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  • Writer's pictureSarah Lustig

How to write an author writing brief

Last month I discussed the ways to set up a new project for success. I wanted to follow on from that by looking in detail at one of the key early ingredients for success: the author writing brief.

Writing an author brief from scratch can feel like a daunting task. There are a lot of elements to include. You don’t want to miss any, but you also don’t want to overwhelm the author with more information than they can digest.

Let’s look at the key points to cover to ensure you give just enough information to start the author off. I will also give you shortcuts to help you re-purpose existing content, instead of starting everything from scratch.

1. Overview and contents list

It’s useful to begin with a short introduction to the project. This is a good place to remind the author of the target market, so they can focus on the product’s key selling points. You should also include a list of contents for the book covering:

  • preliminary pages, such as an introduction

  • main chapters

  • endmatter, such as a glossary

If there is more than one author on the project, make it clear which author is contributing to which parts.

A version of this introductory text has likely already been created as part of the proposal paperwork to sign off the project. You can adapt that for use in this section.

All of this information can also be useful later in the project, when other members of the team can use it to brief freelancers.

2. Series features

The author will need a comprehensive list of the series features for the book. If the book is part of an established series then this information can be found in the introduction of an existing book.

Make sure you adapt the text to make it relevant to the author. You might want to include:

  • the target word counts of each feature

  • their placement in the text, for example in the page margins or at the start of a chapter

  • how often they should appear (e.g. once per chapter or page)

Don’t forget to include any new features that might be new to this book.

3. Special requirements

You may not need this section. It's a place to capture any special writing requirements that are specific to the target market.

I've worked on author contracts that include requirements around terminology – using terms that match those on the curriculum. Or the author might need to think of the language level of their reader. You can also use this section to address equality, diversity and inclusion.

If there has been any customer feedback that affects the writing of the book, you could add it here.

4. R&P guidelines

Brevity is really important in this section. The author brief is not the place to impart vast guidelines about rights and permissions. Any substantial guides should be added as appendices and just the main points should be covered in the brief itself.

This section should cover:

  • artworks

  • photos

  • text permissions

  • any other forms of permissions

Tell the author how to brief their artworks and photos. Will they select photos themselves? And if yes, from where? Give them specific photo libraries. Make it clear whether they should leave artwork briefs in the manuscript or put them in a separate document.

Don’t forget to include the budgeted numbers of R&P items.

5. Workflow and contacts

It is important to outline for the author what will happen after they have submitted their manuscript. Make sure they know what the publishing workflow is (a first-time author won’t necessarily know) and how they fit into it.

The author may need to make time to deal with copyediting queries and possibly also to look at proofs. Agree in advance which stages they will contribute to and, if the dates aren’t available to go into the brief, share them as soon as possible afterwards.

It’s also helpful to give the author information about who will be working on which parts of the project, for example who the designer will be. That way they know who to contact at each stage.

Final tips

Brevity and clarity are the most important features of an author brief. Ask yourself how long you think the author might spend reading it. Realistically, they want to get on with writing. The brief should empower them to do so.

Put in a mini contents list at the start of the brief, so that the author can skim read to start with and then later use the contents to navigate to sections that will answer their questions. Giving the document structure with numbered headings will help with this.

Once you have a brief that you're happy with, it will save you time in the long term because you can adapt it for future projects. As you get more experience writing them, you can keep refining your template.


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