Do these book tasks early — or end up in hell

Repeat after me: When a book goes to copy edit, the content should basically be done.

I can’t hear you in the back, there. Are you sure you believe it? Say it again:

When a book goes to copy edit, the content should basically be done.

Here’s the challenge. Your creative work on the book should be done. But the rest of your work is not. Just before and then after you deliver the book to the copy editor, you’ll need to:

  • Get the cover settled.
  • Get blurbs.
  • Review the copy editor’s comments and decide how handle them.
  • Review the page proofs and find and fix problems with page layout.
  • Get the graphics totally sorted.
  • Approve final pages and stop messing about with the whole thing.

This is a lot of work. You’re going to be making a bunch of small changes. But the objective is to reduce the size and impact of change as you get closer to the deadline.

There is a temptation to mess with the text once you see it in book form. This temptation is irresistible. Resist.

If you make changes late, they ripple. You can introduce more errors that the copy editor doesn’t get a chance to catch. You can create inconsistencies. You can disrupt the page layout, which is costly and screws up the index. You can upset your coauthors. This is hell. Worse yet, it is work under deadline pressure that’s more likely to undermine, rather than improve the book. Focus, people.

Did you ever find a typo or some other sort of blooper in a book you were reading — one that makes you doubt the author’s credentials as a writer? Chances are pretty good that it got introduced in these final stages.

The cure for hell? Settle things early — and allow time to live with them

Once you’ve been through the hell of late changes, you’ll never want to experience it again. Here’s how to avoid it in the book you’re working on now:

  1. Settle the title as soon as possible. Changing the title requires you to rethink the text, the cover, and everything else. That’s disruptive and unproductive. If you get anywhere near the end without a title, you’re headed straight for hell. So do a title brainstorm and live with it for a while. Settle the title early.
  2. Create a chapter as a template. Chapters will be easier to write if they’re structured similarly. When you write the first “typical” chapter (probably not chapter 1), spend extra time on how it’s structured — and whether you can make it into a template for the rest. This will make it lot easier to keep things consistent throughout the book.
  3. Assemble a glossary as you go along. It’s an easy way to keep terminology consistent.
  4. Be fastidious about links and references. Looking up references at the end sucks big time. Take a few minutes to assemble them when you finish a chapter, then you won’t be scrambling to find them at the end of the process.
  5. Work on graphics well before the manuscript deadline. Graphics are a pain in the ass. Fonts, layout, terminology, and meaning are all hard to get right. They need extra time. So give them the extra time. Get them settled before the manuscript is due, not after. An added bonus: This makes it easier to slip them into slides for speeches you are giving.
  6. Let the manuscript sit. This is hard, because it means that you need to act as if the manuscript deadline is about three weeks earlier than it actually is. But if you can assemble the whole book before it’s due, even in draft form, you’ll have a chance to get some perspective. This is when you get your chance to make the whole thing better — not when the manuscript is going through copy editing.

These practices take discipline. It’s a lot easier to “leave it to the end.” But do your future self a favor and do this stuff now.

Because if you don’t, I’ll see you in hell.

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  1. Ha! Ah, oh so true. Before I wrote a book, I thought for sure the writing part would be hell, but no, that’s just the beginning!

    For “The Gen Z Effect,” thankfully we had nailed down a lot of this work upfront. I didn’t realize how truly punishing it would be to hunt down and footnote every single reference that we made. I’d wanted to make sure we had thoroughly researched the topic, from recorded interviews, primary research and references to others, but… my god the 3-5 days I had to spend to go over all of that and bundle it up for the publisher. Just brutal.

    Assembling a glossary along the way is brilliant – wish I thought to do that. And ironically, I do just that when I am doing consulting work, so I can keep a client’s vocabulary crystal clear, especially when they throw acronyms at me. Not sure why I didn’t port that idea on over to writing a book.

    Ah well, live and learn, thanks for this post, I’ll have to keep these tips in mind for my next book!

  2. This happens to me all too frequently: I finish editing an email or post, read it through a 3rd or 4th time, think of something to change or add, accidentally misspell or omit a word in the newly edited content.