What a publisher does – part 1: editing

Most of the visitors to The Crafty Writer have a goal of getting their writing published or produced. But what happens when, in the case of a prose manuscript, it is actually accepted by a publisher? We decided to ask John Köehler of Köehler Books to give us an insider’s perspective. In the first in this three-part series, John tells us about the editing process.

Treating writers with respect

After writing five of my own books and publishing close to 50 books for other writers, I have heard many horror stories from writers complaining about the publishing process and how they were mistreated, abused, forgotten and disrespected by publishers. One author wanted us to re-publish his book that had been originally published by a major NYC publisher. When I suggested he let his publisher re-release it, he said: “No, I hate them!” Wow. So we released his work through our little Indie firm and treated him in the manner he deserved and desired: with the greatest respect and as a partner in the process. And while we will never be able to compete with the big houses with regards to reach, power and might, smaller Indie publishers like us can compete in how we treat writers.

When we first meet the writer, discuss our process and read their submission, we try to treat the writer as a business partner. Not as some dolt who knows nothing about publishing, but as the creator and expert of the work who needs to know how publishing works. Because, guess what? The more the author knows, understands and gets about the entire process, the better they will be able to promote their work. We are writers and published authors, so it is easy for us to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Let’s start with editing.

Co-operative editing

The co-operative way to deal with an author when it comes to editing their work is to include them in the process. But it doesn’t always happen that way. After all, the publisher has the right to take the manuscript, have their way with it and never let the author see it until the first ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) come out. Some publishers do that. But why on earth would you do that when the best expert on the work is the author?

We start by having our Executive Editor or editor have a conversation with the author about the work. This discussion comes after a read through and study of the manuscript, so that the editor is familiar with the work and has done a strategic and tactical fly-over to the point where they can see the problems, strengths and weaknesses of the entire manuscript.

That conversation should be open and honest, friendly and constructive. The author is not some chump going to school and the editor the learned professor, after all. At the same time there is no question that the editor is in charge of the editing and will make any and all final calls when they are needed. Sometimes they are. But usually they aren’t, because the editor’s goal is to be co-operative and achieve consensus where possible. If the writer is smart enough to turn 100,000 words into a work of art, they are smart enough to participate in the editing.

The editor may ask the author to make some changes prior to the editing. These may be cuts, development of a character, additional dialog, or anything that the editor needs done and requires the expertise of the author. Again, the author is the best expert of the work, so where possible we will go to the expert. Usually they are happy to work on polishing the piece, and love the co-operative process of editing.

Typically our editors edit in MS Word, and use the Review process with Track Changes turned on, so that the author can see where the work is edited. In addition to changes and edits, the editor can add questions and comments. The author can then go through the work step by step and see the editing. With the editor in the role of cooperative coach, the editing process becomes a learning process for the author, and the net effect is to create a better and more readable manuscript. Not to mention a happier author!

John KoehlerJohn Köehler is the author of five books, including his latest, Billy Blue Sky. He is the founder and publisher of Köehler Books, and was the 1991 Boomerang World Champ. Köehler Books offers conventional and co-publishing book deals. See here for a discussion of how co-publishing differs from conventional publishing, and here for some tips on how to identify the different kinds of publishing deals.

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Related posts:

  1. What a publisher does – part 2: design
  2. What a publisher does – part 3:marketing
  3. Writing with wine, editing with coffee
  4. Worth its Salt – independent publisher under threat
  5. Beginner Blogging for Writers: part 3

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