There are many debates going on around traditional publishing vs self-publishing. I feel fortunate that I will be published by Constable, who are part of Little, Brown. Not least of all because it’s a great feeling when people who are passionate about books are passionate about yours. But what did my publishers do to turn a manuscript into an actual book? Here’s an honest account of that process.
The first major change started before the contract was even signed. They didn’t like the title of my book (no, I’m not going to tell you what it was called before). Via my agent, they emailed words that might work and in the end suggested A Cold Death in Amsterdam. I wasn’t immediately sold on it, the book had lived with that other title for so long, but I came to realise how perfect it was for the story I was telling.
With a new title, my manuscript was passed on to a copy editor. I was told that Joan (whose surname I never found out) still liked to work on paper and that I would get the manuscript back in the post. I guess I didn’t know what to expect, but when I saw how heavily all the pages were marked up (see photo below), I had to take a deep breath and wait for a day before I could look at her suggestions properly.
I travelled to Asia for work and took the thick padded envelop with me. I studied words, lines, sentences and pages on long-haul flights and in hotels in Singapore, Kyoto and Tokyo. I could see that the majority of her suggestions made perfect sense. I could kick myself for having overlooked some of the things she pointed out such as repeated words within paragraphs. I also got the impression that she liked the book. There were a few places where she asked plot-related questions and I wrote extra material to make sure everything was clear. I marked up any changes that I wanted with red pen and sent those pages back to my publisher.
A few weeks later, it was early December, I received the page proofs. It was the first time that I saw the manuscript in the page format that the book would have. It was the most wonderful Christmas present. I read it through and noticed what a difference Joan had made. She’d made my words and language truly shine. I read through the proofs and found a couple of typos that had slipped in. At the same time, a proof-reader (Louise Harnby) was working through the book again too. She fixed some more mistakes.
Now the manuscript itself was in great shape and ‘all’ that was left was to have a cover design. When I met with my publicist and marketing person, they showed me a preview of what the designer had come up with and I completely loved it. I had given no input but here was cover art that fitted the book so well. With the cover and the title, it was immediately clear what kind of novel this was (picture of that in my previous post).
So what has my publisher done for me? Apart from fixing all my mistakes, my publisher has given my book what one of my friends calls ‘pick-upability’. Not a word, but it should be. Let’s face it, I’m a writer, a story-teller, not an all-round creative genius. I could never have designed a lovely cover. I couldn’t even think of a great title! My publisher did all that and in addition they are a pleasure to work with.
For those of you who self-publish, I cannot stress enough what a difference my copy editor, proof-reader and designer have made. There are quite a few blog posts out there by self-published authors who suggest that using them is well-worth the money.
P.S. Joan did a great job on my book. If you recognise her work from her hand-writing, pass this post on to her with my thanks 🙂