What’s Your Book Production Process and How Is It Working?

Book Production Process Survey The conversation in the minion canteen sometimes takes interesting twists. The other day the authors in the group started discussing the process they use to produce a book. They also discussed which things they pay for, what they do themselves, and those they trade or barter to accomplish. (When we complain about how empty our stomachs are after eating, we’re told how ungrateful we are to have the opportunity to slave for one of the best websites around, so we’ve learned to talk about other things, like writing.) Having nothing to contribute to this discussion and knowing how these things always turn out (the Evil Mastermind or his Enforcer asking “who wants to do a post on this?”) I started taking notes.

When the authors compared their approaches, we ended up with nine different processes used by ten authors. Some use critique groups, some don’t. Some take advantage of beta readers, while others strictly use editors and other professionals as sounding boards when putting the final polish on their books. Where different people are used varies as well. For example, Laurie Boris gets feedback from her critique group while the first draft is still in process whereas Yvonne Hertzberger and Melissa Pearl wait until they’ve finished the first draft and have done their initial rounds of reworking and self editing before looking for feedback from their critique groups. Other minion authors (Melissa Bowersock, for one) don’t use a critique group, but have trusted readers (what many call alpha readers or first readers) who step in once the author feels the book is ready for an initial round of feedback to point out structural or story issues they’ve missed. Jim Devitt sends his novels to his beta readers and his editor at the same time while other authors may use beta readers in their process either before or after the editor gives his or her feedback and corrections.

When it comes to hire, trade, or DIY (do it yourself), I’m sure no one will be surprised that award-winning photographer K.S. Brooks chooses to do her own covers (with help from the EM). And (thankfully) no one claimed they took the DIY route for their copy editing needs. But some (Kathy Rowe, for one) hire an editor while others, like Carolyn Steele, trade or barter for the services of their editors. R.J. Crayton does her own book formatting (as do most of the minions), but some, such as Martin Crosbie, think their time is better spent elsewhere and hire someone for this task. Melinda Clayton, K. S. Brooks, and Lynne Cantwell make video trailers to promote their books. (Others don’t do them and none of the minions who participated in the conversation pay to have this done.) I think I’ve name-checked everyone who took part in the conversation that day, so I’ll move on.

When we realized how much variance there was in how each of the minion authors accomplished the task of going from first draft to release and the initial promotional push, we came to the conclusion that this was the perfect opportunity for a survey. We’re hoping that by asking you, we’ll all get a better feel for the most common approaches and possibly how well each works. To gauge the latter, there are also some questions about your personal goals on your writing journey and how far along you’ve made it on your path to success. Nothing in the survey will allow us to identify any particular person’s answers, so honesty and accuracy of the answers will help us all.

The survey will be open for a month (through February 23, 2015). The more respondents we get, obviously, the more data we’ll have from which to glean results. So, we ask that you spread the word to your fellow authors by sharing this any place you frequent where authors congregate such as writing groups on Facebook and Linkedin, and email loops, or suggest at the next meeting of your critique group that the members drop in and complete the survey once they get home.

The survey is open to any author who has self-published at least one book.


Because some of the terms we use might not be familiar and to make sure of a mutual understanding of what we mean, these definitions are what we’re thinking when these terms are used in the survey.

Critique Group

A group of fellow writers who meet regularly, either in person or possibly via live chat online, to discuss and critique the writing of the other members.


Under this heading are all the steps you take in revising your writing after the first draft other than applying edits specifically suggested by an editor or proofreader. Depending on the complexity of the changes and where it happens in the process, you might also hear this called rewriting or revising.

Beta Reader

A person, typically an avid reader, with the ability to critique a book from that viewpoint.  This is a volunteer rather than someone you hire. If there is any cost it is a gift you choose to give as thanks or a favor done in return. Many times an author will use multiple beta readers to get more perspectives and for the ability to compare and contrast their feedback in deciding how or even whether to make changes in their book based on this feedback.

Alpha Reader or First Reader

An alpha reader is no different in qualifications or lack of pay than a beta reader. Those who use alpha readers typically do this early in their book preparation process to shake out any big issues before passing the book-in-progress on to an editor or a beta reading team. They focus on the big picture: high level structure, completeness of story arc, plot holes, and identifying scenes that don’t work or aren’t needed. An alpha reader is looking at the forest while mostly ignoring the individual trees.

Content Editor

A content editor is a paid professional, although that pay might be accomplished using an exchange or trade of services. A content edit (sometimes called a substantive edit) often serves the same purpose and provides feedback on the same kind of things as an alpha reader. An author who uses both an alpha reader and a content editor would do so to shake out any issues raised by the alpha reader in order to minimize the cost of the content editor (plus the obvious benefit of getting multiple perspectives). A content editor is also more likely to provide ideas for fixing issues found than an alpha reader would be able.

Copy Editor (also called a line editor)

A copy editor focuses on the minutia, making sure that proper spelling and grammar rules are used. Rather than focusing on the forest, the copy editor is looking at the individual trees and even the leaves on each tree to make sure they’re correct (from the individual word up to the paragraph). Some copy editors might provide feedback on bigger picture items they spot, but those big picture items aren’t normally considered part of their job. Like the content editor, the copy editor is a paid professional: someone you provide hard cash or a quid pro quo in trade for their services.


A proofreader performs the final [polishing steps, focusing on strictly technical items, shaking out any remaining spelling, punctuation, and grammar issues missed by the copy editor. Historically the proofreader would compare the final version of the edited manuscript to the proof or test copy of a printed book to uncover any issues introduced during typesetting, but this role has evolved in non-traditional publishing to something slightly different.


Formatting is the process of taking a final edited manuscript (typically, but not always, in a file format used by a word processor), and converting it into the formats needed to publish the book. Typically this would be mobi or other Kindle compatible format plus an epub format. If you’re also releasing a paper version of your book, the formatter would create a file compatible with the needs of your printer or print-on-demand vendor.

ARC Reader

Sending their book to ARC readers (typically several) is used by some authors as a last step before a book’s release. This is normally done when the author believes his or her book is ready for release. That doesn’t preclude these readers providing the author feedback on minor issues (those last few typos that haven’t been eradicated for one) to be used in making final tweaks to the book prior to release.  However, the primary purpose of an ARC reader is the promise of an honest review to be posted as soon as the book is released in exchange for receiving the book for free before it was available to the general public. The primary difference between an ARC reader and a beta reader is the point in the process where they are used.

We estimate that it will take 15-20 minutes for an average author to complete the survey.

Take the survey here:

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

19 thoughts on “What’s Your Book Production Process and How Is It Working?”

  1. I can’t wait to see the results, Al. Thanks for posting.

    A word of wisdom to the ladies who use their husband as a first reader — don’t ever call him your “Alpha”; it will totally go to his head. 😉 Well, maybe you can do it once, if you’re trying to butter him up, “Oh, baby, you’re my big, strong, Alpha!” But, he’ll never forget you uttered those words, so think long and hard.

  2. My publishing process was far shorter than all the steps. I just kept checking published in all the extra boxes. And I go between doing my own covers and paying an artist to do the front cover.

  3. Thanks for all the comments and thanks for all the business you can drum up, Julie. The more people, the better any information gleaned. But as a professional numbers person, you knew that. 🙂

    RJ, now you have me wondering if being a beta reader means I should feel slighted,

    Sandra, I only spotted a handful when I read it. I hope there weren’t many more than that. (If there were, I was so engrossed I didn’t notice them. 🙂 )

  4. Many of my answers are rough estimates. Others could be documented if I went into my records. The figure for promotions is the roughest. It is also the one that will change radica.ly for my upcoming book, where I will spend a good deal less and search out free venues.

    1. Thanks for the comments, Marilynn. I’m sure many of the answers will be estimates, which is why I aimed for wide ranges in the answers. 🙂

  5. If I had an assistant … there would be TWO insane people in this office.
    C’mon Al, big guy – get us those results.

    There was a question missing: “Do you ever reverse the process to fox the enemy?”

  6. For all of you who need an assistant but cannot afford big bucks, use Angela Shirley, from Whatever Needs to Be Done, Inc.

    She’s great! I’ve used her several times; she works on donations! 🙂

    Tell her Lorraine Reguly sent you, too. Just so she knows. She’ll trust you more. 😉

  7. Big Al,

    Nice work on this. Hats off to you and the minions.

    As someone who recently published his first book (since 1979) I was surprised to see your survey was versatile enough to have a place for that information. :o)

    I’ll share your survey / blog post link on my web site and wish you the best.

  8. One source of error: all my figures are in Canadian dollars. I wasn’t about to spend the time doing conversions, and the exchange rate has fluctuated substantially over the past couple of years.

    Also, some services came as a package. For example, one person did my cover design, interior design and e-book conversion. I estimated what those costs might split out as, but I’m not sure.

    It will be interesting to see what comes out.

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