What’s an editor and do I need one?

The word ‘editor’ is one of the most unhelpfully elastic words out there. There are several different editors involved in the book production process – here’s a quick taxonomy:

Book editor (for a multi-contributor book) – the person with overall editorial responsibility for commissioning and approving the various contributions, and typically will write/compile any prelims and endmatter too, eg preface, introduction, bibliography. This is typically the person who has the direct contractual relationship with the publisher, and who is responsible for the further dissemination of royalties if appropriate. This could be you if you’re working with a collection of authors. (There are also series editors, who do a similar job at a higher level, identifying authors for new books in an existing series and ensuring that all new books meet the appropriate quality requirements and are consistent in tone and emphasis with the other books in the series.)
Commissioning editor (also known as acquisitions editor) – this is someone employed by the publisher to develop a list in a particular area (eg business books). They will have a clear strategy for how they intend to build that list, and if your proposal doesn’t fit with that strategy they’re unlikely to accept it, even if it has real merit. Commissioning editors work with the book editor or, more usually, the author (you!) on editorial issues such as the overall structure, level and length of the book, and manage contractual issues, deadlines and so on.
Development editor – a professional editor who gives more detailed formative feedback on the draft manuscript, assessing structure, consistency of tone, appropriateness for target market, etc, making recommendations on how to improve it plus identifying any systematic issues such as permissions requirements, libel etc. Not all publishers provide development editors – at Practical Inspiration we think this stage is hugely important. If your publisher doesn’t provide this kind of support, it’s worth investigating whether you can employ someone to work with you directly.
Copy-editor – another professional editor managed by the publisher – but often working as a freelance rather than as an employee – who checks the final manuscript line by line for typos/errors, picks up any repetition or ambiguity, queries inconsistencies or missing references, and creates the structural mark-up for the typesetter. They are focused on polishing the manuscript and correcting errors rather than suggesting significant structural changes or improvements.
So if someone’s offering their services as an ‘editor’, make sure that you’re clear on what exactly they mean by that before you agree to work together!

What does POD (print on demand) mean?

Print On Demand (POD) copies are printed digitally, page by page, rather than on traditional offset printing presses, generally in small batches (or even as a single copy). POD works out more expensive per unit than traditional large print-runs, but it is fast and flexible. At Practical Inspiration we print a traditional printrun of each title, and copies are shipped direct from the printer not only to the author (our authors receive 100 copies as part of our publishing package), but also to our warehouses in the UK, US and Australia. This is important because bookshops won’t order copies of books that are ONLY available POD to stock on their shelves, as they can’t return them if they don’t sell: they’ll only order them in if a customer specifically requests the book and pays up front for it. (NB we pay for the stock that we warehouse, not the author: as each copy is sold, the cost of manufacture is deducted to calculate the net revenue on which the author’s revenue is based.)
However POD is useful when we suddenly and unexpectedly run out of stock and need to fulfil orders quickly, or if small quantities of customised stock is required, eg with a client’s logo on the title page. It also allows us to publish more sustainably, avoiding overstocks and printing locally to replenish stock in an overseas warehouse, thereby avoiding unnecessary shipping.
POD quality is excellent, although you may notice that the spine of your book is sightly thinner when it has been produced this way, as the paper stocks used are slightly different.
Because we use both traditional and POD printing interchangeably, we avoid special finishes such as spot laminate, foil embossing, or jackets with flaps, which can’t be produced POD. (Special finishes are also bad for the environment, as the resulting books can’t be recycled, which is another reason to avoid them!)

What are ‘subsidiary rights’ in a publishing contract?

The bulk of a publishing agreement is concerned with ‘primary rights’: the rights that you as the author assign to the publisher to allow them to publish the book in its primary editions (for English-language publishers, that’s print, ebook and audio rights in English).
Subsidiary rights are those that are not directly exploited by the publisher themselves, but sub-licensed to others for specific purposes. The most common of these is translation: at Practical Inspiration we have a rights team who actively pitch our titles to foreign-language publishers around the world. We also regularly license audio rights and serialization rights – sadly no-one’s taken an option for a movie on one of our titles yet, but we live in hope.
By granting these rights exclusively to your publisher, it means they can be sure no-one else is cutting licensing deals without their knowledge (if, for example, we licensed an exclusive deal to a German publisher only to find there’s a competing German version which you’d arranged separately, that would be a problem…). If you’re working with Practical Inspiration and there’s a subsidiary right that you’d particularly like to retain – for example if you DO have contacts in a German publishing house and you’d like to arrange to publish the German translation of your book directly – then just let us know and we’ll carve that language out of the agreement so that you retain the right to do so.
The author’s share of revenue from subsidiary rights is typically 50%.

How long should I give beta readers to give their feedback?

We recommend that our authors give their draft manuscript to beta readers at the same time as they hand it over to us to go to the development editor for review, so that you can work through ALL the feedback in parallel. If two or three people tell you a section isn’t working, you know it isn’t working. If one person doesn’t ‘get’ a metaphor but another thinks it’s brilliant, it’s important to balance those two pieces of feedback. The development editor’s read takes 2-3 weeks so we suggest that for beta readers too – that’s long enough to be able to look at the manuscript in detail, but not SO long that it slips to the bottom of the to-do pile and is forgotten. (Of course, there may be a good reason why a particular beta reader might need more time, so in this as in life, you must use your judgement.)

How do I choose and use beta readers?

First of all, it’s GREAT that you’re planning to use beta readers. Getting input on your beta draft is one of the best ways of ensuring that the final book will really be useful for its intended readers. For that reason, it’s important that at least one of your beta readers qualifies as a target reader! We suggest that you aim for 4-6 beta readers in total: as well as target readers, you might want to choose experts in closely related fields, or professional connections who can add a helpful perspective. It goes without saying that they need to be capable of constructive criticism and also that they need to be reliable – the most insightful reader is no use to you if they don’t send you their feedback.
Don’t just hand over the manuscript with a vague request for feedback. Think carefully about what each of your beta readers can most usefully offer: for a target reader, for example, you might want to ask whether they understand all the terminology, whether the argument is pitched at the right level, or whether there are specific use cases or issues that aren’t covered. For a professional peer you might want to ask whether you’ve incorporated the latest thinking and research, or whether there are any gaps in your coverage. But always give your beta readers the freedom to give feedback that you DON’T know you need too, eg finish with a phrase like ’These are just suggested questions to keep in mind as you read: I’d be grateful for any other thoughts or suggestions that occur to you in addition.’
You may get conflicting advice from different readers: it’s your responsibility as the author to consider all the various perspectives and decide whether and how you take those suggestions on board.
And don’t forget to invite your beta readers to provide an endorsement for the book (if they liked it…), and to thank them in your acknowledgements too!

Why should I choose you as my publishing partner?

Great question! We combine the advantages of traditional publishing (editorial and design professionals, global distribution through the book chain, international sales reps visiting bookshops, libraries and university campuses, traditional and digital marketing campaign, rights team etc) with the control and financial benefits of self-publishing. You can find out more about our partnership approach here, and if you want to benchmark our service against others, take a look at our helpful checklist, 20 questions to ask a potential publishing partner.