Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Things You Never Knew About Publishing (Probably…) But Were Afraid To Ask

Hello! So I’m Naomi, the Editorial Assistant here, and I’m going to tell you some of the top ten things that you probably don’t know about publishing, but might be afraid to ask. As this blog will hopefully illustrate there isn’t a single person in publishing that didn’t know the answers to some of the ‘basics’ when they started out, so don’t be ashamed! And please tweet or comment with any further questions you might have! No question is too ‘obvious’, we promise.

1) “What is the difference between copy-editing and proofreading?”

OK – a manuscript usually goes through three stages of editing. The first stage is quite sweeping – general points about the story that might need a bit of work, such as: ‘Hey, that character is great, we should see a bit more of them!’ or: ‘We’re not sure this scene really works… maybe if you re-work it like this (insert X, Y, Z) it might help the narrative flow a bit better.’ The second stage is a copy-edit – this is a more nitty gritty edit, where a copy-editor looks out for things like clarification issues, like: ‘Hmm on page 34 it says that Bob’s favourite colour is blue, but on page 76 he says it’s red… which one is it?’ or: ‘This sentence structure is a bit confusing, can we rephrase it so it reads…’ and so on. Editorial fact-checking, if you will. Stage three is proofreading – and really a proofreader should only be looking out for the last few tiny mistakes – mainly typos, and last final checks that all the names all spelled the right way etc. – but they can also add in comments that a copy-editor might (like sentence restructuring etc.) which is where the confusion between the two can begin! However, a proofreader usually wouldn’t suggest how things could/should be spelled (e.g. all right vs. alright) as those things would have been decided by the author and the editor. However, they SHOULD be checking that the spellings are consistent!

Didn’t know that? Don’t be ashamed! Neither did Editor-at-Large Emma Matthewson as a beginner: “I didn’t have a clue what copyediting really was…”

And (personal confession coming up) for most of the time I was applying for internships/jobs, I had no solid idea what even ‘copy’ was. I mean I had an idea but if you’d quizzed me… (Friends: it is the text. That is all. Text = copy. Why can’t we just call it text?!)

2) “How do books actually get into bookshops?”

Not my area of expertise so much, but Kate Manning  (Sales & Marketing Director) had this to say on the matter:

  • So the raison d’etre behind a sales department is to get the right book into the right hands, that’s how things sell – no point in piling them high somewhere if they’re all going to be returned.
  • Each sales channel has its own type of books it will sell, and it’s own way of buying. From the supermarkets  who are centralised – one buyer choosing for the entire estate, and concentrating on bestsellers – through to Indies [BLOGGER’S NOTE: ‘Indies’ = Independent Booksellers!]  where the bookseller chooses what will fit their individual shop and looks more at range.
  • Each buyer sees hundreds of books a month, so you need to make sure yours stand out – finished jackets, metadata (very important! You need an ISBN to buy!) and certain titles need proofs to get people behind them.

So it’s pretty complicated. Proving this, here are some ‘confessions’ from professionals:

“I always thought all books went into all bookshops – I didn’t realise there were some paid for promotions that existed…” (Sarah Benton,  Head of Marketing, Print & Digital)

“One from a child’s point of view: I didn’t know that more books existed than the ones on offer in my local bookshop. (Would that that lovely local bookshop still existed…)” (Jenny Jacoby, Editor)

3) “Erm I’ve heard a lot about ‘Advances’ – what are they, and are they anything to do with royalties?”

An advance is a sum of money, paid to an author when they get a book contract. You get one agreed sum of money, which is then usually split into three separate advances – one is paid on signature of the contract, one is signed when the manuscript has been ‘delivered’ (i.e. all the edits have been made) and then the final one is paid when the book is published. However, (and this is the bit not many people know) an author will not earn ANY royalties, until we (the publisher) have earned back in book sales what we paid them as an advance – hence the term; ‘Royalty Advance’. Unfortunately, lots of authors might never earn any royalties, which Mariana Podmore (Sales Assistant at Red Lemon Press) only realised when she started dealing with advances herself:

“I didn’t know that authors can go YEARS without getting any money from sales, and then when they finally do earn the advance out (if they’re so lucky) they only get paid every six or even twelve months. How weird would it be to get paid only every six months?”

4) “How long does it take for a book to be published – from acquisition to publication date?”

A long time, usually. It really depends as we can acquire something that for whatever reason has to be rushed through to production, but I would say the minimum amount of time we can manage to produce a book in is six or seven months. Alternatively something might get bought that we know will need quite a bit of editorial input, so we schedule it for a later date. Or we schedule it quite far in advance in order to give it the best chance of standing out on our list.

Mostly the Editorial team work around a year ahead of ourselves, but it’s often more. Ideally, we present titles to Sales & Marketing nine months ahead of publication (this means we have a manuscript, which may or may not have been copy-edited at this stage, and at least a rough idea of what the cover is) and Sales & Marketing usually work on books six months ahead of when they publish – by which point we should have a finished jacket and hopefully a complete manuscript. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way!)

5) “Good grief! What’s with all the acronyms?”

Ah, acronyms! Every industry has their own, completely-incomprehensible-to-the-outsider set of acronyms, perfect for throwing at unsuspecting interns and visitors. Publishing is no different, as Cait Davies and Sarah Benton found out:

“ALL the acronyms… GBS, TBS, DDI, FOB, DDU (I still don’t really know what DDU stands for. Something production-y…). Thank god for Google!!” (Cait Davies, Sales & Marketing Executive)

“I remember in my first job being asked to make some “generic POS” for an author – spent a while trying to figure out what the hell that meant…” (Sarah Benton, Head of Marketing, Print & Digital)

So what do they mean? Here are some of the acronyms you are most likely to come across if you are doing an internship:

AI/TI – Advanced Information Sheet/Title Information Sheet: A one page document that Editorial and Sales & Marketing put together that tells booksellers/the world everything they need to know about a book.

GBS – Grantham Book Services: A book distributor that takes a  publisher’s (not all – other good distributors are available!) books from the warehouse where we keep ‘em, to the bookstores that order ‘em.

TBC/TBS – To Be Confirmed/To Be Specified: “Err… We haven’t quite worked out what’s going on there yet… to be confirmed!”

POS – Point of Sale: A really fun pack of stuff that Sales & Marketing put together, with lots of goodies related to the book – e.g. stickers, bookmarks, postcards etc. for booksellers to have and distribute.

P&L – Profit & Loss evaluation form: This is a fairly complicated but very important process that all books we are interested in acquiring go through. Basically, we put in our costs at one end (jacket finishes, typesetting costs [BLOGGER’S NOTE: typesetting = the process of getting a novel from a Word or basic PDF document into the thing that you recognise as a book], external proofreading costs etc.) and then Sales & Marketing put in the amount they think the book can sell in at the other (your ‘profits’) and what comes out at the end influences the number we can offer an author as an advance.

WTF – A true Hot Key Books staple, and as we all know, it stands for: ‘Where’s The Fudge?’

6) “Illustrated Books – The Author and the Illustrator work together… right?”

Nope. Usually not, as Red Lemon Editor Tori Kosara discovered:

“I was pretty sure that authors and illustrators worked together in the same office (like they were work colleagues) and knew each other really well.”

Or as Meg, our Publicist puts it:

“People don’t realise that normally for picture books, the text comes first and the publisher finds the illustrator – they often never even meet each other…”

Weird eh?! But true. I had also imagined that all picture books were made by friends, but apparently not…

7) “Authors have agents?!”

Sigh! This is my personal confession. I had NO IDEA that authors had agents until I did an internship and was like ‘waaaahh?’ Yes, authors have agents, in much the same way that film and sports stars do. And publishing agents do a very similar job to agents working for film stars – they submit your work, they tell everyone what a fabulous writer you are, and they will work as hard as they can to get the best deal for you and your book. Agents will also make sure that a contract is good for an author, and they’ll also negotiate the terms of that contract – including things like realistic delivery dates for the manuscripts. Agents do take a cut of any earnings an author might make (including royalties) but the amount will vary, and I would certainly say it’s worth it.

8) “How is a book actually made?”

We’ve already covered that fairly extensively in our blog about the Clays factory visit HERE – but it’s really not an obvious process, which lots of people in the office didn’t know:

“ I didn’t know how a book was printed – i.e. in large sheets with the pages then cut up and bound together – which is actually good to know as it corresponds to how books are thought through editorially –  i.e. picture books are normally 32 pages, and the extent [BLOGGER’S NOTE: ‘Extent’ means final number of pages, folks!] can massively affect where a book is placed age-category wise.” (Meg Farr, Publicist)

“My favourite thing I first learned when I started working was what the number line on the copyright page meant. Especially because in the old days (when I started) the printer would physically scratch off the lowest number from the number line on the printing film each time it reprinted.” (Jenny Jacoby, Editor)

Copyright Page

That little number there!

“Six years in and I’m still not entirely sure what ‘repro’ means, but I probably should! They make our proofs and generally make sure that our files are print-ready and that all the colours are right etc. Its short for reprographics house, but for years it was just a prefix to  ‘deadline’! I.e.: ‘We need to get these files to repro immediately!’ or: ‘Christ, there’s no way we’re going to meet our repro deadline! Let’s go plead with Dom for an extension…’” (Katie Knutton, Designer at Red Lemon Press)

“I remember once asking a rather revered senior editor who terrified me at the best of times what a ‘Signature’ section was in a book. I thought it was where the author signed their name not that it was one ‘part’ a book. I went the colour of beetroot at the look she gave me…” (Emily Thomas, Publisher)

[BLOGGER’S NOTE: Me again – a book is divided into sections of pages, between either 8 pages or 16 pages depending on the final extent of the book, and one of those sections is known as a ‘signature’. Also – it was EXTREMELY mean of Emily’s boss to do this to her – no one should ever make you feel stupid for asking questions when you’re an intern or in an entry level job (or ever, really)]

9) “Trade publishing versus… what exactly?”

You might hear the word ‘Trade Publishing’ being bandied about from time to time. But what does it actually mean? Surely all publishing is for trade… right? WRONG as Red Lemon Editor Alex Koken will tell you:

“For YEARS I didn’t know what trade publishing meant! I sort of assumed there was one type of publishing, the one where the books are made…  It’s OUR type of publishing, i.e. where we sell to bookshops. Non-trade is academic, scientific, technical and medical (STM), B2B (business to business), and clubs (I think)…”

10) “I’m applying for jobs, but I don’t really know what the chain of command is…”

This is actually quite a common problem, as how can you know what’s an appropriate level to apply for before you work somewhere and you can figure it out for yourself? I will stick to Editorial here, but if anyone has a department they are specifically interested in just tweet us/comment below and we’ll fill you in!

Secretary – Lots of Editors start out as Secretaries, where you prove your admin capability so you can move up to:

Editorial Assistant – Also an entry level job for some people (me included) but it will depend on where you apply. Lots more admin still, but also a bit of author care and you provide more specifically editorial-based support. See my previous blog about it HERE if you’d like to know more!

Assistant Editor – You should be getting to do a lot more editorial tasks now, such as low-level copy-editing and proof-reading, and also helping to manage the manuscripts into production more carefully. You’ll also probably be writing a lot more copy (that word again! Remember it just means ‘text’) for things like covers and the AIs. However, you will still be doing quite a lot of admin.

Junior Editor – More editing, less admin! Although you will never, ever be completely rid of admin.

Editor – Hurray, you’re now editing books! This will mean lots of copy-editing, and also more extensive editing too, like what we talked about in point one.

Commissioning Editor – Yikes. Not only are you editing your own books now, you are also buying them! Agents will send you manuscripts, which you will discuss with your team and see if it’s right for your publishing house to acquire them.

Senior Editor – You are probably responsible for team-members now, including the more junior staff.

Editorial Director – You pretty much run the whole Editorial department, but you’re still acquiring and editing too. You answer to…

The Publisher – This person is basically a kind of Creative Director. They run the business side of things as well as solely the Editorial stuff, and they are ultimately responsible for deciding what kind of list the publishing house will have (i.e. what kind of books are we buying?) as well as managing a large team.

Managing Director – The Boss. Basically. Our MD Sarah also does a lot of editing and acquiring, but I am told this is unusual for an MD. Luckily, in a publishing house of our size, she’s able to keep on doing what she loves whilst running the show!

And that’s it! Hopefully you’ve found some of this enlightening, and if you have any further questions about anything just ask! Also, we’d love to hear from our fellow publishers about questions you might have been too afraid to ask when you were starting out in the industry.

And, in case, you needed any further encouragement, here is Sara O’Connor (Editorial Director, Print & Digital) with a cautionary note on how you should ALWAYS ask questions if you’re not sure about something:

“Always be certain to ask which is the bulk trash pile of boxes and which is the bulk mail boxes pile. Trust me, you do not want to mix those up.”