by Lesley-Anne Longo & Beth McAuley
Published at 2021-06-09
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood things about the editing and publishing process is just how long it can take. If, for example, you have completed your manuscript and it is ready for editing, be sure to give yourself enough time for the editing, revising, proofreading, layout, and production processes. And what do we mean by enough time? You may need up to a year, depending on the level of editing required.
Recently, we had a call from a client who had completed her 300-page manuscript and wanted to have it copy edited within two weeks so she could send her final document to her self-publishing provider for design and layout. She had already set the launch date, which was just four weeks away, and was anxious to get things underway. Unfortunately, we could not fulfill her request for a two-week turnaround. For such a long manuscript, we would need a good four weeks, which did not fit in with her schedule.
Editing takes times, as does making revisions and preparing the final draft for production. All of these steps need to be built into a publishing schedule. So we thought a blog that outlines the time requirements of these different steps would be a good start in helping clients plan out their publishing journey.
Different editing services always require different amounts of time to complete. The three main services that you need to plan for are substantive/developmental editing, copy editing, and proofreading.
Substantive editing is “big picture” editing. If you have written a book manuscript, it involves assessing the book as a whole for structure and flow (and, in the fiction realm, assessing plotting, themes, character development). In the nonfiction world, a substantive edit looks to better connect ideas, remove information that doesn’t add to the argument or point of view, and even move around chapters, paragraphs, or sections to help improve the flow of information for the reader. This step often involves suggestions for rewriting, or in some cases, creating new text altogether (if a chapter needs fleshing out, for example).
Because this stage of editing requires work on your part, it’s a good idea to assign more time than you think you might need. At TEC, we often think of substantive editing as a stage that can last weeks or months. Think about it: the editor reads the manuscript and writes up their editorial report (which can take a week to two/three weeks, depending on manuscript length), and then if rewriting or adding in new content is required, you have to allot time to do that writing. Then, there can come the step of more restructuring once that new text is added.
Substantive editing is a process that involves a lot of collaboration between editor and author, and naturally, working with such large-scale editing suggestions can often take time. It’s important to give yourself more than enough time to work through the process.
We suggest three months as a good placeholder—if your editor comes back with changes that are easy to implement, that’s great. But if the suggestions include more rigorous rewriting (or new writing), then you’ll be glad to have the extra time.
Copy editing deals with sentence-level editing, such as grammar, spelling, sentence structure, phrasing, and flow. It may not take as long as substantive editing, but it is definitely not a step you want to rush through.
Generally, an editor will copy edit at a pace of about five to seven pages per hour––however, this is entirely dependent on the shape of the manuscript. A rough manuscript may move more slowly, or a more polished manuscript may move at a quicker pace. The average, though, is five to seven pages per hour. So, if we define one page as 250 words (12-point font, double-spaced, on an 8.5” x 11” paper), then we can assume that a 35,000-word manuscript—or about 145 pages—will take about 20 to 30 hours.
You may think, well, an editor could do that in three or four days, right? Not exactly. It may take two to three weeks, depending on the editor’s schedule. Generally, you don’t want your editor to be pulling all-nighters copy editing your book. Our eyes and brains get fatigued just like anyone else’s, so the best practice is to give your editor as much time as they say they need. Any editor worth their salt won’t want to work on the same manuscript doing detailed work for eight or nine hours in a row. That’s how mistakes get made.
Also, you can’t expect an editor to work over a weekend to meet your deadline. We have calls come in on a Friday afternoon asking for a rush job, editors like to enjoy their weekends too! If you need a job done in a certain number of days, don’t count Saturdays and Sundays as days you expect an editor to work. Editors need time off just like anyone else.
Proofreading is usually the quickest of the editing services. Like copy editing, you can pretty easily calculate how many hours a proofreading job might require. Say we have the same 35,000-word manuscript—it’s been copy edited and a final draft prepared, and now it needs to be proofed. The industry average for proofreading speed is about eight to 10 pages per hour. So, the 35,000-word or 145-page manuscript would require about 15 to 25 hours for a thorough proofread. This may take one or two weeks.
Because editing can be an unpredictable process, always schedule in more time than you think you’ll need. Worst case scenario, you’re finished ahead of schedule!
Production is the stage of publishing that follows the editing and proofreading process. This is when your manuscript is turned into a book. The manuscript will be laid out using desktop publishing software and given all the accoutrements that a book needs—page numbers, headers, chapter titles and styling, copyright page, and so on. Production takes your Word document manuscript and transforms it into a PDF that resembles book pages, which will give you a good sense of what your book will look like once it is printed. But…how long does it take?
Typesetting is the professional arranging of your content for printing. Your designer or typesetter will work with you to choose fonts/typefaces for your book, as well as apply formatting such as margins and gutters, bleed lines for printing, and styling of things like the table of contents. If you have visuals such as photos/images or figures, the typesetter will make sure these are flowed in correctly as well.
Typically the typesetter will prepare the entire book (depending on complexity, this can take anywhere from a week to perhaps three weeks) and then send you what are called “proofs.” These are usually PDFs of how the book’s pages will look when they are printed. Make sure you build in time to have your proofreader take a look at these, just to ensure there are no typos or errors that may have been introduced during typesetting, such as incorrect headers, wrong page numbers, or bad breaks across pages. Once you send the corrections to the typesetter/designer, they may send you a second round of proofs to check over.
If you’re having an ebook created, try to find a designer who can typeset and design the book and also create an epub file for you. Having the same person handle both tasks will really streamline the process.
Once you have finalized the book’s interior layout with the typesetter or designer, you can move on to cover design. It’s important to know the final page count of your finished book, so the cover designer can make sure the book’s spine will be the correct width.
Conveying what you’re envisioning to your cover designer can be tricky, so give this step in the process at least a couple of weeks. This ensures there will be ample time for back-and-forth and reviewing different mock-ups to ensure you get what you’re looking for.
You have a couple of options here—printing your book in bulk or print-on-demand. Print-on-demand can be easier, as you don’t need to worry about where to store the printed books, and it can be faster as well. However, that comes with a cost, and print-on-demand can certainly be quite a bit more expensive than printing in bulk. For example, using Ingram Spark’s print-on-demand estimate calculator, for 10 copies of a black and white, 6 inch by 9 inch softcover book of 280 pages, printed on typical white paper, the cost is about $4.80 per book (plus taxes and shipping). That may not seem like a lot, but if you’re having to print small orders of books and pay shipping and handling each time, it can add up.
Bulk printing can be more cost-effective, especially if you’re planning on printing a large number of copies (in the hundreds), but you do need to figure out how you’re going to store the boxes of books you’ll be receiving. If you choose this route, you’ll likely also need to contact the printer well in advance, as the printer will need to incorporate you into their printing schedule. This could be weeks, or months, in the future, so make sure you reach out as soon as you can, and plan ahead.
Now that you know the basics of how long editing and production stages can take, you’ll be able to have a better idea of how to plan your own launch process! Choose when you want to launch, and then just work backwards from that date (plus some extra time as a buffer). A good editing estimate to start with, if you’re having all three stages of editing done, is four months. For typesetting and cover design, six weeks might be a general estimate. Depending on your choice of printing, you might need as little as one week (if printing on demand) to two months (if working with a traditional printer).
So, six months is a good starting point, but really, if you’re just looking to start the editing process now, giving yourself a year from substantive edit to launch date is an even better option. You’ll be able to work through the stages with no stress, research editors and designers you want to work with, and take the time you need to make the editorial changes needed. Plus, you may find that you’ve come across an editor you really like but they’re booked for the next month. If you plan for more time than you need, then you can afford to wait the month and work with the editor you have your heart set on.
We hope this blog has given you a better idea of how to schedule out your editing and production processes ahead of your desired launch date. More time is always better when it comes to these things—you spent so long creating and fine-tuning your book, so don’t rush it to the printing press if you don’t have to! Take the time you need to make sure every detail is just how you want it, allow time for the editing and proofreading as well as time to pay attention to all the details that come with publishing a book.
Once you have a plan in place, you can get the editing process underway.