April 30, 2007

The Process: Part III—First Author Review

You haven’t been able to touch your book for a month and a half by now. You may be going crazy, you may be ecstatic. Many authors jot notes down while they wait for the manuscript to be returned to them for another set of revisions. You obviously can’t alter the original file because it has been sent to the copy editor and will come back to you in a very different way than it left.

Copy editors do not work on hardcopy pages (that’s a proofreader)—everything is modified electronically using Word Track Changes. If you haven’t ever used this revision tool, I highly recommend trying it out. Not only is it really cool, your understanding of it is pretty essential for your copyedit review. (Your production editor can train you on the basic functions when you get to that part of the process, but if you want me to post some brief instructions here, let me know.) It is a HUGE timesaver for all parties and the wave of the future. That being said, I do still occasionally print out physical pages for an author to do his/her review. I respect the author’s preference, but in all honesty it is a huge hassle for me since it means I have to key in any and all changes the author wants made.

When the copy editor sends back the manuscript file(s) to me they also provide a book-specific style sheet. I can explain style sheets at length in another post, but basically it notes all decisions made about many text elements (formatting, spelling, etc.) for me, you, the proofreader, and anyone else who reviews the book. One of the biggest problems can be inconsistency. You don’t want “Minow Theatre” on page 8 and then “Minnow Theater” on page 55, unless you are talking about two different places. The style sheet will list which is preferred or correct, and anytime it shows up later in the book it can be checked.

Once I have verified that the copy editor hasn’t queried anything inappropriately (you’d be surprised) or whether I can answer/resolve any of the questions, I send the file (and style sheet) off to the author. Using Track Changes, the author decides what to incorporate or reject and what to add, delete, or revise. In the end, as long as it isn’t blatantly incorrect or in direct opposition to our publishing house, the author has the ultimate say in the final content.

You will get about one month to review the edits and make any last decisions. This is pretty much the last time for significant changes to your book. (You get one more shot during the proof page review, but those usually have to be fairly minor.)

To come: interior design and layout

April 29, 2007

The Process: Part II—Copyediting

After your manuscript is in its final form and has been "handed" over (everything is electronic now, no recluses typing on a Royal these days) to the publisher, it begins the wild adventure that is production. This is my specialty.

The acquisitions editor (the one who sought you out and paid you for your work) actually has the manuscript in his/her possession for about a week or two after officially accepting it as complete. The AE gives it a once over and prepares a memo for me, the project editor, with any details, oddities/preferences (such as "the author hates the term 'googled'—please make sure the copy editor refrains from using this"), and considerations for improving that particular book. I then translate this information to the copy editor in my own memo after checking the file for any formatting issues and verifying consistency throughout.

Copy editors are almost always freelancers. Some of the large houses employ full-time copyediting staff, but generally it is much more cost effective to pay on a per project hourly basis than it is to offer a salary and benefits. Not to mention the fact that a copy editor wouldn't necessarily have a steady stream of work at all times due to the standard publishing seasons (Fall [Aug-Nov] and Spring [Mar-June], sometimes Winter [Nov-Feb]). A copy editor is allotted a timeframe of between three and six weeks for most manuscripts.

And, if you are curious, copyediting fees are generally calculated using a formula considering standard hourly wage [$22-35 per hour], level of edit required [light, medium, or heavy], and the number of pages/words. A pretty average project might have a $1,250 copyediting budget for a 325-page book. With a medium-edit rate of 7 pages per hour, this job is approximately 47 hours of work. This example pays out about $27 per hour.

Given that I will know your manuscript is coming down the line at least a couple of months in advance, I use that time to decide on an appropriate copy editor (one who specializes in your subject matter, is skilled with fixing a particular weakness, etc.) and offer her the job (for the sake of simplicity, I will use "her" here as the vast majority—say 90%—of freelance editors are female). I let her know what level of edit I expect, the fee I can offer (which the AE determines), the expected delivery dates, and other expectations for the job.

When the AE does transmit the files to me, and I have reviewed them I email the copy editor my memo and the manuscript document(s). It is then out of my hands until several weeks later. Often I will get a few initial questions from the editor as she does her first read-through, but otherwise I put the book out of my consciousness until the deadline and focus on my other projects.

Exciting huh?

Coming up... first author review

April 22, 2007

The Process: Part I—Submission

How is it that a writer goes from putting their ideas to paper to holding their published book in their hands?

The first part of this lengthy (often multi-year) process is submitting a manuscript for consideration to an agent or publisher. (The pre-first part is writing and polishing up a full novel manuscript, or—in the case of nonfiction—creating a solid book proposal and establishing a decent platform with which to sell yourself/your idea.)

Many writers wonder whether it is better to query an agent first or go straight to a publisher. The lengthy reply can be saved for another day, but the short-ish answer is: you can do either. Agents are really handy to have on your and your book's side (and in almost every negotiation they can secure more for you than you might alone), but they do take a percentage of your profits. And of course, even if an agent is willing to represent you, there is no guarantee they will sell your novel—nor will you be the primary decider as to which publishers the agent sends your manuscript. If you decide against seeking an agent first, you can approach a publisher directly, but beware that often the large publishing houses require an agent or referral and do not accept unsolicited queries. If you don't end up with an agent by the time you are signing a contract with a publisher, you really must have a lawyer who specializes in book contracts give yours a look so you fully understand the terms and details (a benefit of having an agent, as they can fill this role).

So let's say you are a writer who has been welcomed with open arms and a book deal with a mid-sized publisher. If you have finished a novel, you will have already completed your manuscript upon acceptance. Given the likelihood that it isn't in perfect condition, you will probably spend a few weeks to several months working with a developmental (content) or line ("big picture") editor to rewrite and revise. You will work out the kinks and ensure that the book fits the publisher's expectations and appeals to the target audience.

With nonfiction, your book could be in any number of stages at the contract signing. Many times a couple chapters and a loose outline are all that exist this early in the process (for those of you wondering why, it's because writing nonfiction can involve extensive research and compilation of data; it's less common that a nonfiction writer will put in the effort upfront to write the full manuscript if he/she isn't sure if anyone is even interested in the concept). This means that a nonfiction contract is usually signed with a transmittal deadline written in. (And although the publisher can legally act on a late manuscript, usually they just want it period and won't dissolve the contract due to tardiness.) Depending on the timeliness of the subject matter, the availability of the writer, and a number of other factors, the agreed-upon manuscript submission date can be anywhere from one to eighteen months (or longer) from the signing date.

As with a novel, usually there are draft chapters sent along the way to an in-house editor (usually the acquisitions editor who purchased the project) who can help shape the content as needed and keep the manuscript on track. When the manuscript is in roughly final form, the writer transmits the file for the publisher to officially "accept." Barring any major issues (such as significantly low/high word count, incomplete information, unsatisfactory story resolution, etc.), the publisher will adopt responsibility and guide the finished manuscript through the rest of the publishing process. The writer gives up their baby for a month or so before seeing it again after the first round of official edits.

Next on the agenda: copyediting...

April 17, 2007

Who Do I Think I Am?

And more importantly, why does my blathering even matter to you, the reader?

Well, I can only offer my long history in the book business as an adequate enough reason. It is up to you whether or not you will find anything you want to take away from my posts. I am merely offering my take on what I find to be a fascinating, ever-changing (and yet ever-steady) field.

I have been fully immersed in the business of selling, writing, editing, and developing books for nearly a decade. I have seen the industry from many angles: as a bookseller and merchandiser at one of the largest bookstores on the West Coast (six years); as a research assistant for a university disertation group (six months); as a manuscript reader for a literary agency (nine months); as a proofreader for corporate correspondence (one year); as a freelance copy and line editor for half a dozen writers (two years); and finally, as a project editor for a mid-sized book publishing company (one year and counting). *By the way, I realize this time adds up to more than a decade, but some of it overlaps.* And of course, I have the standard BA in English and a supplementary certificate from a year-long editing program. And if proximity matters at all (I'm not sure it's relevant to my abilities here), I have ties to a few of the bigwigs in New York as well as various agents, publicists, and bestselling authors.

I've got the goods on paper. But what's even better than that—I love this business just as much as (probably even more than, actually) the day I began. I am more than delighted to go on and on at length about it.

Would you like to know more?