How It Works-Being an Author-How a Manuscript Becomes a Book

This is the last in my series of How It Works, Being an Author. Today I will explain what happens after I turn in a completed manuscript. On time of course! So far, I’ve never been late for a deadline. That’s important because a book has to go through many hands at a publishing house before it is ready for a bookstore or library shelf.

First of all, the editor reads the manuscript and makes suggestions as to what she/he thinks will make the book better. This is the revision stage. Most first-time authors may believe that their “baby” needs nothing more. However, a wise author listens to her editor. Most editors (not all) provide a good sounding board to let you know if you actually conveyed what you hoped you had. To me the hardest part of writing is replicating on the page what is in my head–the sights, sounds, emotions my characters are experiencing. The editor’s most important job is to make sure an author has done this and done it as well as she/he could.

So unless one has one of those rare editors who just aren’t very perceptive, it is to the author’s betterment that she listen to the editor’s comments. In most contracts, the author has the aye or nay about making revisions. On the other hand, the editor is the one who approves payment to the author and that’s based on whether or not the manuscript is in the editor’s opinion suitable or good enough to publish. So the two must come to a meeting of the minds.

After revisions have been done and please both the editor and author, the manuscript is line-edited. This is where the editor or a designated line-editor goes through using the Chicago Manual of Style and “corrects” the author’s punctuation. I used to be an English teacher so I should know my grammar, etc pretty well. But line editors with the CMS always find “mistakes.” After line-editing, another editor–a copy-editor–looks it over for even more discrepancies and mistakes. So that means, a manuscript goes through at least three editors before it goes to the typesetter.

And then it comes back to the author one more time before being printed into book form. This is called different things at different houses: Author Alterations, the Galleys, the Proofs, the First Pass Pages. Whatever a publishing house calls it, it is the final chance for the author to go over and check for mistakes, typos, etc. The author is always warned at this stage that
1) make as few changes as possible because once a typesetter goes back in, he might fix one error and create another,
and 2) if the author changes more than 10% of the text, she will be charged for each change. This can run around $10 per change. This is charged because it is very costly to re-set type. So by this time, the author should have already made any major changes or else she pays the price–literally!

After the author has gone over it this time, she/he will never see it again till it’s a book!

Many times authors receive notes from readers telling them about typos or mistakes in a book. Authors just shake their heads. Nothing, absolutely nothing can or will be done once a book has been printed. And in this world, how many things are perfect? I don’t know of anything–really. Every author and editor and typesetter has the same goal: to produce the best book they can. But we’re only human!

This process takes at least 6 months and usually 12 months so an author is always working a year in advance of publication.

I hope this series has given you a peek into my world as a working author.
So would you like to be a writer now that you know? What about the process surprised you most? Your turn now!


About Lyn Cote

Lyn Cote welcomes other authors to her "Strong Women, Brave Stories" blog to share stories of women who triumph over the challenges common to all women.
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2 Responses to How It Works-Being an Author-How a Manuscript Becomes a Book

  1. Lyn Cote says:

    Thanks, Kathy. It's a surprise to all of us!

  2. authorkathyeberly says:

    I have enjoyed your series about how it works. I know that when I published my book, I was stunned by how it all worked. Thanks so much for sharing.