The publishing process

When I first started writing this blog, it became very long and very involved. In fact, the process of producing it was a good mini-example of the editorial process – the roughing-out of ideas, the winnowing-out of what isn’t essential and then the … starting all over again.

If you have a publisher, the traditional publishing stages* are:

  1. Submit your manuscript
    This will already have been revised and polished by you, probably with the aid of an agent, and possibly already discussed with the acquiring editor.
  2. Structural edit
    The acquiring editor will work with you to make sure that the book works well in terms of structure, character, pace, focus and so on. They’ll make suggestions, you will consider, and there will probably be quite a lot of rewriting as the finished book becomes clearer in your mind. Surprised this hasn’t already happened before submitting the ms? Sometimes it has, sometimes it hasn’t – and sometimes you’ll be dealing with the publisher’s expectations of what people will buy, and how they can sell it to them. The amount of time the publisher allows for this stage will depend partly on how much work they think is needed, and partly on when they plan to bring the book out. But the editor’s time will have other demands on it, so there will definitely be a time limit!
  3. Copyedit
    The final draft will be passed to a (usually freelance) copyeditor, who will read the text for sense and clarity, making sure that stray errors haven’t occurred as a result of any rewrites, and checking spelling and grammar, facts and details – and so on. They will make sure the text is clearly laid out and prepared for typesetting, and pull together a stylesheet for the proofreader to check against, at a later stage. There may be much to-ing and fro-ing between you and the copyeditor, as queries are clarified and small changes are made. You’ll probably have about three weeks for this stage, including dealing with queries.(The stylesheet will note things like how numbers are presented (words or figures?), whether certain words should be capitalised or not and any unexpected spellings, and various other details that generally relate to the presentation of your work.)
  4. Typeset (turn into proofs)
    Throughout the above stages, the production, marketing and design teams will have been working on designs for your book – not just the cover, but its internal appearance too: details like typeface, how new chapters and any other headings appear, whether there will be running heads, any special features that apply only to your book. The spec will then be sent to a typesetter (usually a separate company or a freelancer, unless you are with a publisher that has in-house typesetting), to turn your Word document into page proofs. These will look exactly like the finished book, rather than a lot of Word-processed A4 pages filled to the margins, but they will be loose, with plenty of marginal space for comments and mark-up.
  5. Proofreading
    The page proofs will be sent to you – the author – and to a (usually freelance) proofreader; a third set will be kept in-house. This will be your first chance to see what the pages of your book will really look like, and check that the text is all laid out as it should be (are the chapter headings right? Is there a nasty typo somewhere? …) The in-house team will collate your and the proofreader’s proofs, checking with you if the proofreader has come up with any significant changes or queries, and then send the marked proof off to the typesetter to correct. Then the revised proofs will be checked in-house against the marked proof, and any new or outstanding errors marked for correction – and so on, until the proof is clean. This stage is increasingly being done on screen, marking up a pdf (i.e. not an editable file), however trade publishers often use hard-copy paper proofs – it is much easier to assess the overall appearance of the page, and how well balanced it looks, as well as to spot any design/layout errors, when they are on paper.
  6. Printing, binding and distribution
    The proofs are turned into books, usually sent to a warehouse, and distributed from there. Distribution is generally out-sourced to companies that specialise in this.
  7. PR and selling
    The marketing process will have been part of the design and scheduling of the book, and much of the selling-in to the bookshops and other outlets will have taken place during the editorial and production work, so that the book can go straight from warehouse to market. But your job won’t be finished yet! You will be needed to help promote your book, whether that’s on book blogs or via interviews and bookshop visits, etc. If much is expected of your book, you may find yourself spending more time on this stage than on writing your next book.

* Publishing is changing all the time, so this standard model is changing too. The process varies from publisher to publisher, but the basics will broadly be the same.

When you are self-publishing, you have to manage all the above stages yourself. You also need to make decisions about whether to print your book or produce it as an e-book only (or other digital version), and find ways to promote and sell it. Have a look at Alastair Loudon’s blog for a glimpse of how one of my self-publishing clients approached the task.

There’s a lot of expertise out there to help with all this, and to help with matters like design and typesetting, as well as people like me to help with editing and proofreading. So get in touch if you’d like to discuss your project and get help putting it out there!

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