Thursday, August 07, 2008

Stages of Editing

Once the publishing contract is finalized, one of the first questions debut authors ask is what’s next. A very valid question and one I’m afraid I often forget to explain. After all, editing and publishing has been my life for 15 years; it’s sometimes hard to remember what others might not know.

This explanation of the editing process comes from my own experience as an editor at Berkley Publishing and can obviously differ from house to house or even editor to editor. However, these are the basics of what you should expect your book to go through once you turn in that completed manuscript.

Step One, Revisions: Once you’ve turned in your manuscript you should expect to hear back from your editor in about 6 to 8 weeks. I know that seems like a long time and, frankly, it is, but editors are busy and we need to be realistic about how long it can be. Unfortunately, I’ve had some editors take upwards of six months and others never give revisions at all. Again, every editor has her own technique. When you do hear back from your editor it’s going to, hopefully, be with revisions. And these can be all over the place. I’ve had editors ask that the book be completely rewritten, while others simply requested some touch-up work. My hint to you: the longer the revision letter the fewer the changes. Short revision letters tend to include things like “the protagonist is too mean and I don’t like her” or “there’s just not enough suspense here.” While long revisions letters can say things like “on page three the color of her eyes change from blue to brown” or “the dialogue on page 25 feels forced, not like the characters I was reading earlier.” Letters can be one short paragraph (the scary ones) or twenty-some pages. I think my longest was 15 pages.

Revisions are the most critical piece of the editing process. These are the changes that will make your book as strong as you can possibly make it.

Step Two, Line Edits: Once the revisions are complete and the editor is happy with what you’ve done (and by the way, some revisions can go multiple rounds), it’s time for line edits. These are the little inconsistencies the editor wants to make sure aren’t missed. Things like eye color changing, poor word choices, stiff dialogue, or awkward writing, etc. Minor things that can usually be fixed with a word change or two. Often and usually the editor does line edits on the manuscript itself and sends the entire package off to the copy editor without you seeing them. That’s fine, line edits and copy edits really go hand-in-hand.

Step Three, Copy Edits: Copy edits are typically done by hand (although that is beginning to change) on the original manuscript pages. Most copy editing is done by a freelance copy editor outside of the publishing house, although managed by someone in the copy editing department. The copy editor is someone I greatly admire because it’s certainly not a job I could ever do. The copy editor looks for things like typos, grammar errors, punctuation errors. The copy editor makes us all look good. That’s her job.

After copy edits are completed the entire manuscript is sent back to you for review. Here you can stet changes (maintain your original wording rather than the editors’), answer any questions or concerns and make any necessary changes. This is really it. Your last big chance to fix the book and add or subtract anything you might have missed.

Step Four, Page Proofs: Once you have reviewed, fixed or corrected the errors from the copy edits the book typically goes to the typesetter, and again, this is still amazingly done by hand. The typesetter takes the design given to them by the publisher’s design team and makes sample book pages. These are often call page proofs. They are printed on regular 8.5 x 11 paper, but designed to give you an idea of what the book will look like. If the book is a trade paperback you will usually get one book page per printed page. If it’s a mass market paperback you’ll get side-by-side pages on each printout.

These page proofs are then sent to you for one final review. These are not meant for major edits, but primarily to make sure all of the changes from the copy edited manuscript got into the final edition and to correct any new or missed typos. The page proofs are what are referred to in your contract when you are not allowed to make changes that affect more than 10% of the manuscript, otherwise you are charged for the changes. This of course does not refer to any errors that were caused by the typesetter.

Note: the page proof stage is also when copies are sent out for review. The publisher and reviewers know that some mistakes might be found, but the essence of the book is there and ready for review.

And once you send those page proofs back you have officially signed off on the book. The next thing you’ll see is a beautiful finished product with a shiny new cover and your name on top.