How to publish a book: Developing

I’m a publisher at Cambridge University Press and I’ve written a blog post on the traditional process of publishing a book. I’ve split this blog post into three parts – planning, designing and developing. This is part three.

Developing a book

Once the planning and designing phases are complete, we then move on to actually developing the book – writing, editing and layout. Depending on the amount of work spent on the earlier phases, this could be a relatively straightforward process.


After developing a detailed book-plan and, if needed, a writing template it’s now over to the author to work their magic and write a manuscript. Note – if this is a creative work, such as a novel or collection of poems, then the manuscript is the first thing that gets written, particularly in the case of self-publishers. 

There are many books and blog posts written about the craft of writing (and I may add my two cents on the matter in another blog post), but the main thing to be aware of, particularly when writing educational material, is try to track the number of agreed pages as closely as possible. It’s a difficult task for an editor to trim content while keeping meaning. The second issue, and perhaps more difficult to get right, is to ensure you write at the language of the learner. A primary school reader will have a very different grasp of the English language to a working professional. The author must be aware of word usage and line length and pitch their writing to the correct level. This is something an editor can assist with fixing but it much easier to get this correctly done during the writing process. 


Most people have some experience editing. When you check an email for clarity or remove words from a Tweet, you are editing. Likewise, if you compile reports as part of your job or have completed a course at university or college, you have been an editor. There are also some great AI-style editing tools available these days – I’ll write a separate post about my experience with these. In book publishing the editor’s role is expanded. They are responsible for editing in the traditional sense of the word – checking language, spelling and meaning of the text and making changes to improve this. On top of this, they also check the manuscript against the book-plan to ensure all the required material has been written. The editor will contact the author if any clarification is required or additional content needed. If they spot any text extracts they’ll flag these to be cleared (more on permissions below). The manuscript will then be styled according to the stylesheet provided by the designer, based on the design spec.

This edited and styled manuscript is sent for typesetting, along with any images or illustrations. The editor will check proofs, or sets of pages as we like to call them, and mark-up changes or corrections for the setter to implement. We’d generally go through at least three sets of pages until the editor is satisfied with the way the book looks and happy to send it to the proofreader for final checking.

A note on permissions

I’m a firm believer in fair use when it comes to re-using text extracts in books and a proponent of Creative Commons for licensing intellectual property. However, when it comes to the law, it’s pretty clear on what is required. When publishing a book, any extracts from other books, newspapers, magazines, blog posts or websites need to be cleared for reproduction from the intellectual property owner. Normally they will require information on the book such as the title, ISBN, territories it will be available in, retail price and print run. They will then decide whether they are happy with you using the extract in your publication and whether they require a fee (generally negotiable – ask!).  

Illustrations and images

Depending on your budget and size of team, artwork commissioning can be done by the editor or publisher or by a specialist development editor. For authors self-publishing this is a relatively easy task to do yourself, particularly if you are very familiar with the subject matter. A list of artwork (images or illustrations required) is generally compiled by the author, including captions. They list where in the manuscript the artwork needs to go along with a detailed brief. This brief should state whether an illustration or image is required and then provide as much detail as possible on what is contained in this artwork. If an image was required, then this will be sourced from an image library such as Getty Images for a fee. Alternatively, there are many free image libraries available as well. On rare occasions, a photographer is commissioned to take photographs. This is, however, a costly process, particularly if you have models involved who will need a free to sign model release form. If an illustration is required, then the editor sends a brief to the illustrator. The illustrator sends sketches of the illustration or ‘roughs’ to the editor, who checks that everything required is represented. A final image, in  full-colour, is then sent through for approval, ready for typesetting. 

Typesetting and layout

Any artwork, together with the design spec and edited and styled manuscript, is sent to the typesetter to lay out the book. This is the first time the book looks like a ‘real book’. Once the setter has completed the initial layout, first pages are sent through to be checked by the editor. At this point no images or illustrations have been inserted and the editor needs to cut any text that is “over-run”, that is too much text for the space available on the page. Once the editor has marked-up any changes or corrections on the PDF, this is sent back to the setter, who then implements the corrections, adds the images and sends back second pages to the editor. Final corrections are fixed and the book is now at third pages and ready for the proofreader.


When an editor is working closely with a book, a number of small errors slip into the text. The proofreader provides a second eye to check the manuscript and flag any small errors. They check the spelling and grammar of the text, look at captions of images, see whether all the key words have been added to the glossary, check the page numbering on the table of content and see that the book makes sense as a whole. In some cases, particularly for educational books, they will check all material is covered according to the book-plan. Any final issues picked up by the proofreader are implemented and the book is now ready for print.

See some examples of proofreaders’ markups below.

Cover design

A book is unfortunately judged by its cover. However, it is simple to make a compelling cover that portrays what the book is about and encourage readers to make that purchase. Follow these steps:

  • On the front cover, include the title of the book, the author’s name as well as the publisher’s logo or branding. Use a simple, clear font for the text
  • Select an image that conveys the content on the book and place this the full-lenght of the front cover. The image can be sourced from Getty Images or one of the free image libraries
  • On the back cover include the book’s blurb, highlighting the key features of the book
  • Generate a barcode linked to the ISBN and place this on the back cover

The publisher briefs the designer on the cover requirements, suggesting colours and potential images. The cover designed would circulate through the marketing and publishing departments until everyone is satisfied with it. If you are self-publishing, online applications such as Canva are excellent tools to use to design a cover.

See some examples of covers below.

Ready to print

Once your book has been signed off by the editor and publisher, and a cover designed, it is ready to be sent to the printers. The book files are used to print off a proof which is sent to the publisher to check that the colours are as expected, that the pages follow consecutively and that no gremlins have jumped into the book. This is the final time the publisher will see the book before it appears in the warehouse or shop. Once approved, the printer presses the go button and the book is printed. You have now published your book!

I hope you enjoyed my blog posts on the book publishing process. Let me know in the comments if anything is unclear or if there are areas you’d like me to expand on. I’m writing a few more blog posts on publishing, but these will be specifically focused on educational books.

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