Behind the Scenes… What Happens to an Accepted Manuscript?

Once a manuscript has undergone external peer review, been suitably revised by the author and is approved for publication by the series editors (where relevant), it is accepted for publication. We then ask the author to complete an author questionnaire and checklist and start to get the manuscript moving towards production. But what are we doing exactly? In this post, Laura outlines the small but vital stages between editorial and production.

Commissioning Editors with books from their respective series

The first thing a Commissioning Editor does is book a slot on our production schedule. Each month we publish a certain number of books, typically between 4 and 6, so there are a limited number of places available. The Commissioning Editor will most likely have already provisionally pencilled in the manuscript well in advance of it being accepted, using their knowledge about the extent of the revisions required and how busy the author and series editors’ schedules are. But it is only now that a publication date is set and finalised. At this point it is therefore extremely helpful to us if authors keep to deadlines they have promised!

Once the Commissioning Editor has received all the final files and supporting documents, they will check through the manuscript one last time. They ensure that the author has submitted all the documents (table of contents, each chapter, references, appendices etc) and confirm that permission has been cleared for all material from external sources. They will then update the book’s proposal P&L with the latest word count, as we use this to estimate the pagination and price.

The book is then ready for the Commissioning Editor to schedule for discussion at the next in-house editorial meeting, usually held weekly. For those of us not involved in the book until this stage, this might be the first we’ve heard of it since the proposal was accepted, often some years previously! At the meeting we discuss and approve the title; make a final decision about the format (whether it will be published in paperback and hardback simultaneously) and approximate the print run.

With all of the above finalised, the Commissioning Editor is now ready to hand the book over for production and marketing. In order to make the handover process a smooth one and to help impart as much of their knowledge about the work to the rest of us as possible, they complete a handover sheet. The handover sheet splits naturally into three sections: key details about the work, then a production section, followed by marketing information.

The key details section is where we store absolute final information about the book, mainly what we decided on at the editorial meeting. It is where we look if we cannot remember whether we did decide to remove a comma from a title or exactly which subtitle we eventually chose! It is therefore like gold dust as it is vital that we are consistent, once we have made a decision: as soon as data starts to leave our database, it is sometime hard to find where it has gone and overwrite it.

Sarah, our Production Manager, hard at work

Next comes the production section where the Commissioning Editor will tell Sarah, our Production Manager, and Flo, who does the covers, information about the book. Sections include whether there is a preference for British or another variety of English; if the author already has a particular idea for the cover and if we have agreed anything special with the author, perhaps with regard to the layout or format. We also tell Sarah about what she might expect when working with the author. This includes things such as if one is taking the lead (in the case of multiple authors) or whether we know the author is about to go on leave. This is important as production runs to deadlines which are much firmer than those in editorial often are.

Finally comes the marketing parts of the handover. The Commissioning Editor writes the blurbs, suggests subject categories and says who to approach for cover endorsements. They will also advise the marketing department on the book’s highlights; note any geographical contexts featured in the book (which might be helpful for our local sales reps); list which of our other books it links with and state any other key selling points of the work. They will also let us know any bright ideas they have for any special, out-of-the-ordinary marketing!

We find that handing a manuscript over in this way works really well. Ultimately, the Commissioning Editor is the person in the office who knows most about the book and the more of their knowledge they can share with the rest of us, the more likely we are to have a smooth, enjoyable and successful publication.

Laura

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