top of page

The Making of a Novel: PART IV

From writing to editing to publishing...

I'm frequently asked about the process of writing a novel. Whether it's during book club meetings or through emails, readers are curious about how a story progresses from concept to manuscript, and from manuscript to a published novel that sits on the shelves of our favorite bookstores. Since I’ve just wrapped up my sixth novel, Twenty Years Later, I figured now would be a good time to describe the process of bookmaking. Now, while the struggle of writing a coherent manuscript is still fresh in my mind. Now, while the joys of hearing that my agent and editor love the story are still tangible. Now, while the skies are clear, the horizon is bright, and I’m able to take a deep breath and relax before I do it all again. Because soon I’ll be back in the trenches, fighting self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy that always hound me as I conjure up a new idea for my next book, and then attempt to write the damn thing.

So, here are the steps my stories go through...

PART I: Outlining The Damn Thing was published on 07.30.21 and can be read HERE

PART II: Writing The Damn Thing was published on 08.08.21 and can be read HERE

PART III: Editing The Damn Thing was published on 08.15.21 and can be read HERE


Publishing The Damn Thing

When the editing process ends and I send these final corrections in the page proofs back to my publisher, there is a long wait before I see the story again. But the wait is worth it because when Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) arrive, it's the first time I see the "real" book. Not a manuscript. Not images of the cover. A real, physical thing I can hold in my hands. These advance copies are paperback editions that are put out months before the book is released to the public, and they are sent to media outlets and bloggers with the hope of getting the book reviewed and creating early buzz. These early copies are what The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and other outlets read when they review books. Fellow authors who are generous enough to offer cover blurbs also receive these editions, as do all the wonderful bloggers who have been kind enough to support me through the years.

Depending on the timing, ARCs are sometimes released before the final page proofs have been scoured for typos, and so they are marked as "Advance Uncorrected Edition," which is why early readers occasionally find errors in them.

Prior to ARCs arriving, some other fun things happen in the publishing process. The copy department at my publishing house creates the “cover copy,” which is the synopsis that goes on the back of the book or on the inside flap. This is the story summary consumers read when deciding whether the book is worthy of their time and money. Reading that copy for the first time gives me the sense that the story is real and no longer just an idea in my mind.

Also, the art department finalizes the cover design. Usually, there are a few ideas they are deciding between. More than once a cover has been changed after the sales department decided it needed tweaking in order to make the book more attractive to bookseller and retailers.

Only once have I vetoed a cover. Surprisingly, I got my way. The paperback edition of DON'T BELIEVE IT went through many covers before we decided on the final image (right).

A publication date is usually set for six to nine months after the manuscript has completed the editing process. Then, finally, a box of books arrives on my doorstep a few days before the book is released. Opening that box of books is one of the biggest thrills of being a novelist.

In addition to the print edition, the e-Book and audio version are also created. The e-Book is produced by my print publisher. The audio version is produced by an audiobook publisher (if audio rights are sold). Thanks to the dedicated and talented sub-rights team at Kensington Publishing, all my novels have been made into audio books. The audiobook publisher chooses the narrator. Sometimes, authors are sent a short list of potential narrators, with samples of their work for the author to listen to before one is chosen.

Just because a book has been written, however, doesn't mean it will magically appear on bookstore shelves, or Wal-mart kiosks, or that big table of books at Costco or Sam's Club. Someone, somewhere, has to decide to purchase those books and carry those titles. It is the work of the sales department at the publishing house to get the book out to booksellers, convince them to buy the book, and ultimately display it on the shelves of retailers and libraries across the United States. With tens of thousands of books traditionally published each year, the competition for shelf space is fierce. I'm grateful for the dedicated team at Kensington who has managed to spread my books across the country.

The sub-rights department also looks for publishing opportunities outside of the U.S. Much of these foreign dealings are done at international trade shows. A couple of the largest are the Frankfurt Book Fair and the London Book Fair. Thanks to the talented team at Kensington Publishing, my books have been translated into more than a dozen languages across nearly thirty countries—something that still shocks me.

Loving The Damn Thing

When it’s all done and I’m onto a different project with different characters and fighting different struggles, I’ll stumble across one of my books at the airport, or at Target or Barnes & Noble or Costco. Sometimes my book will get stuck on the shelf next to my writing idol, and it's then that I’ll realize how much I love the damn thing . . . no matter how hard it was to create.


Check out a sneak peek at Charlie's new novel, Twenty Years Later, coming January 2022.

Enter the Goodreads GIVEAWAY below for your chance to win one of the 100 copies of TWENTY YEARS LATER currently up for grabs. Good Luck!


Let's Connect

Charlie Donlea is the #1 internationally bestselling author of Summit Lake, The Girl Who Was Taken, Don't Believe It, Some Choose Darkness, The Suicide House and Twenty Years Later. Praised for his "soaring pace, teasing plot twists" (BookPage) and talent for writing an ending that "makes your jaw drop" (The New York Times Book Review), Donlea has been called a "bold new writer...on his way to becoming a major figure in the world of suspense" (Publishers Weekly). A late bloomer, he was twenty years old when he read his first novel––THE FIRM by John Grisham––and knew he would someday write thrillers. His books have now been translated into more than a dozen languages across nearly thirty countries.

He was born and raised in Chicago, where he continues to live with his wife and two children.

267 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page