A Guide to the Editing Process

So you just finished your manuscript. Maybe there are a few typos, but in your heart you know that the writing is perfect. You enlist your partner, your best friend, your mom, or your dad to “proofread” it—for free. And then it’s time to hit publish!

Publishing a piece of long form writing can be done this way, but it really shouldn’t. But why? Real writers don’t need editors. Editors are just gatekeepers holding writers back.

Somewhere in school, I don’t remember if it was in grade school or high school, I was taught a terrible myth. I was told that when Ernest Hemingway was ready to write a book, he walked up to his typewriter and started typing. What came out the other end was literary gold and didn’t need a single word edited—such was his prowess as an author.

This was a lie.

I have a copy of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms sitting on my shelf. At the back of the book, the publisher included several of the over sixty different endings. And guess what? Many of the alternate endings were heavily edited.

Everyone needs an editor, even Hemingway.

First, some realities

To kickoff the editing process, the author must acknowledge a few fundamental truths:

  1. Writing is easy, editing is hard.
  2. There is no room for ego while editing.
  3. The author still owns the car, but someone else is driving.
  4. Not all editors can edit all writing.

Editing can be really easy. Or it can be absolutely brutal. This depends on the type of writing and the author’s goals.

When I start a project, I strive to ask tough questions, for example:

  1. What is the goal of the writing?
  2. Who is the writing for, the author or the audience?
  3. Why should readers care?
  4. Does the market really need another book on [fill in the blank]? And what is unique about this book?
  5. If non-fiction, where is the data/science to back up claims in the book?
  6. Is the author avoiding an uncomfortable or unflattering series of facts?
  7. Is the author actually open to being edited? (Remember that bit about editing being hard? Not all authors are into that).

The answers to these questions guide how the editing process should unfold.

Sometimes the goal of the writing is the personal enjoyment or questing of the author. For example, a family legacy book. In this case, the goal is typically to collect, archive, and pass on an eloquent piece of family history. Editing a book like this is easier than say a revolutionary idea aimed at mass audiences. And editing scholarly work involves opening up an entirely different tool chest.

The Process

Running a book through the complete editing process is rigorous and time consuming. However, it is worth the labor, every single time. Authors pour an incredible amount of physical and emotional energy into writing a book or article or even a poem. So it makes sense to run the book through the finishing touches to get a high quality workpiece.

Developmental/ Conceptual Editing (1-2 editors plus the author)

The first stage of editing is the Developmental or Conceptual stage. (I prefer Developmental Edit). Here, we focus on the big picture: the story and the style. We do not worry about grammar or typos at this point (if we see something, we’ll fix it, but we’re not implementing the Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Stylebook at this point.

These are a few of the things we focus on in Developmental Editing:

  • The author’s style and voice
    • Is there a distinct writing style and is it consistent?
    • Is the narrator’s voice clear, distinct, and consistent?
  • What is the plot? The focus of the story?
    • Does the story wander too much or stay on point?
    • Does the plot raise questions that go unanswered?
    • Is there sufficient background information to understand the plot?
  • The first sentence, the first paragraph, the first chapter. And then the first paragraph of every chapter thereafter. And finally the last chapter, the last paragraph, the last sentence.
    • Do they hook the reader?
    • Do they carry the story forward? And at the end resolve something?
    • Are they the essence of the author’s style and the narrator’s voice?
  • Broadly, highlight what works and what doesn’t.
  • What is the Story Arc?
    • To answer this, I create a Story Map on a spreadsheet.
  • Does the story flow?
    • Where are the speed bumps? Are they good or bad?
    • Where are the straightaways that allow the story to go fast?
    • Are the chapters in the best order?
    • How are the chapter transitions?
    • Should some chapters be combined, split, deleted, or added?
  • How is the readability?
    • Are some sentences, paragraphs, or chapters cumbersome, awkward, or difficult to read?
  • Is the verb tense consistent?
  • Is subject-verb agreement correct?
  • What, if any, additional material does the book need?
    • Prologue, Preface, or Introduction?
    • Epilogue, Appendices, Bibliography, Glossary, or Index?
    • Images and Illustrations? Maps and graphs?
    • Footnotes and Endnotes?

Copyediting (1-2 editors plus the author)

Next comes copyediting. I love copyediting. Copyediting focuses on clarity, coherence, consistency, and correctness. It is very much a process that focuses on the nuts and bolts of good communication. Here is where I direct energies during copyediting:

  • Mechanical Editing and Grammar
    • This is all about consistency and often involves the use of a style guide. The guide can be the Chicago Manual of Style (for non-fiction books especially), the AP Stylebook (primarily articles), or an in-house style guide (the Chicago Manual of Style started out as the in-house guide for the University of Chicago Press).
    • Punctuation
    • Spelling
    • Capitalization
    • Numbers and numerals
    • Hyphenation
    • Quotations
    • The list goes on and on…
    • Wrong word usage
    • Pronouns
    • Verb tense
    • Sentence fragments
    • Adverbs and prepositions
    • Parallelism
    • Passive voice
    • Jargon
    • Run on sentences
    • Restrictive vs nonrestrictive clauses and commas
    • Scare quotes
    • Apostrophes
  • Fact-checking
  • Permissions (Acquiring permission to use long, copyrighted quotes or copyrighted images)

Proofreading (Minimum 10 readers plus the author)

And finally comes proofreading. This is the last step in the editing process before moving to publication. Remember that proofreading is not editing, rather it is a detailed reading that looks for errors. While some folks will proofread un-formatted manuscripts, I suggest sending the book or publication to the designer after the copyedit but before the proofread. Why? This way the proofreaders are checking the final typeset workpiece and can catch errors in the design.

For me, proofreading includes checking the following:

  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Grammar
  • Consistent formatting and design

Sometimes a proofreader may offer unsolicited developmental edits. But that is not their job. At this point in the process, we do not want to be rewriting the book. Proofreading is all about finding each and every typo or mechanical hangup and resolving them. There is nothing worse than a book with lots of typos!

Concluding Thoughts

If you read this entire post, you have realized that editing is a process that requires effort. And it is worth the effort! We create polished and professional writing by following the editing process.

*Plug for our services: if you are in need of editing help, reach out to me.

Thanks for reading!

Easy and free Royalty Management for Book Publishers (And Anyone Else)

What follows is an easy and zero-cost way for book publishers to generate book royalty statements for copyright holders in a matter of minutes. In particular, this royalty management method is ideal for publishers using Lightning Source, Ingram Spark, Amazon KDP, or any other wholesaler who sends sales reports in CSV or Excel format. You don’t need expensive software to do this, just a copy of Microsoft Excel or access to Google Sheets (I use Google Sheets and will explain the process from this perspective).

There is one caveat, a large book publisher (1,000+ book titles) might need something more robust. This method is ideal for small to medium sized publishers, and it would also work for any other organization managing and paying out royalties.

Once the spreadsheet is set up, generating multiple royalty reports is as simple as copy, paste, print. It’s a massive time saver!

The Process

First, you need to learn how to use Pivot Tables. These will allow you to sort, calculate, and analyze data across columns and rows. These external links will tell you how to do it:

How to make Pivot Tables in Google Sheets.

How to make Pivot Tables in Excel.

Once you ready to begin, create a new spreadsheet in Google Sheets. Name it for the royalty period that you want to report on (in the future, you will just duplicate this spreadsheet for new royalty periods).

The first sheet we make is called “Currencies.” This sheet contains the exchange rate for the various international markets that you work in and collect royalties from. It is also a good place to write down any instructions for using the spreadsheet or reminders.

A Google spreadsheet that contains sheets within it.

Next, create unique sheets for each source from which you, the publisher, receive checks, and thus sales statements. For clarity, the above screenshot has three sales sources: eBook (Amazon KDP), Paperback (Amazon KDP), and LSI (Lightning Source Inc.). If you use other wholesalers or distributors, you will need to create unique sheets for them as well. If you as a book publisher handle direct retail and wholesale orders as well, then create the appropriate sheets for those.

This sheet contains Amazon KDP’s statement for eBooks sold in all markets. Note that one title can have many sales listed separately or combined.

The next sheet we create will contain the sales statement issued by Amazon KDP for all eBooks sold in all markets. This sheet is called eBook Creating sheets for other sales channels mirrors this process.

Download the CSV or Excel version of your sales statement, and open it. Copy the column headers into your new spreadsheet. Don’t delete any of them, even if the data they contain is useless to you.

Add a column at the end called “True Royalty.” This column will contain the total amount you, the publisher, received for the sale adjusted to the appropriate exchange rate (home currency won’t change, i.e. if you are in the United States, then the amount will stay the same). Note: we will get to the Copyright Holder’s Royalty later.

Next, copy and paste your sales statement into the new sheet. To do this, highlight everything in your sales statement expect the headers and hit copy. Then, click on Row 2, Column A of the new sheet and hit paste.

Now, set the value for the “True Royalty” column. For every row that has sales data, make sure this is the value. This is the Google Sheets version:

=IF(J2="USD",O2,IF(J2="EUR",O2*Currencies!$B$2,IF(J2="JPY",O2*Currencies!$B$5,IF(J2="CAD",O2*Currencies!$B$3,IF(J2="GBP",O2*Currencies!$B$4,IF(J2="AUD",O2*Currencies!$B$6,IF(J2="BRL",O2*Currencies!$B$7)))))))

If you need more or fewer currencies, then adjust appropriately.

If you did everything right, the values in the “True Royalty” column will reflect the total amount that you received in your home currency. Run a couple of manual calculations to verify that you did it right.

Note: this formula uses Net Sales for royalty calculations. If your organization uses List Price or Gross Sales as the basis, then adjust the formula.

The True Royalty column adjusts the Royalty to the appropriate exchange rate. The highlighted row changes the Royalty from Canadian dollars to USA dollars. Note: if the book publisher uses the list price as the basis for the Royalty, then the Avg. List Price column would be used.

Next, we will make the first Pivot Tables. These will be used on the sheet called Totals, which displays the Units Sold and True Royalty for every book in every sales channel. I have mine set up to combine all markets (USA, UK, EU, etc). So in this example the Pivot Tables displayed on the Google sheet “Totals” are: all Amazon eBook sales, all Amazon paperback sales, and all Lightning Source Inc. paperback sales.

Here is a snippet of that sheet:

A Pivot Table displaying total unit sales and exchange rate adjusted royalties for all currency markets for all Amazon KDP eBooks sold for the given period.

You can edit the Pivot Table from the Pivot Table Editor on the right of the dashboard. Here it is:

This particular Pivot Table grabs all of the data from the eBook sheet (the sheet containing the sales statement for all Amazon KDP eBook for the period). In the Editor, you can adjust how the data is sorted and what is displayed, calculated, and filtered. The Filters will be used on the Royalty Statements for individual rights holders.

Finally, the Royalty Statement:

Example of an auto-generated Royalty Statement using Google Sheets and Pivot Tables. Hit Command+P to print this to a PDF.

Above is the Royalty Statement for the Copyright Holder of one or more titles. On this statement, there are 3 Sales Channels, and each of those is created using a Pivot Table similar to the “Totals” sheet Pivot Tables. The only difference is that these Pivot Tables have filters applied to the book title data.

The rest of the sheet reflects the Copyright Holder’s royalty rate and the total they will receive. There are also places for deductions to cover Author purchases or other expenses that get applied to the account. You can customize these calculations.

Concluding Thoughts

Once these sheets are set up, they really are a massive time and money saver for book publishers. This is especially so for small and medium sized publishers who have better things to do than sort data and run reports all day long. Remember, we got into publishing to be creators, so let’s spend as much time creating as possible.

Enjoy.

Book Submissions and Acquisitions

Here is how it is going to happen.

  1. The new publisher establishes an imprint with one or more books that will sell.
  2. A website is built for the imprint. This includes a book submissions page with information on how to submit book proposals.
  3. The initial books are successful and penetrate the market, the publisher gains new contacts in the industry, and the imprint becomes known.
  4. Authors and others learn of the imprint and the submissions roll in.
  5. An undisciplined, new publisher sees these submissions and gets excited. This enthusiasm leads to taking on projects that the publisher doesn’t know how to market.
  6. Alternatively, the disciplined publisher browses the submissions, finds no leads and thus rejects all submissions, and then continues with the original business plan.
Continue reading “Book Submissions and Acquisitions”

Book pricing—Solving the Great Mystery

Book pricing is difficult and a bit like cold fusion—many people claim to have discovered the key to success, but none can prove it. That being said, there are steps that publishers can take to eliminate some of the magical guesswork from the process of setting prices for books.

Publishers must always remember why prices exist. Prices exist to create profit. The publisher should strive to generate their desired profit from the primary audience. Understanding the primary audience and the price elasticity of the book within the primary audience is critical to designing success and achieving profit goals. What follows is the method that I use to decide prices for books.

Continue reading “Book pricing—Solving the Great Mystery”