Editing secrets for publishing – line editing and final quality control

In the last few posts I’ve been outlining how publishers edit manuscripts – which, at this part in the process, is quality control ahead of release. This process applies just as much to those who are self-publishing.

Wright_BooksOnce the manuscript has been proof-edited and the author’s comments taken in, a variety of things happen – all associated with quality assurance. The manuscript, even a novel, is typically sent to an expert for a fact-checking editorial pass. This may kick up glitches that need fixing. I still recall the time I fielded a query from a major publishing house to do this for a novel they were publishing, by a well-known author on which I was the best local subject expert. The author had done some great research, but I still found stuff.

From here the manuscript is often given a read-through for ‘literals’. This is different from proof-editing, in that it’s concerned with the nitty gritty of spelling, correct punctuation (especially getting those pesky en- and em- dashes right) and tiny details like that.

Editing skills are all transferable – but the very best people at this stage probably won’t necessarily be a good writer, or a good proof-editor.

And publishing houses usually have a stable of people they know shine at this particular task, who they turn to for the purpose.

After that the manuscript is designed and typeset. This process also kicks up its own glitches and issues (including the No. 1 Evil Problem with Adobe InDesign import filter, in which deleted “track changes” return to the text). Typesetter/designers, typically, are thoroughly visual thinkers – and so, if they do have to type anything in – as often happens with headings, gutters and such like – it will likely be mis-spelt or inconsistent.

That means another proof-reading pass, after which the typeset pages go back to the author for final overview. It’s here that the “ten percent” limit kicks in – at this point, the author shouldn’t be trying to re-write or do anything other than hone a few words here or there. If they do, it costs, and the author bears that cost after a certain point.

All going well, the pages are returned by the author to the publisher.

That’s the last the author usually sees of the book. It’s close now to publishing. Any last amendments are included, and it then goes through at least one – and more usually two – proofing passes for any last literals, glitches or inconsistencies. Sometimes this can kick up fresh queries back to the author, but not often.

And that’s it for the editorial side. Everything from that point on is production and marketing. As you can see, the editorial part is a complex process that begins with the art of proof-editing – and it is an art – but becomes increasingly more focussed on technical production as the book moves through the system. It’s used by all major publishers with some variations. And the onus is on self-publishers to do the same, because the quality results are clear.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


4 thoughts on “Editing secrets for publishing – line editing and final quality control

  1. I counted six stages of the process there. I agree, it’s necessary to achieve the same standard as mainstream publishing, but apart from those who are millionaires, is it realistic to expect self-published authors to carry out all those stages, considering each one might cost between £500 and £1000?

    1. Probably not. In point of fact, even mainstream publishers are crimping on every step these days – I had a chat a while back with an author wondering if I could recommend a good line editor to him, given that he didn’t think his publisher would do an adequate job for cost reasons. I knew someone who I thought could help.

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