Six essential sections of an editorial brief
Updated: Oct 6, 2022
Editorial briefs. I’ve seen a lot of them. Anyone who has been working in the industry for a while probably has personal preferences about what should go in a brief and how it should be structured. There are no rules. Some people create their own and some publishing companies have templates that all of their staff use.
However, over time I have developed a briefing template that contains six sections that I believe all briefs should include. Here I’m going to break them down. At the end of this page you’ll find a link to a briefing template you can use for your projects.
1. Key project details
All briefs should begin with the key details of the project. This should include:
The project ISBN
The extent of the manuscript
Numbers of artworks and photos
You should also detail what you are sending in the package to your freelancer. It's not often that the only item in the package is the manuscript itself. The manuscript could be in separate documents – if it is, list the number of them. (It’s not unheard of for a document to be missed during editing.) But you will also probably send ancillary documents, such as a house style guide.
Listing all the items sent is important because it will help the freelancer to check whether they have received everything. Perhaps you meant to send them the house style guide, but have forgotten to attach it. If you list it in your brief, then the freelancer has an opportunity to notice that it is missing and query its absence. If it isn’t listed, they might never realise that there was a set list of styles they should have been following during the edit.
It is also a good idea to include a list of any missing material. If any items are missing, list dates when you expect to be able to hand them over to the freelancer.
2. Title background
In this section, you could write a short narrative detailing the purpose of your product. This can really help a freelancer to understand who the target reader is. If you have information on target markets, this can also be useful to include.
Here is an example:
This book is for the AQA GCSE Geography course, which is designed for students in the UK, aged 14 to 16 years. This is a second edition title, but there have been extensive changes since the previous edition. We estimate about 40% of the material has changed during the curriculum change. For this reason, all content will be supplied in Word and all of it should be checked as new.
Depending on the level of work being carried out, you might also want to include a contents list and a breakdown of any series features. For a multi-author work, you could detail which author has worked on which section. These details are often available in the author brief, if you have access to it.
3. Editing tasks
This is the main body of the brief in which you should detail the editing to be carried out. Many companies have proforma briefs now. As standard, they include obvious checks such as checking spelling and grammar, checking headings and checking editorial consistency.
For every project, this list should be checked and amended. Yes, for every project. Some items that are listed as standard may not always be relevant and could be omitted. There might also be ways in which your project deviates from the norm. Perhaps it is usual to include a check for all references, but in this case they have already been checked by a reviewer. Never assume that all checks are necessary.
It’s also not a good idea to keep all checks in at every stage of copyediting and proofreading. It’s tempting to include everything, because the more people who check everything, the better, surely? But no. In fact you could be paying a freelancer to re-check work already done when their time might be better spent addressing issues that haven’t yet been dealt with.
Finally, make sure you include directions about how you want your freelancer to carry out the work. Will they be working on paper? (Unlikely, these days.) Do they need to prepare the manuscript for the typesetter? If yes, how should they do so – by using text tags or by styling the manuscript? How the work should be done is just as important as what should be done.
4. Known issues
In this section you should detail any items that you know need attention during the edit. For example, the author might have used initial capital letters in headings, when the series style calls for sentence case. During your check of the manuscript, you should take note of any such issues so that you can list them on the brief.
For later briefing stages, you might have information on issues provided by previous copyeditors or proofreaders. You could highlight that information here.
It’s very rare for a manuscript to arrive without any issues at all. After all, what would be the point of a freelancer checking it if there weren’t any? But editors or project managers don’t always have time to fill in this section. Freelancers should notify their contact if they do find any specific issues, so that they can be dealt with and/or added to future briefs.
5. Query resolution
This is a short section of any editorial brief, but a vital one. Queries can be handled in several different ways. Your freelancer could:
send you/the author queries as and when they arise
send you/the author queries at specific intervals, e.g. halfway through or by a specific date
hold on to all queries until the end of the edit and send them to you as comments on the Word manuscript
hold on to all queries until the end of the edit and send them to you as one separate list.
This is merely a selection of the possible options. Perhaps you want all queries to go through you; perhaps they should go through the author. In any case, tell your freelancer how you want queries to be resolved.
6. How the freelancer will get paid
Even if it isn’t the first time a freelancer has worked for you, the payment method might have changed since they last worked for you. You should always include details of how a freelancer should expect to be paid. These include:
What information to include on an invoice, such as the relevant company address (some large companies have several addresses) and whose contact name to include – if you’re working in a freelance capacity, this might not be you
Who to send the invoice to when it’s ready and in what format – often they must be in PDF form to be accepted
How long it usually takes for the invoice to be processed and paid
When they can invoice – at the end of the project or at agreed milestones
Any other pertinent information, such as purchase order requirements.
Below you can download a free copy of my editorial briefing template. It’s a Word document, so you can adapt it for your own projects and start using it straight away.