Publishing: The Editing Process according to Melanie Saward

So now that your manuscript has been accepted for publication, what happens now?

Post writing: enter the feared red pen. Photo source.

Post writing: enter the feared red pen. Photo source.

This week Melanie Saward (@littleredwrites) spoke to my uni class, Writing and Publishing Industry, about the publishing process. Melanie corroborated the information I’ve been taught throughout my entire degree by telling us about the three main editing stages.

She also built on this knowledge and described several things that happen while a manuscript is going through these three stages.

Step 1: Structural or substantive edit

This stage of editing is when an editor focuses on the structure of the piece.

Some questions an editor asks when completing a structural edit include:

  • Does it flow well?
  • Is there anything missing?
  • Does the subplot die?
  • Is it consistent?
  • Is the voice strong?
  • Are the characters believable, strong, and consistent?
  • Does the story make sense?

The manuscript is then sent back to the author for rewriting, which is a lengthy process.

Melanie stresses that the author-editor relationship is critical here.

The author needs to trust that the editor has made all the right changes to their book and understands what they’re trying to say.

Melanie Saward

Once the author returns the rewritten manuscript to the publisher, and they are happy with it, usually another contract will be signed and then the manuscript will move on to the copy edit.

Step 2: Copy Edit

A copy edit is a line-by-line edit, when an editor may make sentence-level or paragraph-level changes.

Things editors concentrate on in a copy edit include:

  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Punctuation
  • Flow
  • Tense

If another editor comes through and has found major structural problems, they can be adjusted here, but publishers try to avoid doing this.

Parallel to the edit

Cover design

One thing that publishers definitely understand is that we judge books by their covers.

Melanie Saward

Cover meetings are vital to the publishing process; without an attractive cover that says something about the story, readers don’t buy books.

Melanie says the same team that went to the acquisitions meeting (more here) is almost the same team that goes to the cover meeting.

The publisher, who now has more knowledge about when the book will be published and what it will be competing against, presents their vision for the cover.

Covers are an important marketing tool in themselves, as we judge books by their covers. Photo source.

Covers are an important marketing tool in themselves, as we judge books by their covers. Photo source.

Comparison titles are taken to this meeting to show what similar works have on their covers. Melanie also says that hours are sometimes spent on Google images trying to find something that says something about something in the book…

Sounds fun.

At the close of this meeting, a designer is allocated to produce a suitable cover. The designer will then pitch the cover at another cover meeting, and more hours will be spent going over font, and the positioning of tiny details, and all those lovely in-depth technical things.

Sales and Marketing

The sales team will take a cover out and try selling it to booksellers to gauge their interest.editing-and-publishing-process

The marketing team will also be working on a marketing plan.

Sometimes the booksellers and sales and marketing teams will give feedback about whether the cover is working or not in relation to attracting attention.

If the cover isn’t working so well, last minute changes will be made.


Once there is a close-to-final cover, the manuscript will be typeset, or laid out the way it would look when it’s printed.

The marketing department will start seeking reviews, and the sales department will start selling in to booksellers.

A few advanced copies, or reader’s copies, will be sent out for reviewing and feedback. This gives something for the booksellers to start talking about, and helps hype up the book’s release.

These copies may have draft covers that might end up being changed by the time the book is actually printed.

Step 3: Proofreading

Once a few pages have been typeset, it’s time to jump into the last editing stage.

The final edit is quite similar to the final frontier. Photo source.

The final edit is quite similar to the final frontier. Photo source.

Proofreading is the last editing pass, and the time to fix only blatant mistakes. Proofreading is not the time for making huge structural changes.

Melanie loves this stage and relates it back to a word game.

It’s the biggest, most complicated word search you will ever do.

Melanie Saward

While an editor may do two or three passes over the manuscript during this stage, it may be sent to another editor, or a few editors, because each time you pass over the manuscript, mistakes become harder to find because the words become more familiar to your eyes.

Heads up: Melanie says proofreading a manuscript two to three times takes between 20 and 25 hours.

Print and beyond

Once the manuscript and the cover are both signed off, the book is sent to print.

The work does not end here.

After printing, book launches are thrown and publicity events are held, such as signings and author talks.

Authors need to be able to self-market, because even though you may build it, they will not come. Authors need to complement the marketing team’s plan by getting the word out there in their own social circles, whether this is talking about their book to their friends and family or to their Twitter following.

Brisbane Writer's Festival 2015. Photo source.

Brisbane Writer’s Festival 2015. Photo source.

Melanie says more personable authors get higher sales. At festivals and events where several authors are talking, the author who delivers in an interesting and engaging way usually garners more attention at their book tents after their presentation.

Melanie says another perk to working hard through and after the publishing process is that this makes you easy and enjoyable to work with: publishers will be inclined to work with you again.

So make sure you invest your time and passion into your manuscript and shamelessly self-promote it after it’s been published if you want to increase your chances of being published again.


<< Previous: Publishing: The Ins and Outs according to Melanie Saward


3 thoughts on “Publishing: The Editing Process according to Melanie Saward

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s