People often think I’m joking when I say the publication process takes about 12 weeks. “Why on earth does it take so long?” they ask. And there is a simple answer: because in publishing, you go through the edit-amend-check process time and time again until (hopefully) everything is correct, and you are as sure as you can be that the book is error-free (or as error-free as is humanly possible).
If 12 weeks sounds like a long time to you, let me reassure you that you can do it faster, but only if you are organised, have a detailed schedule worked out, and are committed to putting in the time to keep everything on track. If you want to go faster, you need to be prepared to do the work, come what may. But, no matter how fast you want to go, you still need to go through the edit-check-amend process if you want to produce a high-quality and low-error book.
The word ‘edit’ does not just refer to copy editing; it refers to all corrections and changed made by anyone to the book: you, your editor, proof-reader or reviewer. It is possible to have several people working on a book simultaneously (you, your editor or proof-reader, your reviewer), and they will all find mistakes. Once you have all received everyone’s changes, you will need to transfer them onto one paper copy – your master copy – before inputting them into the electronic copy of the book.
There are two reasons for doing this: first, it gives you a master copy that contains all the amendments in one place; and second, it ensures that you have eliminated contradictions between one set of corrections and another before you begin inputting the changes onto the screen. For example, let’s say both your copy editor and your reviewer both suggest changing the order of a list in the book. If you collate all the changes onto your master copy, you will instantly see that each person has made different suggestions for the order of the list. You can then look at both side by side and decide which (if either) you are going to use before you begin changing the electronic copy. Having a master copy with all the corrections in one place makes the job of inputting those changes faster and easier.
This is the process of taking the corrections from your proof or paper copy of the book and inputting them into your electronic copy. Each time you do this, you need to save the document with a new date and give it a new version number i.e. Book Name – date-v.3. This will ensure you always have the previous amended version as a separate file in case you need to reinstate deleted material go back to an earlier version for any reason. I admit that this is belt and braces stuff, but mistakes happen more often that you would think so you need to be diligent about this kind of administrative work.
Amending your electronic text is preferably something you or your editor should do in one sitting (with breaks) and when you are feeling fresh. Doing it this way means that you will find it easier to remember any decisions you made about formatting, spellings etc. If you do this work over several days, you are likely to change your mind or forget what you have done in another part of the book, so if you can do it in a few hours (perfectly possible) that is best. Amending required concentration, attention to detail and technical ability so if you’re not sure you have the skills, ask someone better qualified to do the job for you.
Once you have input all those changes, you need to print out your book again. Then you need to cross check the new version against your old paper version to make sure you all the changes on the paper version have been correctly transferred to the electronic version. It is easy to make new mistakes when amending old ones and only checking will solve this problem.
The other benefit of doing more checks is that as you start to eliminate obvious errors, the less obvious (or ones you simply overlooked before) start to jump out at you. You will often wonder how you missed an error the first time around when you see it the second time around. The main reason for missing one error is that you are distracted by another.
Spotting an error in one part of the book can trigger a hunt for similar mistakes elsewhere. Seeing errors always breeds doubt and generally sends your brain spinning. The checking process helps to mitigate the effects of brain-spin as well as tiredness, distraction and anything else that may get in the way of you spotting a mistake. That is why it’s so worthwhile; it gives you that vital backup that reassures you that you’ve eliminated most errors.
As you do your checks, you’ll find new errors that need inputting into the book. While it’s fine to enter these immediately, you need to make sure you go through a new and full edit-amend-check process to make sure you don’t get tunnel vision and only look at those parts of the book you have already changed. So, to keep the process effective, you (or your editor or proofreader) need to read the book again.
There are several key reading stages a book goes through during the editorial process: the first read of the book is called copy editing, the second read is called proofreading, the third is called checking page proofs.
In publishing, there are usually at least two sets of page proofs: first pages and second pages. Sometimes if a book is complex or there have been a lot of changes there will be a third (and final) page proof stage as well.
I hope this gives you an indication of how often a book goes through the edit-amend-check process in a professional publishing house. Of course, you may want to have fewer checking stages but I urge you to do at least three if you have the time and resources.
Despite the gargantuan efforts of every publisher (whether professional or self-publishing) I have yet to see a book that is free of errors. When I was an editor at BBC Books a very diligent and experienced colleague had a very unfortunate experience with a mistake. My colleague had just received a copy of the printed cover of one of her books from the production department. It was her copy of the cover, but it was one of thousands. As she was sitting there feeling satisfied and pleased with her work, she started to read through the back cover copy. That’s when she noticed it: The Mistake. Rather than BBC Books, the copy read BCC Books.
You can imagine her horror!
At least eight people in the company, plus the author and the printer, had read and checked that cover copy before it had been printed. If that were not enough, it had probably been seen by each person at least twice. The editor had probably read it at least four times herself. Despite this, the error slipped through.
My colleague was at the top of her game and our colleagues in the rest of the company (and the author, too) were experienced and careful when it came to checking cover copy. Despite all this, the mistake still got printed. As a result, thousands of covers had to be pulped and a new version printed at breakneck speed (more expense) so that the cover with the error did not get put on the book and published. It was a salutary lesson for us all.
If you think this edit-amend-check process is boring you’re right. If you think it is unnecessary, you need to think again. Whether it is a link that is wrong, a name that is misspelled or a fact that is misleading, you don’t want it in your book. So remember, edit-amend-check. Do it and then do it again. It’s worth it.
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