Editors go by many different titles. Here are job descriptions of the four main types of editors you will come across, along with their alternate names and how much you can expect to pay when you hire them (based on industry averages).
Manuscripts in progress. Focus your writing and shape the overall direction of the book. May work with you from inception. Can guide you through the publishing process or for just a few months until you have your writing on track. Also called book shepherd.
Average rates: $100 to $300 per 1.5-hour session
Very big picture. Shape the content of the book. Review organization of the book as a whole as well as organization within chapters; highlight areas that need work, need rewriting, require expansion, stray from topic. May overlap with copyediting. Also called content editing.
Average rates: $10 to $15 per manuscript page, or $45 to $75 an hour
Big picture. Work with completed manuscripts. Fix errors of grammar, punctuation, style, consistency, sense, as well as flow of paragraphs and word choice. Highlight further areas of development. Will do some rewriting; query places that don’t work, don’t make sense, don’t say what you think they say. Can overlap with development. Also called line editing.
Average rates: $4 to $10 per manuscript page, or $18 to $45 an hour
Finer details. Catch whatever the copyeditor may have missed. Fix grammar, punctuation, style, consistency, sense. Very little rewriting. Usually pages have been typeset so making changes becomes costly and time-consuming. For best results, do NOT use the same person to copyedit and proofread your work.
Average rates: $2 to $5 per typeset page, or $15 to $30 an hour
Whenever you hire a vendor of any kind, be sure to clarify what their services include. Open communication is the best way to ensure you are getting what you expect.
Excerpt from Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, by Katherine Pickett
For many writers, the design part of book publishing is mystifying. This excerpt from the chapter “Making It Look Good: Design and Layout” sheds some light on what to expect and what is expected of you when working with a designer.
What You Can Expect from Your Designer
Professional designers offer an expertise that most literary types don’t have: they know what it takes to make a book visually appealing. That includes a wide range of aspects, from choosing appropriate artwork (photo or illustration), colors, and fonts for your subject area or genre to knowing the best spacing to use on chapter- opening pages and where to place the page numbers and running heads. Further, your designer will be able to locate the correct artwork and, if you are self-publishing, may be able to help you secure licenses for using the art. For the traditionally published author, the publishing house most often takes care of licensing.
You can also expect your designer to understand good layout principles. That means knowing how to “twin” pages—that is, make sure that the tops and bottoms of facing pages align—and fix bad breaks. It also includes making adjustments to spacing, hyphenation, and justification to ensure that the last page of a chapter has enough lines of text (at least six lines is optimal; four is passable) and that there are no blank right-hand pages.
When it comes to choosing the design for your book, your designer will do his or her best to represent your ideas. It is helpful if you have specific ideas to share, rather than vague notions, but also be sure to listen to your designer if he or she is gently nudging you in a certain direction. The designer may have reasons for his or her ideas that you aren’t aware of, and, in my experience, if you don’t ask your designer’s opinion, you won’t get it. The designer will give you what you asked for, even if it isn’t his or her first choice.
If you are self-publishing, you will work directly with your designer to come up with design ideas that are appropriate for your book. Your designer will listen to your ideas and attempt to convey your vision for the book through the cover and interior designs. Although you may use a different interior designer and cover designer, or possibly a template interior and a custom cover design from your designer, you will achieve a more seamless look if the same person does both designs. Template interiors work best with all-text books such as novels, where it is unlikely that a lot of adjustments will need to be made. Self-publishing advocate Joel Friedlander sells templates for Microsoft Word through his website (www.thebookdesigner.com), while some designers offer templates at a savings compared to a custom design.
Those working with traditional publishing houses should recall that although they have input on the cover and interior designs for their books, they very rarely get final approval. That means you can give your opinion, but you are not likely to get everything you want.
What Your Designer Expects from You
As mentioned, authors who have signed with a traditional publishing house will have little direct contact with the designer. Therefore, designers do not have many expectations from these authors specifically. Nevertheless, for all authors, a good working relationship with a designer requires a collaborative mind-set.
Designers working with self-publishers expect their clients to have an opinion about what the design should be. If you have researched the competition ahead of time, you are in great shape, as you probably already have thoughts on what you like and what you don’t. Designers are the creative minds, however, and do best with a little freedom. That is to say, if you let them, good designers will take your ideas, add a few of their own, and bring you two or three design options that look great and fit your needs. If you have not formulated your thoughts on how your book should look—for example, you have not researched the competition and therefore do not know what the conventions are for your genre—your designer will have to come up with something all on his or her own. This may work out great, but it also may happen that although you did not know how to verbalize what you like, you did indeed have an opinion, and the designer has missed the mark. This will result in many back-and-forths that could have been eliminated if you had done some research beforehand. Conversely, if you know precisely what you want, down to the last detail, you leave your designer with no room to be creative. You may get exactly what you want, but you lose the advantage of having hired an expert, and what you want may not be what is best for the marketability of the book. Looking through other books to find the designs you like may take a bit of time, but it’s also a lot of fun. It means your idea for a book is getting closer to reality.
When it is time for layout, be organized. Your manuscript file should be clean and ready to go, and your artwork and captions should be numbered and organized. A “clean” manuscript is free of extra spaces between words or sentences, free of extra paragraph breaks, and free of extra tabs. The entire file is double-spaced and in one standard font, such as Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier New. All text is “normal”; there are no random style sheets applied via Microsoft Word. And any queries from the copyeditor have been removed, with all tracked changes accepted. If you supply your manuscript this way, the designer can focus on more important issues and you will receive your page proofs that much faster.
Copyeditors tend to be practical, straightforward people, and that’s generally the approach they take to editing. Your CE will be reading the manuscript with the intent of cleaning up errors of punctuation, grammar, syntax, and word choice. That means correcting comma errors, fixing such problems as dangling or misplaced modifiers, rewriting convoluted sentences, and replacing words that have been used incorrectly.
CEs also read for flow and style. Correcting flow means fixing or querying transition problems, rearranging paragraphs if needed, and adjusting sentences so that one thought flows naturally from the one before it. Style refers to either the house style, if the book is published through a press, or an agreed-on style for self-publishers. Quite often editing for style means selecting one of two equally valid options, and it ensures consistency throughout the manuscript. Most trade books follow The Chicago Manual of Style, although there are plenty of others to choose from. If you hire a copyeditor, be sure he or she is familiar with this style guide or the guide of your choice. Points of style to keep in mind include whether or not to spell out numbers between ten and one hundred, whether or not to use the serial comma (i.e., the comma before the conjunction in a list of three or more items), and the spelling or capitalization of specific terms related to your field or, in the case of fiction, created universe. Traditional publishers will have a stable of freelancers who are familiar with their house style. Self-publishers should plan to discuss which style to use with their copyeditor before editing begins.
Finally, CEs read for sense and consistency. Sense, of course, means that what you are trying to say is what you actually are saying with the words you have chosen and that your plot or argument—whatever it may be—stands up to reasonable evaluation. Consistency covers a range of problem areas, from consistent spelling and treatment of special terms to consistent characterization and time line in a novel.
All of these changes, from grammar and punctuation to sense and consistency, are key in getting your book ready for publication. To find out whether editing, or a lack of it, affects sales, you need only to read reviews on Amazon to see that readers do notice and will deter others from buying books that contain these basic errors. In your quest for a high-quality book that sells, copyediting is essential.
Your copyeditor will also be on the lookout for passages that may require permission. Ideally you have already secured permission for long excerpts or any quotes from poetry and music. Those who worked with a developmental editor have probably at least begun this long process. If not, you will be asked to start now or else rework the text to eliminate the material requiring permission.
Writers of fiction and creative nonfiction may find the copyediting they receive to be much lighter than what a business, sports, or self-help author may experience. This is due to the creative nature of the work. These writers will still find plenty of changes to grammar and punctuation when clarity is at stake, but allowances are made for the author’s voice and the voice of the characters. Some authors are concerned that a copyeditor will change dialogue from pidgin to standard English, for example, or otherwise take out the flavor of a character’s way of speaking. Generally, these fears are unfounded. Good copyeditors understand the difference between what is intentionally incorrect and what is a mistake on the part of the author. And if it is not apparent, the CE will ask for clarification. For those who are self-publishing, a sample edit from your prospective copyeditor will allow you to determine whether he or she will change the voice of your characters.
As mentioned in the previous chapter, editing can be an emotional experience. Do your best not to take it personally when the CE changes your words. If you didn’t go through development, it’s possible that the CE has made significant changes: moving paragraphs, rewriting sentences, and adding transitions. If this gets your ire up, be sure to go through the manuscript a second time before returning it, so that you can temper your angry notes to the copyeditor. If you are working with a production editor, or PE, remember that the PE is not the person who made these changes and therefore should not be the target of your hurt feelings. All in all, publishing a book requires a thick skin; use yours now.
It bears noting that for traditionally published authors, the copyediting stage is often your last chance to make major changes to the manuscript. If you went through development already or performed the tasks outlined in the Potholes for Chapters 1–3, as well as the two at the end of this chapter, you should have a minimum of large changes to make. Even still, consider any global changes as well as the smaller points you want to fix when reviewing the copyediting. As I told countless authors when I worked in-house, “Making changes later in the process is costly and time-consuming.” If you don’t make the changes now, they likely will not be made at all.
When I ask potential clients about their projects, I often hear, “This is a completely new idea. There is nothing else like it.” This statement brings two thoughts to my mind:
I bet there is something like it, you just haven’t identified it yet.
If there really is nothing like it, why would that be?
Answering both of these points requires thorough knowledge of what your competitors are doing.
To Identify the Competition, You Have to Look for It
Before you determine that there are no other books on the market like yours, be sure you have done an extensive search for competing titles. There are many resources for this: Amazon.com, other online and physical bookstores, Books in Print (from R.R. Bowker), city and university libraries, and more.
Most people begin online. To help make your search as thorough as possible, generate a long list of keywords that relate to your book. You can start with the words in your working title (or titles) and move out from there. You may wish to use one of the many keyword generators now available online, such as Google’s Keyword Planner or WordStream, to help you. Plug these keywords into Amazon.com, BN.com, Books in Print, and any other searchable book database and note the titles that come up. These are your potential competitors.
Although it may seem passé, actually going to the bookstore can also be a big help in your research. Many less popular books don’t show up in online searches, and what you do find online is dictated by the keywords you select. If you miss the right keyword, you could be missing important competitors. So go to the nearest bookstore, find the section of the store most likely to carry your book, and note those books that target your audience.
As you search, keep in mind that you want to find both direct competition and comparable books — those books that are similar in setup but covering a different topic. If you are writing a children’s nonfiction science book on tuberculosis, for example, your competition would be other books on tuberculosis aimed at kids. Your comparables would include children’s nonfiction science books on other illnesses.
Researching the competition can be tricky. Ideally you will find at least a few books like your idea (to show there is a market for it), but not so many that it becomes clear the market is glutted.*
Comparables in particular are great for determining the size and makeup of the market you are trying to reach. When someone says there is nothing else like their book, often it is because they have not reviewed the comparables.
Still Think There Is Nothing Else Like It?
If you have carried out a thorough search of all the books that might be competing with yours and you still can’t find anything that matches your vision, you may have a problem. Now you have to ask yourself, why hasn’t anyone else written a book like yours? Is there no market for it, or have you identified a niche to be filled?
Niche is great for self-publishing because you can reach a small segment of the population that traditional publishers don’t want to bother with. If you are hoping to be traditionally published, however, you may need to expand your idea or conform to the competition. To do that, you have to know what the competition has done.
Now why would a writer want to conform, you ask?
Although there is benefit in being one of a kind, it is also true that readers don’t like to be too surprised. Fresh ideas, a new approach, a revolutionary solution to an old problem — these are all well accepted by readers. But if you look carefully you will see that most often, these new approaches and fresh ideas are couched in the comfortable and the familiar. Readers need to be put at ease before they are willing to accept change.
This is as true for fiction as it is for nonfiction. Even if you take one of the most revolutionary novels around — One Hundred Years of Solitudeby Gabriel Garcia Marquez, beloved writer of magical realism — you will discover the book is really just a family saga, told over several generations and including major and minor life events. It is the way it is told that is so extraordinary. If Garcia Marquez had challenged every convention, the book would have been so difficult to read he would have alienated his readers. Instead, he balanced the predictable with the unpredictable to create an astounding work of fiction.
Successful publication of a book requires you to know your competition. Before you go touting your book as something the likes of which no one has ever seen, be sure you have searched high and low for competitors as well as comparables. There is a lot to be learned from competing books — including how you can make your book conform to reader expectations while excelling far beyond what the competition is offering.
*Glutted. I just realized the root of glutted is the same as gluttony. I love etymology!
Self-publishing isn’t right for every person or every book. It is, however, right for me. Here’s how I made my decision.
Like many people, I started by assessing my strengths in relation to the requirements of traditional publishing.
I previously posted a brief quiz to help authors assess their strengths and weaknesses and consider how those factor into a decision about the right publishing path. Those same ten questions are what helped me decide my own route to publication.
9. Do you have a national marketing platform already in place?
10. Do you want your book to be published in less than a year?
Although I answered yes to some of the key questions regarding traditional publishing, without that critical marketing platform, I knew finding a publisher was going to be a difficult journey for me.
I also knew there was a lot of competition in my field. Without a nationally recognized name for myself, explaining how my book is different from the dozens of other books on publishing a book was going to be a challenge for me or any agent I might find. (There is a definite need for the book I am writing, but I won’t go into that now.)
But I had other strengths that made self-publishing more attractive.
Two important factors in self-publishing success are (1) a strong connection to your audience, and (2) connections with people who can help you throughout the publishing process. As a member of several associations for writers, editors, and publishers, and as a 15-year veteran of the industry, I meet both criteria. I also have knowledge of marketing best practices and a general understanding of the business of publishing, both of which will go a long way to ensuring a smooth journey.
My goals for the book also played a role in the decision-making process. I’m not looking to get rich from this endeavor. I want to put out a quality product that supports my editing company and educates my authors. I am willing to put forth the capital in order to do that. I also know that even with a traditional publishing house, I would be doing most if not all of the marketing for the book. I can do that just as well when operating as a self-publisher.
What about the other routes to publication?
The other publishing routes that I outlined in that quiz — collaboration with a nonprofit or business, work-for-hire, and facilitated self-publishing — do not fit my needs or desires. My niche isn’t tight enough for a collaboration; I’m not looking to make a living as a writer, which would make work-for-hire attractive; and I don’t need a publishing services company to arrange the publication of my book. I’ve been guiding other people’s books through the production process for most of my career.
Ultimately, I decided I don’t need the support of a traditional publishing house to make my book. I am happy to take the risks and reap the rewards of self-publishing.
Since I have the resources — in the form of money, people, and skill — I have chosen the route that gives me the most control, the most freedom, and the ability to make a product that meets my highest standards of quality.
So far it has been an exciting ride. The manuscript is prepped for design and is almost ready for copyediting. Stay tuned to hear how those challenges turn out.
Like this blog? Look for Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, coming Fall 2014.