NOTE: With my new position as editor-in-chief at Xchyler Publishing, I've found myself writing a lot of correspondence, explanations, and outlines of the procedures required to create a book. One memo in particular that went out to employees and authors consumed far too much of my day, and since it's pertinent to this blog, I thought I'd make the most of the effort and post it here as well. Double-duty? Sure. Wise utilization of resources? Absolutely.
The College Interns, the Gatekeepers:
Euphemistically called "editorial assistants", these screeners are very important for lots of reasons, but especially because they may mean failure or success for both author and publishing house. Consider the first eleven editorial assistants swamped under slush piles who rejected J.K. Rowling's query for Harry Potter. You can be dang sure they've been kicking themselves for almost twenty years. (It's kind of scary, actually, to think of our fates in the hands of unpaid college interns).
Interns screen the initial query letters sent by authors, which usually contain a short jacket-flap blurb, an overall outline usually 1-2 pages long, and the first 10,000 words or three chapters of the manuscript. Hopefully, with much guidance and mentoring, the interns decide to either ask for the full or partial manuscript, send them a rejection notice, or invite them to revise and resubmit. For R&Rs, the publisher does not agree to publish but will reconsider the manuscript if the author brings their skills up a notch or three.
If the manuscript shows promise, Marketing and Editorial then get together and decide if there is a market for the book. If positive, the author is presented with an offer, then a contract, and everything goes into action. Working with the author, they will also decide on a release date for the book. Several factors will influence this, including but not limited to seasonal trends and genre. Books need fresh releases when people who buy them are in the mood to spend.
Content Editors, the Big Picture People:
Content editors read the manuscript. They take notes (not make corrections, unless the issue drives them nuts) as they go, then submit them back to the author for the rewrite. There will always be a rewrite. Content editors focus on structure, story arch, character development, plot lines, cohesion, point of view, plausibility, clarity, continuity—all the elements that make up good storytelling.
The content editor and the author may go back and forth several times before they are happy with the results. The author has the final word. They don't have to change things if they prefer not to. In the same token, they are ultimately responsible for their success or failure. The job of the content editor is to guide the author to the right choices. They generally do not concern themselves with grammar and syntax.
Also during this process, the graphic designer will get a look at the manuscript and work wth the author and Marketing to decide how best to present the book visually. A cover can make or break a book. Also, marketing will start developing a sales strategy and getting the word out to build interest in the release once the cover is available to provide the visuals.
Line Editors, the Grammar Police:
Line editors help the writer sparkle. Bad syntax and sloppy editing detract from the writing. It bespeaks a lack of concern for the reader, in my opinion. A good book allows the reader to submerge themselves in the story, and nothing jars them out of it more than having to stop and reread a sentence because they can't make any sense of it.
If everyone is doing their job properly, the line editors will not be educating writers in correct sentence structure and punctuation. The worst won't get past the slush-pile screeners. The passable will hopefully improve in the rewrite process. By the time it gets to the line editors, the issues requiring correction should be sparse. The manuscript will appear pristine at the start of the process, but again, they do not make but suggest corrections.
Mock-up. Making Us Presentable:
At this point, the manuscript is ready to be formatted for printing. The type-setting and graphics people handle this, whether the publication will be an e book or hard copy.
At this point, Marketing will start distributing galley copies to book reviewers.
Proof-readers, The Fine-tooth Combs:
These are the folks who make sure all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed. Their job is time-consuming because they have to look out for everything that may have slipped through the cracks. They check to make sure that all the spelling is correct and that the write words are used in the right places. They verify capitalization and punctuation. They keep a look-out for any formatting errors. They, in addition to the author, are final quality control.
Compare publishing to producing a piece of fine furniture. The author provides the inspiration, then creates plans, begins construction, cuts and saws and sands, all in preparation for final assembly. The content editors verify the soundness of construction, suggest modifications to improve stability, and assist the writer in the final assembly their masterpiece The line editors sand everything to satin smoothness. The proofreaders add the polish. The graphics designers buff it to a high sheen.
At last, after both the author and the editor-in-chief are satisfied with the product, the book is turned over to Marketing, hype is raised to a fever pitch, and the release rocks the publishing world.
For both writers and editors, I strongly recommend subscription to two blogs: Live, Write, Thrive by Susannah Lakin and Story Fix by Larry Brooks. Both are successful authors. Buy Story Engineering, and watch for the release of The Heart of the Story. Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips is an excellent technical blog, and Lapsing into a Comma and Elephants of Style by Bill Walsh are two books I can't live without.