Thursday, 26 April 2012


No query mark after the headline because it’s a statement and what follows is intended as something of an explanation rather than as a question ... that should keep amateur proof-readers at bay.

Regular visitors may have noticed how very seldom this blog is used to express the personal opinions of those on the BeWrite Books in-house team. But I hope you and my BB colleagues will forgive me if I make an exception and have a wee rant this week.

I’m sick to the back teeth of the general reading public complaining about allegedly low editorial standards at publishing houses on the one hand ... and then demanding cheaper ebooks on the other.

Of course, their comments on articles and blogs criticizing the industry during its struggle with the ebook explosion are about obvious typographical error; they glibly and/or innocently overlook rigorous manuscript selection and the actual and more subtle editorial process that precedes formal proof-reading. And their demands for lower cover prices is based on the premise that ebooks cost nothing to produce.

I do understand the first grouse. Typos should be very, very rare or non-existent in a professionally prepared print or ebook, whereas behind-the-scenes editing should be as invisible as the editors themselves. Sadly, though, readers do not seem to understand pricing.

So let me put the record straight: The printing, warehousing and physical distribution costs of a major Big Six house and the bigger independents represent only 12.15% to 15% of paperback or hardback cover price. That’s less than two thirds of what they pay to retailers in terms of sales commission for an inch or two of shelf space and about as much as the author’s own royalty. Other in-house costs remain fixed. So there is only a minor saving on print to pass onto the ebook buyer.

Smaller houses like BeWrite Books often use a non-inventory print model that means their print costs per-item can be fifty percent of cover price or more. So there’s a greater production saving to pass on to the consumer when ebooks are sold, even though ebook production and independent digital editions distribution does carry unique extra costs of its own.

If you appreciate this, you must then add to the mix the lower cover price (BB ebooks are $5.95, which is less than a third of the cost of a BB paperback equivalent) and author expectancy of a higher royalty in digital editions (industry standard is 15%, BeWrite Books pays 40% when ebook editions are released ahead of print, 25% if ebook and print are simultaneously produced) and you’ll start to see where the boat starts to rock.

So my rant against those who claim typos are littered liberally throughout professionally published ebooks (that they expect for peanuts or nothing at all), as opposed to those self-‘published’ at the tap of a key without selection or any other editorial intervention and input, is that, whilst this may be the case elsewhere (remember that some newer companies claim to ‘publish’ half dozen books or more an hour), it is not general in the mainstream publishing industry and it certainly doesn’t apply to BB.

Our editorial process is similar to that of legacy publishers and their traditional approach to the job:

*Careful selection of about 2% of synopses and sample chapters submissions received by an editorial team of just three but with a combined professional experience of over 120 years. Reading and sifting submissions to discover the hidden gems takes time – a lot of time. That’s why bigger houses don’t even consider work that isn’t sent into them by an established agent and why even BB has only two three-month windows open each year to unsolicited offerings.

*Assessment of full manuscript of between 70,000 and 150,000 words in the case of those projects we express an interest in. We have, perhaps, about a 30% success rate at this stage in taking a speculatively offered manuscript to contract and publication.

*If accepted, a first line- or copy-edit of the ms runs to catch obvious word-repetition, clumsy sentence structure, fact-checking, etc.

*Then painstaking deep editorial work in the slightly cleaned up ms – often over several months – to polish the manuscript to as high a shine as possible.

*Subsequent and nit-picking multi-reader proof-reading and the incorporation of corrections into yet another updated draft.

*Even further proof reading, when all earlier proofing has been completed, of an Advance Reader Copy and/or the digital equivalent of ARC, bound proof or galleys.

*Inspection by author and editor of finished files before setting for print and creation of ebook editions.

*Quality control for any print-generated error in paperback and technically-generated error in ebook editions before eventual release.

*Meanwhile, cover-design, text design and technical preparation has been a key factor in tandem with the editorial process for the duration.

It is by no means unusual for much more than one hundred working hours of editorial input to be lavished on a single title, and twenty or more design and technical hours. And that doesn’t include the absolutely vital thinking time between screen and keyboard sessions!


And where ebook was once a by-product of the publishing process, that situation has very recently reversed for many smaller houses like BB. Now print is the by-product. Readers must decide whether they want darned good books or dirt cheap books.

It would interest us tremendously if our authors and readers might respond with comments to this blog post as to their experience with BeWrite Books’ working practices and the released result. Asking for trouble? Well maybe, but I’ll take that risk.

Sure, we know we can lick the big boys in a clean fight and that our heads are well above the herd when it comes to scrupulous selection and quality of presentation, but just how many do realize what’s involved in properly releasing a high standard ebook title ... and was the author’s trouble and ours really well invested and at all appreciated when today’s readers expect their books at the price of a pack of potato chips or free?

Happy weekend and best wishes. Neil, Tony, Hugh and Sam at BB

1 comment:

  1. As a BB published author, I can attest to the value of the editorial input I have received from the Bewrite staff. My first novel, A Thousand Beauties, was significantly improved over the course of the editorial and pre-release process. My latest novel, Down, also benefited from the MULTIPLE pre-release manuscript reads that allowed me to identify areas to improve. Less expensive printed books would be nice, but I'll choose quality editorial input over printed cover price every time. So would my readers.