The People Who Bring a Book to Life

Bringing a book to life takes a whole host of very talented people. Here's who they are, and what they do.

Alpha Reader: Reads the first draft of the completed manuscript and gives feedback. In most cases the Alpha reader is the author because most first drafts are pretty terrible and authors don't like anyone else seeing it. The first draft is often just a "getting the ideas on paper" exercise, and the author will then polish it. I tend to just do this once (my second draft being pretty close to the finished product) but other authors may go through many, many drafts.

Beta Reader(s): Reads the manuscript with a critical eye, and gives feedback to the author on things like style, plot, characterisation and even spelling and grammar. Authors may use several beta readers to get a rounded opinion. Beta readers are generally not paid for their work - the payment is getting to read an advance copy of the book, and sometimes a mention in the acknowledgements.

Critique Group: This is a group of people - often other authors - who serve as something as a "conglomerate" of beta readers, giving verbal feedback to the author during a meeting. Sounds horribly painful to me. And critique groups don't get paid for this either; when they are a group of authors, they repay the favour by critiquing each other's work.

Proofreader: This should be someone other than the author who checks for errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation, and those little typos which the author always misses. Proofreaders charge for their services but if you're using an editor then you can often skip this stage, because the editor will serve as a proofreader.

Technical editor: In non-fiction, this is the person who checks the recipes, facts or references. In fiction, this is an edit (often performed by the author) checking for continuity, accuracy, consistent chapter length, etc.

Line editor: (or just Editor.) I think editors are amazing. They go through the manuscript line-by-line making sure that every word, every punctuation mark, every scene, is as good as it can be. I was once told by my publisher that my manuscript was very "clean" and yet it still came back from the editor covered in red corrections. I respect editors as the experts, and they really can improve a manuscript tremendously.

I have worked with both in-house editors employed by my publishers (much-missed Val, Megan and Linda) and editors I have paid privately (dear Val again) and they have all been worth their weight in chocolate. I firmly believe that no book should ever be published which has not been professionally edited. Most editors charge by the page.

Agent: Agents get a percentage of the royalties in return for representing your book to publishers and working to get you the best possible deal. It is possibly to bypass an agent (by submitting direct to those few publishers who will accept direct unsolicited submissions, or self-publishing) but if you can secure a hard-working and experienced agent your book stands a far higher chance of being successful.

Publisher: The publisher is more than just a glorified printer. They design the cover, blurb and overall look of your book, work with the distributor to get your book into the right shops, do much of the publicity (or tell you how to do it), deal with any legal issues (including copyright) and they take most of the financial risk. Despite this, they pay you - an advance if you're lucky, but certainly a percentage of the selling price of the book. If they want you to pay them (and you were unaware that they were a vanity press) run away very fast.

Copy editor: This is the last stage in bringing the book to print. The copy editor doesn't change the text, but prepares it for typesetting by formatting it and adapting it to house style, checking for widow and orphan lines, and having a last read-through of the text to ensure that it is clear and makes sense, and that there are no remaining errors.

What, you thought I just write the thing and it appears on the shelves a few weeks later?

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