Following a book from author to our shelf

Did you ever wonder how a book becomes a book? New titles just seem to magically appear on our new book shelves. Well, they did until COVID-19. Now, we don’t have bestsellers that were published three months ago and folks are wondering why.

So, here is the condensed version of my lecture about the process of publishing a book, straight from the course I sometimes teach, The History of Books, Printing, and Publishing.

An author has an idea for a book, and begins to write, using pen and paper, with a keyboard and screen, or even one of those voice activated gizmos that turn speech into printed word. Depending on the author, this could take months or even a year or two.

Once the author feels their first draft is complete, they send it to their editor to review and critique. Rewriting begins and sometimes, many drafts later, the novel is considered ready to be published. An editor friend once told me that her most important job was knowing when the author had done all they could to tell the best story. There comes a point when the title is ‘done enough.’

At this juncture the novel is given to a printer, who formats the books, pages, chapters, etc. and produces a paperback draft called an ARC, or advanced reader copy. ARCs are given to copy editors who check spelling, grammar, pagination, etc.

The publisher then makes decisions about art work on the jacket of the book, size, binding, marketing, print run (how many copies of the book will be printed), author appearances, promotional materials, publication date and myriad other details. The author is usually not involved in any of these decisions.

I also wonder if the jacket cover artist even reads the book. Several years ago, Scholastic reprinted the Trixie Belden books with updated covers. When the books came out, no one had noticed that “The Red Trailer Mystery” had a silver camper on the cover. I wonder what happened there?

Now, the book is ready to be printed. Usually, the title is printed and then send to a bindery to be bound. Jackets are printed by a different printer. The book jackets and bound books are then moved to a third location to be put together. Upon completion of this step, the books are moved to a shipping warehouse for distribution to book stores, online sellers and library vendors.

What? Library vendors? Are you telling me the books don’t get shipped directly from the warehouse to the library? Yes, that is what I am telling you. There is a middle man, called a vendor or jobber, and we order most of our books through them. Why? Because the discounted cost and free shipping allow us to purchase more materials.

We order that bestselling book from the vendor who then ships it to us. But the journey of this book isn’t over yet.

Once it arrives at the library, we catalog it, put a plastic protective sheet over the jacket, mark it with appropriate labels; and FINALLY the book is shelved.

Prior to this pandemic this was a smooth process with barely a hick-up ever. Then along comes COVID-19.

Printers and binders closed. Warehouses shut down. Vendors/jobbers ceased deliveries. The library temporarily closed. Now, the library is open again but some of the businesses in this whole process haven’t reopened yet. And that, my friends, is why we don’t yet have the new best-sellers from three months ago. We will be getting them in but I can’t tell you when. Baldacci readers, be patient. Patterson patrons, please persevere.

Wanda Brunstetter, Heather Graham and Lisa Gardner fans, bear with us. The good news, we have gotten the new Hunger Games book!

While you are waiting for your favorite new books to reach the shelf, come in anyway because there are more than 87,000 other great books to read.

Yes, we are still requiring masks and social distancing. Curbside service is available for those who can’t wear a mask.


Dr. Molly S. Kinney is the director at the Mifflin County Library. She is currently reading Sunset Beach by Mary Kay Andrews and wondering why we aren’t busier.


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