So, you have finally made it through the writing process! You have a (mostly) finalized manuscript, and you are ready to move on to the next step – publication! I can tell you, one of my favorite parts of being an editor is that first interaction with a first-time author after we have signed them on, and the excitement they feel about getting published.
However, there are more steps before the manuscript is actually finished and either printed or released in ebook form – a lot of them! Decisions have to be made about style, layout, print run, paper, distribution, marketing, and a lot more! To make getting to distribution easier for everyone, here are some things your copy editor wants you to know:
First of all, if you are submitting an unsolicited manuscript to us, please check our website for any guidelines. If there are not any listed, you should familiarize yourself with what we publish to make sure your manuscript matches our publishing mission. If you are writing the next big American Novel, and we publish scientific books about fish, our time is wasted reading through your submission, and you will have wasted your time submitting to us.
While not every publisher has their mission on their webpage, a quick Google search can show what titles they have recently released. If your manuscript matches the topic and format of their other books, try to find an email address for the acquisition editor, if the publisher has one. That ensures that your work is getting to the person who will actually make the decision to bring you and your manuscript on board.
Second, most places will fact check where needed, but if there is something you aren’t sure about or you think should be double-checked, flag it in your manuscript! Not only will this let us know that we need to dig a little further, it also reminds you to check again if need be. There is nothing worse than going to print and realizing that we accidentally left in the (false!) fact that the capitol of Texas is Baton Rouge.
Third, most places will have their own style guide, but there may be some wiggle room if you have a strong opinion on something. It may be helpful to pick your battles. If you absolutely loathe the Oxford comma, it might work better to bend a little on other style decisions, but let your editor know that not using that specific comma is the hill you are willing to die on.
Style guide aside, consistency is key! If you are writing a piece of fiction with unusual names for people, cities, etc. having a key for the proper spelling of each is especially helpful. This allows us to check against your key, and not have to wonder which is correct if there are multiple spellings within the manuscript. And if your copy editor is adamant that a change is necessary, please give us the benefit of the doubt! This is what we do for a living, and a lot of us know the Chicago Style Guide forward and back, so we know what we are talking about.
Fourth, it is better not to use anyone else’s work within your own. If you did not write it or create it, do not include it. This may seem like an obvious statement, but it is worth saying. If you absolutely have to have a poem, song lyric, or image within your manuscript, make sure it is tagged correctly! Your editor might still cut it from the final product if it is not in the public domain or to avoid legal issues, but tagging other works appropriately helps everyone avoid costly lawsuits for copyright infringement. It is also possible that your editor will help you keep it in, but there may be permissions fees that have to be paid, which can definitely affect that decision.
Finally, please, please make your deadlines! There is a whole production process that happens after we receive your manuscript, some of which can be booked out for months! If we have you on our editorial schedule for final manuscript submission in June, we may have a company doing layout in the first week of July, or have our printer booked for this job in November, and there is not always flexibility for moving a print run – printers have set up and other jobs to run that are already booked. If you are not on time with manuscript submission, it might mean that the publication date has to be moved later or we have to speed through other parts of the publication process, leading to errors that could have been avoided.
While you have already completed the bulk of the work by finishing your manuscript, things are not truly done until the print run has been shipped to distributors. If you keep these things in mind through the publishing process, it will make the journey smoother for you (and your copyeditor).
Good luck, and happy publishing!
Abigail Yeager, an accomplished editor, has worked with a variety of publications, from scientific journals to newspapers to creative nonfiction. She is a prodigious bibliophile, often reading over two hundred books a year. She lives with her spouse and four cats, and enjoys baking and traveling.