Sean's Technology and Writing Blog

How many editors does it take to create a book?

03 September 2010


I've just finished working on my second book for John Wiley's Older & Wiser series, Microsoft Office for the Older and Wiser. As I've been talking to people about it, I've realised that a lot of people don't understand the process behind a computer book. I thought I'd explain the different people who are involved in working on a book project.

Every book project is different, and sometimes there are more people involved and sometimes there are fewer people. Some of the people I've worked with have fulfilled several of these roles at different times in the project. I've worked on some projects with some publishers where I've been pretty much left alone to write, and then just checked the laid out pages at the end. John Wiley has offered me a much greater level of support with these books, which has been extremely valuable. In particular, the level of quality control has been excellent.

Here's an overview of some of the people who might make a contribution to a book coming into being (editorially - lots of people help with other things too):
  • The acquisitions editor: This person is responsible for signing the project in the first place. Much of what they do is hidden from the author, but it includes winning support internally for the project from the marketing and sales departments.
  • The author: His job is to research and write the content and source the images (including creating screenshots). He has to deliver his copy in the publisher's template so that everybody is working to the same standards.
  • Development editor: This person is responsible for keeping the project on track. They'll keep an eye on deadlines and make sure that the content meets the standards required. They'll offer guidance to the author on the project overall.
  • Technical editor/reviewer: This person checks that everything works in the book as it should. In the case of the social networking book and Microsoft Office book, that meant following the instructions to check that they led to the expected results.
  • Copy editor: This person edits the draft of the book to ensure it flows smoothly and is consistently written. They will also fix any typos or grammar issues. They will work to a style guide, and will keep a record of significant new terms that arise for that project, to ensure that they are used consistently throughout.
  • U3A reviewer: The Older & Wiser books are published in partnership with the U3A, so a reviewer was assigned to provide feedback from the point of view of the target readership.
  • Composition team: This team works with the edited copy and screenshots to create the book layout.
  • Proofreader: The proofreader checks the content for any grammatical or typographical errors. Sometimes they check the draft copy before it goes to layout, and sometimes they check it once it's laid out on the page. They can also check layout issues (such as missing page numbers).
  • Indexer: The indexer uses the laid-out book files as the basis for creating the index.
I hope I didn't leave anyone out! What this process means is that at least three people (plus the author) are looking out for the quality of the end result to make sure that it's well-written, accurate and easy to read.

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