Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Writers' Wednesday: What happens to your book once it’s accepted?

Kate Hardy, who used to be a freelance project manager for a publisher in London, talks about what happens in the time between your editor accepting your book and your book being on the shelves...

First of all, apologies for the lack of pics in this post - because it's all about the written, typed and typseset word! (And also apologies for the formatting of today's post - it's a known problem with Blogger, and guess who uses the "problem" broweser? Yeah... and I can't face the hassle of changing.)

I used to be a freelance copyeditor, and one of my clients asked me if I'd project-manage for them while the desk editor was on maternity leave - effectively, meaning I'd do my usual job but also liaise with the author, the proofreader and the typesetter. This meant I took the book from the "accepted" stage through to final print. And I thought this might be an experience that other authors (and readers) might find interesting.

I should add that this refers to traditional publishing rather than e-books (of which I have no experience, other than the fun of helping with links, photographs and extra information for my ‘enriched’ Harlequin e-book, Hotly Wedded, Conveniently Bedded – which I absolutely loved doing).

Once your book is accepted by the editor, it goes to the copyeditor. The copyeditor’s job is:

  • to pick up the author's typos (we all make them)

  • to correct grammar and/or spelling

  • to spot any holes in the plot or timing and query them with the editor (the quick way of doing this is to keep a note of what happens and when in each chapter - very broad brush-strokes, and very useful if there's a pregnancy in a book or to check that, in an office romance, they do actually have weekends)

  • to put your book into “house style” – basically, that’s if the publisher prefers single or double speech marks, en or em dashes (spaced or unspaced), and -ise or -ize endings

  • to do a style sheet so the typesetter knows which version of a word to use in cases where there are alternatives, eg wine glass/wineglass or wine-glass.

This stage can take up to a fortnight.

From there, it goes back to the editor to sort out any queries with the author. Depending on how quickly these are answered, this can be anything from the same day to long, dragging-out weeks of constant nagging. (Yup, I do indeed speak from experience, so as an author I always try to give answers on the same day, to make life easier for the production team.)

Once the queries are sorted, the manuscript goes to the typesetter. The typesetter takes the author’s electronic file, makes the changes that have been marked up on the hard copy by the copyeditor, and formats them as they will be seen in the finished book. That takes a week (can be quicker, but you need a really sympathetic typesetter AND you need to have booked the job in early enough – as with most things, unscheduled rush jobs tend to cost more).

The typeset copies (‘proofs’) then go out – one set to the author, one set to the editor, and one set to a proofreader (who picks up any problems from the typesetting, along with anything the editor and copyeditor might have missed). That takes another fortnight. (Again, it can be less, but you need to book it in early and warn the proofreader that it’s a rush job. And you never do a rush job if you have a typescript covered in copyediting corrections, because you know it’s going to take a long time to check thoroughly.)

Then the changes from the three sets are collated onto one set of proofs, which is then sent back to the typesetter. The typesetter produces a second set of proofs, which needs to be checked against the collated first proof. Any further corrections are made and checked. This stage – well, it depends on how tight the schedule is, but you’re talking at least three days. Did I mention that these are physical documents, so they have to go through the postal system or courier? Single-page PDFs are easy enough to send by email at the ‘further corrections’ stage, but not a complete set of proofs – a 512-page book is a huge PDF file and it’s cheaper/quicker/easier to use a courier. (In the days before broadband, it could take 15 minutes to download a single page. And that meant your phone line was tied up for that long, too. And that wasn’t actually that long ago…)

Once all the changes have been finalised, the typesetter’s file goes to the printer. After printing, the pages are bound and the cover added, and then the finished copies are shipped to the warehouse of the distributor.

I didn’t handle production past the ‘sign off and OK to go to printer’ stage, so I can’t tell you roughly how long those stages take or if there are any additional layers of checking – but I’m pretty sure there are, because you don’t want to risk having 20,000 copies of a book printed with pages missing, upside down or repeated in the wrong place!

Kate has two medical romances coming out this month – The Doctor’s Royal Love Child (in the first Penhally series) is out in the US in April (featuring a royal wedding… just what we’re about to get in real life in April!), and The Fireman and Nurse Loveday (in the first St Piran’s series) is available on the Mills & Boon website and in UK shops in April.

You can find out more about these books, and Kate, on her website ( and her blog (


  1. Thanks Kate, Thats a very informative and interesting blog on publishing. i love seeing things from the inside.

  2. Fascinating Kate, and good to know why my editor tells me an ms is due in February when it's not going to get on the shelves until December!