Everything you need to publish
In a publishing house a text will go through several stages of edits. It’s best practice to emulate this process as closely as your budget will allow. Most editors work in Microsoft Word and will return a marked-up document to you for review so you should make time in your schedule to go through your text carefully and approve their changes or make revisions if needed. Some changes can be as small and simple as a missing comma or a misspelling which can be quickly approved. Others can take more time to deal with such as an unresolved plot line or something that needs fact-checking.
This edit looks at the big picture when it comes to a text. It looks at the content and the structure. A developmental editor might point out plot holes, weak characterisation, lags in pacing or inconsistencies in your storyline. With non-fiction they might point out inaccuracies, confusing sections of text or areas that need further exploration. A developmental or structural edit is usually the most expensive. There are online guides and courses to help you get the right mindset to carry out your own developmental edit but it is tough when you are very close to the text. A lot of my clients who are experienced writers have a trusted team of Beta readers in place of a developmental editor who will be honest and up front about problems they see in the text. It goes without saying that it must be someone you can trust to be critical and not pull any punches. Likewise, you must be open to honest criticism of your work in order to make these relationships work. And you are asking someone to give up some hours of their attention and thought for free so bear that in mind. Sometimes writing groups can be helpful here as members can return the favour by taking the time to read each others’ work-in-progress.
A sensitivity read is not required for every book but it is worth mentioning as is something that is increasingly becoming industry standard and with good reason. A sensitivity read will highlight any offensive content, stereotypes, bias, cultural inaccuracies or lack of understanding. The results of not engaging with this process for many publishers have been clumsy books that alienate and even offend readers – even if the writer never had the intention of causing offence. There is a great article on Bookmachine about the process. A good developmental editor will flag up issues when they spot them but, depending on the subject matter of your text, you may also benefit from a sensitivity read also.
A copy edit drills down into the detail of a text. It will search out repetition, errors, inconsistencies and passages that are confusing. It will also catch most grammatical or spelling errors. A copy editor will polish and shape the text and make it better. They will work according to rules laid out in a style sheet provided by the publisher or they will create one themselves. A style sheet can be as simple as dictating spellings (UK or US spelling) or which speech marks to use for dialogue. It can also be far more detailed and dictate how many spaces follow a dash or that one character’s dialogue should always be presented in italics. If you intend to write a series, it’s very good to have a style sheet that you can refer to so that your books are consistent in presentation.
A proof read is preferably carried out when the text has been typeset for paperback and is now in PDF format. Marking up a PDF is different to marking up a Word document and the corrections need to be made by the typesetter so ideally you want to have as few changes as possible at this stage. This check is for any final mistakes that have got by the writer and the editors. It should also check for consistency in the style – for example that all the page numbers are consistently in the same position and that the chapter headings are the correct size and font. It’s the last check before you get a proof copy printed.
If you follow these stages as closely as your budget allows, you should have a clean, well-structured text ready to go to the next stage of book production. Now, let’s get to the next stage which is creating a strategy for publishing your book.