After the editing

31 December 2009

Congratulations! You and your manuscript seem to have survived the editing process. Do not think, however, that now there is a moment to relax. This is highly unlikely.

All the while that you and your manuscript have been roiling through the intestines of editorial, other parts of the press have been at work on your behalf, not least marketing people getting your book announced. However, also busy is an area of the production department that you haven’t encountered before where more creative types of people may be found. It is, then, now time to look at the work of the book/cover designer and typesetter (though never forget that the role of the production editor remains crucial).

Over the next few posts, I shall explore this fascinating corner of book production (well, I think it is fascinating), looking at:

These posts will then culminate in a discussion on proofs and proofing, the next section in this series of posts.

(Post #1 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Your role in the editorial process

30 December 2009

Finally, the copy-edited manuscript is returned to you. If it’s on paper, you may notice the red ink oozing out between the pages.

Some authors are pathetically grateful for the editorial work done on their manuscript. Others react quite differently. Rage, offence, incredulity and humiliation: these are some of the emotions that can swamp an author when confronted with copy-editing changes for the first time.

Try to avoid an emotional response. Take a deep breath. Realize that no one is perfect (not even you), and accept that someone coming from the outside with a fresh eye will always find details to query in a text. Believe it or not, your copy editor is not out to get you – as Michael Corleone put it: ‘It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.’

That said, don’t take the copy-edit lying down. Copy editors know about language and grammar, and they have a sense of what works for the reader. But they are not specialists in your subject – and they are human. It is not uncommon for me to agree with an author that a copy-editing or proofing change is gratuitous, the result of the editor becoming irritated with something in the text, so irritated that she cannot stand the sight of it (say, with endless repetition of a word or phrase that in some instances is still the best to use). The irony here is that a typo or other real error can escape the editor’s notice while she slashes at the 99th occurrence of ‘inasmuch as’.

The best response may be to go over each proposed change and accept all those that you do not have strong feelings against, thus concentrating on the few changes that you do have issues with. On the other hand, the text has to feel right, and it must still feel to be yours. As such, be assertive, use your judgement, put your hard-won analytical skills to work.

Unfortunately, whatever your response, there won’t be much time for you to contemplate the edit (or launch into a protracted debate about each change). The publisher’s wheels of production grind inexorably on.

On receipt of the copy-edited manuscript, normally you will be given a tight deadline (often only a few weeks) to review the changes and indicate any disagreements. Your main jobs are to:

  • Check the copy-editing changes. Are they correct? Consistent? Appropriate to conventions/discourse in your field?
  • Answer any queries.
  • (If possible) check the marking-up of text elements for typesetting.

Remember, too, that this is your last chance to make sure that the text is just as you want it. From this point onwards, any changes to your text will be met with the greatest reluctance by your editor. Slowly but irrevocably, the book – your baby – is slipping beyond your grasp.

As such, if you want to make substantial changes at this late point, you will need to talk to your editor urgently, and certainly before making/requesting any wide-ranging changes.

There is another issue, however: if the editing has been done on paper, who is to key the changes? Some publishers expect their authors to carry out this task, thus saving on editorial/production costs; others are horrified at the risk of authors introducing new errors into the text. Your publisher should have made their position clear on this back when the contract was negotiated.

One last thing: if it is a paper copy of the edited manuscript that you’ve received and must return as corrected final pages to your production editor, then make a copy before doing so. That way, you can check these final pages against the page proofs that you’ll receive later.

Whether or not it is you who keys the text changes, after you have returned the edited text, your production editor will make a last check before signing off the final text file. Editing of your manuscript is finished (so too the active engagement of the editorial department).

Now, at last, design and typesetting of the book can begin.

(Post #5 of the Editorial section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)


28 December 2009

If substantive editing is the endangered aristocrat of academic publishing, then copy-editing is the ubiquitous cleaner, tidying up other people’s messes. Cleaners never get bouquets on opening night but without them the show soon stops. (Something to consider when the amount of red-inked text returned to you turns you scarlet with rage. More about that in my next post.)

Actually, I am being unfair. In a recent post I have recounted how some authors regard their copy editors as obsessive and anal-retentive. I neglected to add that many other authors have a warm relationship with their copy editor, singling her out for especial praise in the book’s acknowledgements. Perhaps this is because the author realizes that the only person actually to have closely read his text is the lowly copy editor. A key factor, too, is just how this copy-editing is carried out (see below).

Copy-editing concerns itself with language, formatting and presentation issues. The copy-editor will read your manuscript very carefully (perhaps obsessively) from beginning to end, checking that grammar, spelling and punctuation are correct. She will also correct any deviations from the publisher’s house style and normal scholarly conventions (deviations that have escaped the scrutiny of the Style Nazi), and check that your citations match your bibliography (missing references and redundant entries in the bibliography are common). In addition, unnecessary repetitions, unclear phrasing, faulty transitions and verbosity may be flagged for attention.

It is unlikely that your copy-editor will attempt an extensive rewriting of your text or a general alteration of your basic style – copy-editors are not paid enough to spend time on such major surgery – but you may be consulted on anything that is unclear or needs fine-tuning.

The copy-editor also functions as a bridge for the author between the editorial department (primarily concerned with meaning) and the typesetter (focused on ‘fit’ and appearance). Thus, the copy-editor not only inserts corrections and queries but also marks up the text with typesetting instructions. If you get your copy-edited text back on paper, then you may see a whole lot of weird notations in the margins (for instance, a circled ‘H1’ or ‘A’ used to mark a first-level heading).

Exactly how the copy-edit is carried out can vary a lot and can a big influence on the relationship between author and copy editor. For instance, one of our copy editors is Jonathan. He works at home in a country cottage in one of the remoter parts of Britain. Jonathan edits manuscripts in paper form only; he hates on-screen editing (I can imagine him spreading the different parts of the manuscript out on his kitchen table, flicking back and forth between the chapter under edit and the list of references). He insists on receiving the full manuscript (including any preliminary material) and works through this methodically, returning the edited manuscript to us by post about 4–6 weeks later. Someone then needs to key these changes, often the author. Jonathan is a warm, lovely person but all of his dealings are with the Press; he has no contact with the author. There is no chit-chat during the edit but – if not entered directly in the text – there may be a list of queries and comments to the author appended to the finished manuscript.

In contrast, another of our copy editors I shall call Diane. She too works at home but in her case this is in a walled villa on the outskirts of a bustling Asian metropolis. Diane works on screen and often engages with her authors during the edit. She, too, insists on having the full manuscript but there is a bit more give and take here since material can be exchanged electronically on the fly. The job takes a bit longer but the result is that we receive a manuscript blessed by the author and in electronic format ready to typeset.

Which approach is better? That is hard to say. Undeniably, Jonathan’s approach could be called that of the past, Diane’s that of the future. But that doesn’t mean anything in terms of quality.

In terms of reference checking, some editors say that working on paper is easier (and hence more likely to be carried out thoroughly). But in terms of global changes (say, removing excess spaces and changing every instance of ‘analyze’ to ‘analyse’, except those found in direct quotations), working with the electronic files is best (let’s just hope there are no font problems). Finally, in terms of author engagement, you would expect ongoing chit-chat to work better than the hands-off approach but the reality is mixed; human chemistry is a wonderful thing.

Anyway, whatever the form that the copy-edit takes (but depending on the size and complexity of the copy-editing job), you should receive your edited text back from the publisher within one or two months. As you can see from the examples of Jonathan and Diane above, the corrected text may be delivered to you in electronic form or on paper. If in electronic form, then there are quite a few choices including PDF proof documents ready for annotation and Word documents with tracked changes or showing the results of before–after file comparisons. If you receive the copy editor’s changes on paper, you may see the pages annotated with correction marks in the margins and inserted in the text (examples of these to be linked here once I’ve worked out how to do this).

So the copy-edit is finally done. The question now is, what are you going to do about it? Something to explore in my next post.

(Post #4 of the Editorial section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Substantive editing

27 December 2009

Eventually, once you have satisfied the Style Nazi, editing of your manuscript can proceed.

Editing in fact is not one thing. Transformation of your manuscript calls on two very different types of editing: substantive editing of the initial (delivered) text focusing on its structure and argumentation, and copy-editing of the finalized (restructured) text focusing on its language and ensuring that it complies with the publisher’s house style

Substantive editing is the aristocrat of editing and, sadly, it is rare. For me, this has been epitomised by the editorial work of Joanne Sanstrom at Berkeley, now retired. As I understand it (though just how real this picture is, I don’t know), Joanne worked with each of her authors, line by line, ensuring that their text flowed logically, its argumentation structurally coherent, clear and consistent, all of this presented in language that was fresh and alive. In my mind, this is substantive editing (with a dash of copy-editing) at its greatest.

However, my understanding is also that Joanne only edited about four books a year and editing was pretty much all that she did. There is no way that this level of perfection makes economic sense in today’s publishing climate – indeed, I doubt that it ever did, even in the golden age of scholarly publishing a few decades ago. Each of these four books would have needed to sell tens of thousands of copies to cover Joanne’s salary and ancillary costs. Such levels of sales have rarely happened.

Any book will be the better for undergoing a mindful edit such as Joanne’s but sadly, in almost all cases today, it never happens. Because of the economic pressures on publishers, in recent years there has been a decline in the amount of structural revisions made to manuscripts after their final delivery. Instead, the tendency is for structure and content to receive feedback (not editing) before final delivery. Quite often publishers rely on any concerns regarding structure, argumentation and coherence being raised in the peer reviewers’ reports, and perhaps in additional comments from the commissioning editor (which may have been made after only a hasty skim-reading of the work). And that is about all the ‘substantive editing’ that a manuscript will get.

This degradation of the added value that publishers are supposed to offer their authors is one reason why some people argue the merits of self-publication and question if publishers have role to play in the dissemination of modern scholarship. (This is a complicated argument, one that I have explored elsewhere at great length.)

Mind you, I don’t hear too many authors complaining about this situation (though I dare say that’s because of ignorance not acceptance). Substantive editing is not what many authors think of when considering that their manuscript will be edited; rather, all that is in mind is a bit of ‘polishing’, the correction of the stray typo. After all, they are the ones that know their subject. (Unfortunately, knowing your subject and being about to communicate it effectively are quite different things.)

But what is your situation?

Hopefully, you received a detailed and coherent assessment of your text on such structural and content issues prior to final delivery but chances are you haven’t. If not, you might like to use this approach in the finalization of your manuscript.

Take the feedback that you have received from the readers’ reports and commissioning editor as your starting point, adding to this your own formal response to these evaluations. Thereafter, take the time to swiftly read through your manuscript one more time, briefly marking anything for follow-up but never really pausing. Doing this reading at speed reduces your unwillingness to read the wretched thing one more time. In fact, the faster you read, the easier it will be to keep a picture of the entire work in your head, and you will also notice anything that disturbs, distracts, bores or irritates you far more easily.

With all of this input, it should be fairly clear what revisions need to be done. Do them, but do not get bogged down with rewriting text that had nothing wrong with it in the first place. Speed is of the essence.

With luck, after delivering your final manuscript, your text may receive a minimum of substantive editing as part of the copy-edit. Just don’t count on it. As you will see in my next post, copy editors have enough to do already without straying into the byways of structure and argumentation.

(Post #3 of the Editorial section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Meet the Style Nazi

26 December 2009

So, you have delivered your manuscript. If you have had inklings from my previous post that editing involves more than a quick polish, you would be right.

Indeed, your manuscript might not even be ready for editing. Huh? Sorry, but there’s one person from editorial whom I failed to introduce you to in my last post. Meet the Style Nazi.

Any academic press that is at all serious will ensure that the books it publishes conform to scholarly conventions. In addition, most publishers have a house style that encapsulates these conventions and gives them a unique flavour. Such a house style might be only a page long (like the Notes for Authors you see in the back of scholarly journals) or so detailed that it requires a booklet to elaborate all the requirements. (The latter may seem excessive but this is nothing, of course, in comparison with the mother of all style guides, the Chicago Manual of Style whose latest edition weighs in at over 950 pages and in the hands of a crazed copy editor might well be a deadly weapon.)

Not all presses have a Style Nazi but, if they don’t, they are foolish. Editing costs are a significant post in publishers’ budgets. Anything that streamlines editorial work reduces costs and coincidentally results in a superior end product.

Essentially, then, before any copy-editing is undertaken, what the Style Nazi does is check your manuscript for conformity and completeness. Both are equally important because each in their different way have a big effect on how much work is involved in editing your manuscript and hence in how much it ends up costing.

If you take a look at the style guide for NIAS Press or most scholarly presses, some things are pretty obvious. For instance, your copy editor can hardly do a proper job if:

  • The font size is so small as to make reading difficult.
  • The margins around the text are too narrow to fit marginal comments and corrections.
  • The line spacing is too close to accommodate in-line corrections.
  • No page number is printed (meaning total chaos if the bundle of paper is dropped).

A manuscript with such obvious faults will be rejected immediately by any Style Nazi.

However, don’t expect her to restrict herself to the obvious only. Also coming under her scrutiny will be your conformity with the house style for things like:

  • spelling
  • italicization of foreign words
  • punctuation
  • numbering
  • date format
  • treatment of quotations, and
  • citation format.

Here, too, there is plenty of content issues for your manuscript to be rejected out of hand.

Nor is that all; just as important as conformity is the matter of completeness. This could be a subject all to itself but, briefly, the problem with most academic works is that they are complicated, multi-part entities. Version control is crucial (for instance, your publisher will not want to pay for a whole lot of editing only to hear that ‘Sorry, I wasn’t happy with Chapter 3 and have rewritten it’). As such, if everything isn’t delivered together, how can work on your book proceed without the project degenerating into chaos as ‘little extra things’ are delivered at later dates?

No, I am not exaggerating. Indeed, authors are notorious for wanting to make ‘little corrections’ right up to the point of printing (more about that later). But right now I am reminded of one of our authors who some years ago was pleased to announce that finally she was delivering her long-overdue manuscript. On the list of minor things still outstanding, however, was Chapter 7, which still needed to be revised.

In short, if you promised but fail to deliver a preface and four photos (the first not yet written and the latter so grainy they are unusable), then expect your publisher’s Style Nazi to land on you like a ton of bricks.

So, here’s a thought: why not ruin the Style Nazi’s day and make yours one of bliss – deliver a ‘proper’ manuscript, first time.

(Post #2 of the Editorial section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Meet the editors

25 December 2009

Now that you have delivered your manuscript (maybe a few months late, but there were so many other interesting or important things for you to do), it is only a matter of a quick polish and your book is half-way there to the book launch and universal acclaim. Correct?

Actually, no. There is a long, hard grind ahead.

The transformation of your manuscript into a published book begins in the publisher’s editorial department. We’ll explore what actually happens in a moment (well, tomorrow) but first let’s look at the people you’ll be working with.

First up, at least in her opinion, is the commissioning editor. Without doubt, this is this person you’ve had most dealings with to date – the person who initially assessed your book proposal, had it peer reviewed, ‘sold’ your project to the editorial board, negotiated a contract with you, etc., etc. Quite possibly, much of this work has been handled by an editorial assistant, a drudge willing to undertake all sorts of tedious work in the belief that one day she too will be promoted to commissioning editor. Often this is true.

Contrary to popular belief, commissioning editors do not spend their days in soft chairs surrounded by big piles of manuscripts, nor their evenings in cosy restaurants chatting up prospective authors. There are elements of this in the job but much more. What? More about this another time. Let’s stay focused on the transformation of your manuscript.

At this point, when your finished manuscript arrives in the publishing house, the most important editorial people may in fact sit in a different department, production; this depends a bit on how things are organized at that press.

The key person here is the production editor, someone who might instead be called production manager, managing editor, desk editor and so forth. But while there are a bewildering variety of job titles for this role depending on the press, its importance cannot be overstated. This is the Fat Controller.

(Oops, here I go again, offending my publishing colleagues. All too many have read Wuthering Heights but not Thomas the Tank Engine. OK, forget the Fat Controller. Think ‘conductor’ instead.)

If your manuscript is a sheet of music, then the production editor is the conductor who ensures that the orchestra plays together, in harmony and with inspiration, making beautiful music. (That sounds much better than playing the Fat Controller but both characters fulfill the same role.)

Supporting the production editor is a team of editorial/production staff. You’ll meet some of these people later. Most important now, however, is the copy editor (either a specialist who may be a freelancer, or sometimes an in-house desk editor already familiar with your work).

(Hmm, notice the name ‘desk editor’ popping up again? Like the production editor, copy editors have different titles. In the case of copy editors, however, not all of them are nice.)

Sad to say, copy editors are not always an author’s favourite person. Why? Many authors think their copy editors are anal-retentive types, nit-pickers able to spot an error or inconsistency at 50 paces but incapable of appreciating what they are reading, right under their nose.

There may be a grain of truth in this assessment; certainly, it takes a special type of person to filter a screed of text written over many months (if not years) and bring to it a uniformity and correctness as if it had been written with the wave of a magic wand. This is a superhuman role that, not surprisingly, few copy editors are able to live up to.

OK, team assembled, now on with the show (in my next post). Meantime, a Merry Christmas to you all.

(Post #1 of the Editorial section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Why is my book late, and why does it take so long to publish?

22 December 2009

A grumpy publisher might reply:

It’s probably late because you delivered the darn thing several years late with several vital bits still missing, and now you expect your publisher to bring the book out, all squeaky clean and beautiful, in a matter of days or (let’s be generous) weeks. Sorry, it can’t be done.

Now that is a grumpy response and, for most (but not all) authors, completely unfair. Now to a more considered reply, one that will take several weeks of posts to complete.

Not science, and involving more than a handful of tasks

Let’s be honest: publishing isn’t science, let alone exact science. Any publisher worth her salt will thus add a bit of fudge to the timings of each of her book projects. And yet time and again it all goes wrong: delays happen despite the best-laid plans and added fudge.

What is it, then, that makes so many publication dates just wishful thinking? Is it the publisher, unable to organize his way out of a paper bag, or what?

Well, ‘what’ mainly (though some publishers have a fearsome record of super efficiency, others a dismal reputation for blundering chaos). The thing is that publishing a book is incredibly complicated, involving something like 100 different processes. Many of these are interdependent, meaning that if something slips here, then delays happen there and there and there as well. At the bottom of this post is a rough picture of this process.

Tracking the process

In the series of posts that follow, I aim to offer a blow-by-blow account of the publishing process. This should cover the following areas (which I’ll update with hyperlinks as posts are completed):

  • Editorial (starting here in the editorial department but proceeding to discuss types of editing and your role in it)
  • Announcement (how books are first made known to their potential readers)
  • Design (of book pages and cover, initially looking at why this is important)
  • Typesetting (looking at what it is then exploring issues related to the typesetting)
  • Proofing
  • Indexing
  • Printing
  • Shipping
  • Sales and distribution
  • Marketing and promotion (especially your role as the author)

Hopefully, this will give you an appreciation of what is happening (or about to happen) to your book and the role that you are expected to play in the process.

So hold onto your hats: our first port of call is editorial.

Production timeline given to new NIAS authors. (Note that right-hand times relate to typesetting only, left-hand to other tasks.)