! (or at least those on the blog…)

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  October 4, 2016

      Like Groucho Marx wrote, “I would have send you a shorter letter but I didn’t have time.”

  4. Avatar
    Tempo1936  September 30, 2016

    You have amazing discipline and intelligence to write trade books about the historical Jesus. I bet you could write a fictional novel about Jesus/Paul with one hand tied behind your back . They would be a bestsellers and made into a movies.
    Try it , I think it might be fun.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  October 2, 2016

      I’m in the process of writing a novel about Jesus, which is one of the reasons I’m currently devouring Bart’s blog.

  5. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 1, 2016

    A heck of a lot of work and to think you have now done it “31” times.

  6. Avatar
    greenbuttonuplift  October 1, 2016

    Hi Bart have you finalised an inspiring / catchy sub-title that you are happy with? Dave

    • Bart
      Bart  October 2, 2016

      Nah. No one liked my subtitle (How the Followers of Jesus Destroyed the Religions of Rome), so I’m going to let the publisher come up with something catchy.

  7. Avatar
    Stephen  October 1, 2016

    Very interesting, thanks for inside view.

    I’m going to assume the editor is not an expert in your field so I was wondering how that worked since you are basically trying to pass on your expertise. Does the publisher get involved in fact checking or seek out expert opinions themselves or do they leave that part of the process entirely to your own peer review?


    • Bart
      Bart  October 2, 2016

      The editor is not dealing with the scholarship but the presentation. On that she is a real expert.

  8. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  October 1, 2016

    I always wondered who did the indexing. If the editor doesn’t have knowledge in early Christianty, how can you trust the person to know how to guide you? Or does the publisher assign an editor that has knowledge in your field of work?
    If an editor wants you to make major changes, and you don’t want to, then what?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 2, 2016

      1. Indexing is simply a matter of determining where words appear on which pages. It doesn’t require expertise in the field. It’s boring work!
      2. You negotiate!

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  October 2, 2016

        Isn’t some expertise in the field required for the editor to recognize all the words some readers will think important enough to be referenced in the index?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 4, 2016

          Not really. Any intelligent person can read a chapter and know what the important terms are.

      • Avatar
        Pattycake1974  October 3, 2016

        Editorial work sounds fascinating. Since your editor is an expert at presentation, I’m assuming she handles high profile clients and/or has a knack for producing best sellers. If you’re willing to share the info, it would be interesting to know what suggestions she makes.

        Something I just thought of, I recently read a trade book by a scholar that was disorganized and borderline incoherent. Why didn’t the editor help this author with their presentation of information? Since an editor’s goal is to make a book successful, it seems that if most scholars aren’t that equipped in writing trade books, the editor would be very helpful in correcting that, but that doesn’t seem to be the case really.

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    Habib  October 2, 2016

    Never knew it is that hard, but apparently it pays off.

    If you may Dr. Bart shed some light on how normally the finance of such work works out between the author & the publisher.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 2, 2016

      The author receives a royalty for each book sold (say 10% of the net sale price, e.g.)

  10. Avatar
    twiskus  October 2, 2016

    You have mentioned you are interested *possibly* in writing your next book about the afterlife. As a general question, in the past, what was the soonest you had actually begun a next book after sending the one you had just finished to the editor? If it’s a year process from initially sending to the editor and having it hit the shelves, are you in constant, time consuming contact with the editor daily, or are you in the position to begin the next book?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 4, 2016

      Well, I’m a bit unusual that way. I almost always know *exactly* what the next book will be before I finish the current book. That way I’m thinking about it in advance and figuring out how I want to approach it. I haven’t done that this time for a variety of reasons, and it feels a bit strange to me not to be 100% certain about what is next!

  11. Avatar
    tcroberts02  October 4, 2016

    talmoore’s idea of setting up a monthly donation of $5 is brilliant! I have struggled with how to give a bit more to the blog, but anteing up $5 per month is a piece of cake. I’ll see talmoore and raise him 2. I’ll give $7 per month and challenge everyone who loves Bart’s work as I do to see Tal and me and raise us as much as you can!

  12. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  October 4, 2016

    Bart, I hope you might have a word of advice here. I have 340 pp written and am trying to make it more like 240 pp. The two main things that bog me down. One is that it seems like there are so many ways to say the same thing or make the same point and every time I come back to the manuscript, I am changing things to what seems at the time to be a clearer way to make the point. The other is that it seems there are a number of great ways to begin the book. What is my starting point exactly? I often change in my vision of where to begin and how to progress. Any thoughts?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 5, 2016

      I’m afraid I don’t have any tricks to suggest! You’re struggling with how to write and edit — and it takes tons of work and practice!

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