How many times have we heard the phrase – ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’?
More than a few, I’m sure. If you are self-publishing or traveling the more pleasant route of assisted independent publishing, there is a need for you to do your due diligence. Not just with the people, team or organisation assisting in bring the book to life, but also in the process you are engaging in, for nothing more than to be aware of what your team’s expectations are along with your own.
I always comment on how a book is your baby and it needs to be treated with the same consideration and care. As a preferred obstetrician/midwife (aka Publishing Consultant), I have a team of experts on hand to help ensure your baby (book) comes into this world in the best possible environment after a well maintained and monitored pregnancy (the publishing process).
The process I am going to outline is a detailed overview involved in the editorial process. We won’t go into a huge breakdown on each stage as that’s not the purpose; instead I want to ensure you have the stages in order with a clear understanding of each. By no means am I saying that you should embark solely in this process as you may already have published previously which may mean you don’t need a structural edit or you may not need an appraisal. However, the purpose of this article is to outline the correct steps so there is no confusion for you.
STAGE ONE; BETA-READERS
So let’s imagine for a moment that you have just completed the first draft of your manuscript. So begins a series of rewrites and self-editing until you reach the stage where you are ready to share the manuscript with a trusted colleague, friend, author or reader. The purpose? To evaluate the story and ascertain if your idea is appealing to your audience.
These readers are commonly known as beta-readers. Often labelled the superheroes of indie publishing, beta-readers cut out the ‘white noise’. They will read your entire manuscript, and develop a personal response to it, uninfluenced by the opinions of others, which I feel is a very raw and authentic way to encounter your manuscript.
Experienced beta-readers will most likely give you a written report on their reactions and opinions, often making commentary in the text. In case you’re wondering, no, beta-readers are not usually paid for their involvement. Typically it is an exchange where fellow authors swap their manuscripts, or it is someone who is prepared to support your creativity and do you a favour. Ideally, you want to have three or four beta-readers so you can weigh the opinions and make informed decisions on what you will adapt into your manuscript.
STAGE TWO; MANUSCRIPT APPRAISAL
OK, so you’ve now made the desired recommendations to your manuscript, you’ve tweaked it and turned it, remodelled it until you feel confident to take the next step. It’s not unusual at this point that the author could approach one of the previous beta-readers and ask them to take another swing through to see if their updates are favourable. Presuming that has been done lets step forward.
A manuscript appraisal is a professional systematic and objective study of your manuscript. It looks at several key components with a strong focus on structure, flow, pace and marketability of your book. The appraiser will submit the manuscript back with a detailed report commenting on your title; length; desired format; pricing; subject matter and its potential popularity; author’s expertise; competition; audience; marketing strategy; originality; focus; clarity; structure; validity; writing style; as well as any suggestions for added value. It will be comprehensive and honest and I can assure you that no appraisal I have ever been a part of has ever come back to the author with a comment like ‘you’re good to go’. There have always been recommendations and revisions to implement, so expect it. One very important component of the appraisal is the editorial assessment, as it is here the appraiser can identify what level of editing your manuscript needs.
STAGE THREE; STRUCTURAL EDITING
At this point you are likely to have a clear indication of the level of editing required and typically new authors are likely to need structural editing. There are other terms used for this part of the process such as a developmental edit or substantive edit.
The structural editor works best when they collaborate with the author and it is usually managed through a shared document online. Together there will be suggestions and implementation around content, organisation, and presentation.
Following the editors identifying and solving problems regarding clarity or accuracy; recognising and adjusting paragraphs, sections, or chapters to improve the order; writing or rewriting segments of text to improve readability and flow; you will find that your manuscript may look completely different, but 99 times out of 100, it will be far superior.
STAGE FOUR; LIGHT DEVELOPMENTAL EDITING
This kind of editing is often referred to as stylistic or Paragraph-Level editing and it involves recasting sentences for clarity and flow. It can also involve moving sentences around so that your meaning is clear. This level of editing always aims to preserve the author’s voice, so you will find the editor will make recommendations but the expectation will be that you as the author will address the recommendations and do so by keeping consistent with your voice.
Other factors addressed here involve reviewing language and vocabulary, ensuring the meaning is not lost in too many big words or whitewash and that the transitions from one paragraph to the next are not awkward. Quite often the editor will address some of the next stage of editing here as there is a very fine light between a light developmental edit and a copy-edit.
STAGE FIVE; COPY EDITING
The most common form of editing is copy-editing, sometimes referred to as line-editing, where the editor will address issues surrounding grammar, usage and consistency issues. It is entirely understandable that an author can lose track of many small details over the course of writing a book mainly due to becoming too close to the work and not being able to see past the message of the text. This can mean that the possibility of their being a high number of small errors is very high. Sometimes these errors are introduced by the authors themselves during the multiple revisions.
In addition to consistencies in spelling and punctuation, a copy editor will find issues of continuity that don’t connect. Look at it as a final quality control check of your writing. Now usually, the manuscript will pass through a copy-editor at least twice and quite often I see it go through three times mainly due to the copy-editors I work with also take on the role of proof reading, to ensure a more focused and economical option is being addressed for the author.
STAGE SIX; PROOF READING
As mentioned above, I usually incorporate this with the copy edit and it addresses spelling, punctuation, and typos. Proof readers also can, and should, be engaged following the layout (design) of the manuscript into book form so they can also identify any formatting issues.
I regularly recommend to authors to have the book proofed independently following design and the production of the physical proof copy. This could also involve the reengaging of your beta readers as the manuscript will be quite different from when they first saw it and it will be a true test of its impact.
Whilst it is next to impossible to eliminate every single error, typo or inconsistency within a published book, it is important to get it as pristine as possible. Proof reading is the last pair of eyes on your book before it goes to market; the last chance to catch an error before a reader finds it and joyfully points it out. Do NOT skip this step.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU NEED?
Typically, a manuscript will go through 3-4 of the above stages however, what your book needs depends on your strengths as a writer and on what you are writing. Hence why beta-readers, or an appraisal, is undertaken so to ascertain the answer to that query.
At the very least, every manuscript will need a copy-edit and proofread. If your budget is limited, you can be strategic about the services you select. Get in touch with your publishing mentor to discuss this as often it is the people in the ‘know’ who can guide you effectively.
Bottom line, regardless of what your manuscript needs, working with an editor will most definitely improve your writing. With an open mind and a positive attitude, you’ll not only finish with a more quality book you will be immensely proud of, but you will learn so much that when you embark on your second book you can implement some of the things learned.
What now? Well, I’m guessing you are now thinking costs, time frames, etc. So this is not a question that cannot be answered with a generic response. The answers are dependent on expectations, current workflow, word count, writing ability, budget and many other components. So the next step is to get in touch with your publishing consultant or preferred provider and begin the conversation.
I trust this has given you clarity of the full editorial process within book publishing and I wish you the best of luck in the birth of your new baby (book) and in the building of the critical relationships with your nurses (editors).
Ocean is Australasia's #1 Author Success Coach who has assisted in the creative expression for over 3800 authors. He speaks regularly on the topics of Creative Leadership, Creating A Book For Your Business, Creative Inspiration and Book Marketing. To read more go to www.oceanreeve.com