So you’re thinking you’re ready to hire an academic editor or indexer would help you create an awesome scholarly book. But how far in advance are you supposed to do the hiring? And how do you know if your manuscript is ready for editing or indexing?
Maybe you’re at the very beginning of the revision process, maybe you just got reader reports back, or maybe you have a contract in hand. Professional editors and indexers can help you hone your argument, polish your writing, format all those citations, and craft a fantastic index that ensures audiences will read and cite your book.
NOTE: Most editors and indexers book 2–6 months in advance of when the job would start. So for each of the stages listed below, figure out when you would need the work to begin and count backwards to figure out when you’d need to start contacting professionals.
Stage: You want to know if your completed dissertation is capable of being revised into a book and which presses would be interested (pre-contract)
If you’re starting from scratch, this is a great time to get a professional’s eye on the raw material you created as a graduate student. Finding an editor who offers manuscript reviews or beta reading will let you get a sense of what from the dissertation could be made into a book and what the steps would be required to do so.
At this point, you need an editor who has extensive experience with published books in the fields you’re working in because you’re asking them about publication potential and the specific presses that would be interested in your project. They’ll need to be familiar with specific publisher lists and series, acquisition editors, and similar books in your fields that yours would be competing with.
Depending on the length of your manuscript and the editor’s process, a full manuscript review or beta read will usually take 4–8 weeks. Depending on the editor, you should expect a manuscript review or beta read report: several pages addressing the book’s argument, analysis, structure, engagement with sources, and publication potential, as well as their revision suggestions. After getting their report, you can then decide if you want to revise the dissertation into a book and create a revision schedule that fits your needs.
Stage: You’re working on the book proposal and sample chapters (pre-contract)
If you have a draft of your book proposal and sample chapters, a professional editor can give you feedback on both and help you revise them to wow publishers. Many editors offer both developmental editing and copyediting for these documents. A select few even offer publisher research to identify the presses that are the best fit for your project and help you pitch your book to the relevant lists and editors (we offer this).
Since the book proposal has to convince both specialists AND non-specialists at the press that your project is an easy fit for the press’s existing audiences, it is super important to get diverse eyes on the document before submission.
When looking for book proposal editors, look for subject-matter experts in your fields—they should know what types of books are viable in those fields at this current moment and what specific presses are looking for.
Depending on the editor’s process, you should expect in-text edits on the book proposal draft (developmental edits and/or copyedits, depending on which service(s) you contracted for). If your contract covers publisher research, you should expect that material as well.
Stage: You have a first draft for the manuscript but are still working through the ideas (pre-contract)
Once you assemble things into a workable first draft, a developmental editor can help you identify your main argument (or come up with one if you don’t have one yet), structure the chapters and paragraphs to foreground that argument, cut extraneous material that detracts from your main point or fits better with another project, and condense bloated sections and expand ones that are underdeveloped.
Since you’re still working on the content at this stage, you have several options for a schedule. You and your editor may prefer to work chapter-by-chapter, in which case you’d send them each chapter as you complete it according to deadlines you and your editor lay out in your contract. This may take a few months or a few years, depending on how fast you write and your editor’s client calendar. Or if you have a first draft already, you can have them developmentally edit the whole manuscript at once.
For developmental editing, you should expect in-text edits on each chapter (most editors use Track Changes for this) as well as an editorial letter/report of several pages addressing the book’s argument, analysis, structure, engagement with sources, and publication potential, as well as your editor’s suggestions for revision.
Stage: You need to submit the full manuscript to a press for peer review (pre-contract)
At this stage, your argument and ideas are set and the manuscript is almost done, but you need some help polishing the writing to make sure everything is clear. This is where copyeditors come in. A professional copyeditor will focus on the writing: grammar, syntax (sentence structure), punctuation, spelling, and word choice.
Additionally, two big areas that copyeditors are worth their weight in gold in are consistency and citation formatting. All manuscripts, big and small, need consistent spelling, punctuation, and formatting across the entire text. This is fairly easy to keep in your head for smaller pieces like 8-page conference papers and even 20-page grant proposals but it becomes much more difficult for 200-page book manuscripts.
Consistency means that all your acronyms and initialisms are defined the first time you use them; you use the same spelling, punctuation, and diacritics for all terms (post-colonial vs. postcolonial, Indigenous vs. indigenous, trans vs. trans*, Latinx vs. Latino/a, etc.); and you follow all the requirements for the style manual you’re using. Professional copyeditors create style sheets to ensure this consistency across your entire manuscript. A great copyeditor will also structure your citations in whatever style you or your press has chosen.
Think of copyediting as polishing your manuscript to the fullest extent possible so that your ideas—your argument, your analysis, your contributions to scholarly debate—can shine.
Many copyeditors prefer to work on an entire manuscript at once to ensure consistency and to help with citation formatting, but check with your editor to create an editing schedule that works for both of you. For copyedits, you can expect in-text edits on each page of the manuscript as well as a style sheet.
Stage: You got peer review reports back and need help implementing their suggestions (usually pre-contract, rarely post-contract)
This is the second stage of developmental editing. Some authors prefer to do this on their own, which can work fine if the reader reports are clear, you don’t have major revisions, you already know how you’ll be implementing revision suggestions, and you’re pretty self-directed in terms of meeting deadlines.
But many authors prefer to work with a developmental editor at this stage to help decipher what exactly in those peer review reports should be implemented immediately, what has more flexibility, and how you can respond to suggestions you’re not sure about or disagree with.
Many authors also enjoy the time structure that developmental editors provide as you’ll have specific deadlines so you know exactly when this stage will be done and can tell that to the press (and publishers need concrete deadlines that you actually meet).
Developmental editors at this stage should read through your peer review reports and then go through your manuscript chapter by chapter, noting specific areas in the text where you should implement specific peer review suggestions as well as exactly how to go about addressing them in those spots.
As with the developmental editing stage listed above, you should expect in-text edits on each chapter (most editors use Track Changes for this) as well as an editorial letter/report of several pages addressing the book’s argument, analysis, structure, engagement with sources, and publication potential, as well as your editor’s suggestions for revision.
If you’ve already worked with your editor on this manuscript, at this stage that editorial letter/report may be much shorter than the previous one.
Stage: Your final manuscript is due to the publisher for publication (post-contract)
If you haven’t already had the manuscript copyedited, this is when you should do so because what you turn in now will be what is published. If you already had a full copyedit before submitting the manuscript to presses for review but have created a lot of new material after getting reader reports back, you might also want to get that new material copyedited. If your revisions were mostly moving material around or on the smaller side, you may be able to forgo a second round of copyediting if the writing is already in excellent shape. It’s up to you and the shape of your manuscript. Feel free to ask your publisher for their recommendation.
If you already have a contract signed and this is when your press has told you the final manuscript is due, that means that this is the last opportunity you have to change anything substantial in the manuscript—either content or writing. After this, the manuscript will get typeset and the only thing you can change after typesetting are typos and factual errors (like misspellings of names). So make sure you have everything the way you want it to appear in the published version.
Stage: You need an index (post-contract, in-production)
The act of indexing is one of the last stages in the book production process. But the act of researching and hiring an indexer should come before that. After you sign your contract, your publisher should give you an estimated date for when you’ll receive page proofs for review (keep in touch with them through the publication process as this date may shift). If your publisher hasn’t already told you when you can expect page proofs, ask them. This date will probably be a bit flexible but the press will be able to give you a general timeframe (for example, October or November of this year).
Many authors wait until they have page proofs in hand to contact indexers, which is WAY too late to get on an indexer’s calendar. Avoid this problem by hiring early.
As you can see, working with professional editors and indexers over the course of the writing and publishing process can be enormously helpful in creating a book you are really proud of. Take the time to research editors and indexers who have subject-matter expertise in the fields you want to publish in and make sure any editor or indexer you hire has a work style and process that fits with you.
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