Between the Covers: From the Editor to the Shelf
If you’ve ever wondered how the book you’re reading got into your sticky paws, read on for a glimpse into the publishing world.
Once an author has secured a publishing deal, editing begins on the manuscript. A book may need a structural edit, in which the editor suggests alterations to the plot/ending/beginning/characters. This process has a lot of give and take; it’s entirely possible for the author to say that they don’t think a particular change would work. The best jobs are the ones where the author takes on board the idea that there could be an improvement on the existing draft, but suggests a new way of creating a better version. This process can take a few weeks or a few months, depending on the time available and the state of the book in the beginning.
A line edit or copy edit involves an editor going through every line of the book and checking it makes sense, removing clunky phrasing or suggesting cuts to lines or paragraphs that are repetitious, get in the way of the story or give away plot twists too early. The copy editor checks facts, spellings for any real places/people/events, and looks for consistency errors, eg, when a character’s surname changes from McGregor to MacGregor halfway through the book. This is the red pen stage.
The production team is responsible for ensuring the finished manuscript is typeset and proof-read, producing the cover design and sending everything to print and liaising with the printer.
Design is more relevant than ever; if a reader sees a beautifully produced book they may feel more inclined to pay for the printed edition
Typesetting sets all the words out on the page in the publisher’s designed layout, sometimes with pictures, and ensures the pages fit together well and that they all fit into the book. A book is usually a multiple of 32 pages (there are exceptions) because most printing machines use huge sheets of paper which fold down to make 32 pages. These are then glued or stitched and glued to the spine (sometimes they are cut short or ‘perfect bound’ to make a neat edge first). The typesetter’s job is to get the book to fit into a set of 32 pages without too many pages over and under. This explains why sometimes there are ‘extras’ like adverts, acknowledgements or reading group notes in the back of the book, while in other books these are condensed or absent. A typesetter may also convert the typeset file into an ebook.
The production team work with marketing and editorial to produce the cover design. The budget for the book influences the design: a publisher can’t afford fancy printing effects on a book that isn’t sure to pay back the increased cost. Design is more relevant than ever; if a reader sees a beautifully produced book with a stunning cover, they may feel more inclined to pay for the printed edition than to buy the ebook, and there’s a larger profit margin on printed books.
Book marketing begins at least six months before the book comes out. The marketing team has two tasks. The first is compiling metadata, which is all the information about a book that you read on a website (ISBN, quotes from reviews, price, etc.). If this isn’t done, nobody can order the book.
The second task is general marketing, which includes pitching the book to bookshops. At this point, you need a back cover blurb, a draft cover, ideally some quotes from famous people talking about how good the book is, all your bibliographic metadata and an idea of your marketing campaign. All this is written up on an advance information sheet and given to the bookshops, who look at each AI for about ten seconds. If the publisher can pitch in person to the buyer, odds improve, but otherwise you’re riding on one side of A4. Pitching to bookshops happens on a cycle and determines how many copies of each book the shop will take. ‘Christmas’ books are presented to bookshops in March and hit shelves in September. If you miss the deadline to sell them in, that’s too bad, your titles won’t be in any Christmas offers and may not even be in the shop at all – space is limited.
A marketing campaign is as large or small as the budget available, which also depends on the potential sales figures for the book. Therefore, a book with a small budget has less chance of breaking out to become a bestseller than something with a huge budget. You may think that so long as a book is available online it doesn’t need to be in bookshops, but in practice it doesn’t work like that unless you have a great marketing campaign. The main result of the closure of bookshops and the move online is that readers are increasingly only aware of the bigger books, so there continue to be bestsellers doing very well, but the mid-range titles that used to exceed their sales projections in a modest way are struggling because readers don’t hear about them. All bookselling websites are designed to promote the bestsellers, and to make it possible for people to search for anything, but in order to seek out a book, the reader needs to know it exists, and spaces for mid-range or small books have shrunk.
For an author's insight into the publication process, read the 5 things Catherine Simpson learned when her debut novel Truestory was published.