The Secret Cookie Recipe

(The Joy of Publishing, Part 1)

I am frequently asked by aspiring (that is, unsigned) authors to explain the publishing process. I fully recognize that some publishing professionals hold on to this information as if it is a secret cookie recipe worth, you know, $250 (or perhaps $250K by now), but I assure you it’s probably just that they don’t have time. Honestly, the question comes to me quite often through my website, to which I always respond, “I’m going to blog about that one of these days.” Well, dear ones, this may be your lucky day. Pay attention. There could be a test later. (And my apologies for the length of this post; there wasn’t a good place to break it.)

Let’s start with an author who has signed a contract with a publishing company. This means his book proposal (the book may not even be written yet!) has come to the attention of an acquiring editor who wants to publish it. (Oh, see, here’s the problem with explaining the process: there are terms. What’s an acquiring editor? Maybe you read last week’s blog?)

At any rate, a contract is negotiated, usually by the author’s agent. (I also get a lot of requests to help the fledgling author find an agent, but—like explaining the publishing process—that is just not in my purview. Thank goodness for the Internet, no? You can start with Mike Hyatt’s list, here.)

The author and his in-house editor (usually the acquiring editor, but sometimes a managing or production editor) agree on a date for the book to be turned in to the publisher. Then the author goes home and writes and polishes until he thinks his book is perfect. On or before the due date, he sends the manuscript to his in-house editor. The manuscript should follow certain guidelines, which the publisher will have provided to him. These include things like:

  • the document should be written in Microsoft Word
  • no double-spacing after a period
  • margins should be 1.25 inches on left and right
  • text should be double-spaced
  • type should be 12-point Times New Roman or something similar
  • no colors, no crazy fonts or point sizes, no embedded illustrations
  • and so on

Of course, since this list was provided back when the contract was signed, and it’s now a year later, the author probably has ignored many of these requests. That’s been my experience, anyway. I can say this because once the manuscript is turned in, it’s passed on to the developmental editor. That is, someone like me. :)

Developmental editing is also sometimes called substantive editing—because we are working with the substance of the book. It requires a good working relationship between the dev editor and the author, and takes anywhere from three to six months, depending on the shape the book’s in, the author’s schedule, and other variables. I generally ask for three months; I’ve done it in less, but that’s not comfortable for either party.

The dev editor is equal parts best friend/cheerleader, teacher/fault-finder, and wordsmith/grammarian, whether she is working on fiction or nonfiction. You can see a brief discussion of it here or on my website. I was astonished, at a recent writers’ conference, to be seated next to an author who had published several romance novels and had no idea what a developmental edit was and claimed not to have ever been through one. That pretty effectively shut me up. :)

Many publishers are using freelance dev editors, because there are simply not enough editors in-house nor time in the day to do it for every book on the publisher’s new-release list. (Some publishers require the dev editor to also do a thorough line edit before the book is turned in. Some hire a different sort of editor to do it.)

This material—all big-picture stuff—is written up in a set of notes that go back to the author, who then addresses the notes in a rewrite of the manuscript. (I usually take a month to read the manuscript and get the notes—which will run to several pages—together, and I give the author a month to get the manuscript back to me.) I also make notes within the manuscript itself, using the comments function in Microsoft Word. The author and dev editor also both use the track changes function, so that each can see what the other is doing within the manuscript.

In my interactions with authors over the years, I have been shocked and dismayed to learn that a lot of authors assume their relationship with their editor will be an adversarial one. That’s not how I like to operate, but I do expect that the author will listen to my suggestions with an open mind.

Once the rewrite comes back to the dev editor, she and the author discuss and tweak until each is satisfied that the manuscript is the best it can be. Sometimes the exchanges can get quite lively! (She said, smiling.) When this process is done, the manuscript is returned to the publisher by the dev editor. Now it’s ready for copyediting.

Worn out yet? We’ll finish this up next week.

Tweet: Everything you wanted to know about publishing but were afraid to ask. Part 1.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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5 Comments

  1. Beth says:

    This is golden, Jamie. You done good. Favorite: “no double-spacing after a period.” THANK you.

  2. londie says:

    no Im not worn out, cant wait for the next scoop. Hope your compiling all this for a book, and please include the recipe. Ive heard about those cookies :-)

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3 Trackbacks

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  2. By Parlez-Vous Editing? on 12 April, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    […] gave her links to some of my blog posts: the one about what I mean when I say I’m an editor, and my two-parter on the publishing process (here’s part 2), which incorporates the terms I have used as long as I’ve worked in the […]

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