The publishing process can be confusing and difficult to navigate. When I first started working in publishing, it took me a while for me to totally understand the process, so I sympathise with you if you are coming to it for the first time.

The truth is that the publishing process is not set in stone. There are variations to it depending on the format you are using to publish your book: Kindle, (or another electronic format), print (self-publishing), PDF and the traditional method used by professional publishing houses (although this has also changed substantially since the advent of desktop publishing).

When I started out in publishing, there were no computers. We did everything on paper. No wonder it took so long to publish a book! The text of the book was produced twice, once as galley proofs (long sheets of typeset pages with no page breaks) and page proofs. In between galleys and page proofs was the design process called paste-up, and yes, the typeset galley text was literally pasted onto printed page templates using a sticky spray glue that allowed pieces of paper to be put in place then moved again if necessary. We went through gallons of that glue!

Life got simpler when everything became electronic, although the editors who didn’t like computers would probably disagree with me. The arrival of so-called desktop publishing sped up the process by months as the edited manuscript could be pasted (not with glue!) directly from Word to QuarkXpress (the publishing standard software) that the book designer had already set up. The editor could then tweak the page proofs so the text fitted correctly on each page and add editorial and proof-reading changes directly. This meant that the editor and designer were now doing the work that the typesetters and printers used to do. However, it made the whole process faster and simpler, even if it was more intensive for the editor/designer team.

These days, print templates for print-on-demand books are simpler, and electronic books like Kindle books do not require any designing at all, which makes self-publishing much easier. As long as your text is correctly formatted in Word, it can be converted into Kindle at the click of a button.

The Publishing Process

Step One: Copy Editing

Copy editing is the first step in the publishing process and takes place when the writing process is finished and the book is ready for publication. No matter what format you using to publish your book, you will need to get it copy edited first.

Copy editing is the method whereby the text is corrected, amended and improved so that the reader finds it clear and easy to understand. The editor does the work that each specific book needs. Not all books are the same and not all writers are the same, so the work is always bespoke and responds to the needs of each individual title.

For example, if the book has a lot of different types of text such as quotations, bullet points, numbered lists and headings, for example, it will need more of a technical edit. The editor will make sure that all the bullet point lists display in the same way, that they all carry the same punctuation style and that the line spacing is consistent before and after the bullet list and even between bullet points.

Some books may need more work on the style of writing or the structure. For example, an author may over-use a phrase or word so the editor would find alternative words or phrases to avoid repetition. The editor may also move text around within a section or chapter or move chapters around within a book if the content does not seem logical. Inconsistencies such as different spellings of a name, different formats for dates or numbers and different rules for capitalizing words in headings will all be removed. The editor will query anything he or she is not sure of with the author but will probably correct anything that is a known fact and does not need to be checked. If there is any doubt at all, the editor will check or point out the change so the author can consider it.

Whatever the editor does, the author will always be able to see. Copy editors do not assume they are right, nor do they assume that the author will approve all of their changes. It is up to the editor to highlight any changes that they want the author to check and it is up to the author to read through the edited text to ensure that the editing has not changed their meaning.

The challenges of having your work edited

It can be challenging to have your work copy edited because it can bring back memories of having your essays marked at school or college. However, there is no criticism intended by an editor. Their job is to polish your work so it gleams not to put you down for not having written a perfect piece of prose. Editors are invariably passionate about their work, humble in their attitude and eager to ensure that what they do meets the needs of the author.

Having your work copy edited is a great opportunity to see how you can improve your writing (if you are interested in doing that) as it can show where your vocabulary can be extended, how you over-use particular words and phrases and how you can change your sentence construction.

If you have got stuck revising and rewriting a book an editor can save you a lot of time. Because they are more distanced from the text, they can spot where changes are needed quickly. They can suggest additions and cuts, and they can make structural changes you may not have considered. Above all, they can reassure you that what you have written is ready for publication.

Finding and editor and paying for copy editing

How much you pay for copy editing varies enormously and is costed very differently in different countries and by different editors. Some editors charge by the word, some by the 1000 words and some by the hour. However much an editor charges, get a quote from them before they begin. Personally, I always like to see what I am going to be editing before I quote because then I know what level of work I will need to do and how long it will take me to do it.

If you have a choice between who to use, ask for a sample edit and see whose work you prefer. Remember that expensive does not equal good any more than cheap equals bad. If you don’t want to pay a lot, go to websites like Elance, oDesk or PeoplePerHour and post your job there and see who offers to do your job. You may be lucky and get the services of an experienced editor who is new to the site and looking to get their first sales.

If you don’t want to go down this route, get a recommendation or look for editors who are members of the Society of Indexers and Proofreaders. You could even try asking an editor at a publishing company for a recommendation or look for the name of the editor in the acknowledgements of a book. More professional networking sites like LinkedIn can also be a good way to find professional editors.

you need an editorEditing carries an element of risk but it is no more risky than hiring a plumber or going to a new hairdresser. To minimise the risk, start to look for your editor before you need their services, build a relationship and get to know them before you hire them. That way, you will feel more comfortable and will get a sense of how they handle their clients and do their work.

If you would like me to copy edit, proof-read or offer any other kind of help with your book, please get in touch by email. Send me some information about you and your book (i.e. the title, what your book is about, who it is for, when you plan to publish and what format you want to publish in), a chapter of your book plus your contents page and the length of your book in words (or just send me the whole book) and I will let you know what work is needed, how long it will take and how much I will charge.

If you prefer, you can download my specially created Request for a Quote questionnaire and simply send this to me along with your book or sample text.

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Deborah Taylor
Deborah Taylor

Hi, I'm Deborah Taylor and I'm a publishing consultant and book-writing mentor. I work with established business owners who want to share their message by writing a book but are struggling to get started (or finished). I help them write, publish and launch a stand-out, attention-grabbing book that will raise their profile, reach more of their ideal clients and grow their business. I am a trained editor with over 15 years' publishing experience with major blue-chip UK publishing companies such as Hodder & Stoughton, BBC Books, Cassell and Pearson. I have produced books on every subject under the sun and with professinals and experts from a wide range of professions, from chefs and gardeners to life coaches and career consultants. I would love to help you write a book you love and that will raise your profile, attract new clients and bring you exciting new business opportunities.