Art History Authors: How to Hire a Copy Editor and Prepare Your Manuscript for Publication

 In Academic Clients

If you are in the early stages of your research in art history, learning about the editorial and publishing process can help you take your publication through the necessary steps faster and save you mental energy. Editing professionals are your allies; their goal is to help the author understand the publishing process and find the right place for the manuscript. Your understanding of the market, target readers, budgets, and publishing process stages is also essential. It will help you cooperate better with all the parties involved to create the book or the article you and your readers want to see.

How do acquisitions editors work in art history?

Acquisitions editors work for university presses and publishing companies. They evaluate manuscripts for their ability to sell, meet the market demand, and add an original take on the subject. You can get in touch with acquisitions editors at College Art Association conferences, art book fairs, through LinkedIn, or by sending cold emails. To assess funding options, production costs, and book performance after the publication, they need to see a strong book proposal.

What does a book proposal include?

✔ A summary of the book’s argument or a statement of aims (200 words)
✔ A list of the main competing books
✔ Your definition of the target market
✔ The length of the manuscript
✔ The number of color images
✔ The number of black-and-white images
✔ A blurb
This is a brief statement for librarians who make purchasing decisions but may not be subject matter experts in art history.
✔ Chapter headings and detailed summaries of chapters
Here, you explain your methodology, describe the tone and book category, outline your research schedule, and include target chapter lengths. Optional: include 1–2 chapter drafts.

When drafting your book summary, focus on answering these questions:

What is the book about?
What questions does it answer?
How is it different from similar publications in its niche?
What does it add to the existing body of work?

What should I know before contacting acquisitions editors?

Start by reviewing some book proposals written by your colleagues. To research a publisher, look at their catalog, but remember that they may be currently developing new topics that are not yet reflected in the catalog.

Find out more about the publisher’s audience. This may be international scholars, scholars in particular countries or regions, or predominantly undergraduate and graduate students. Find out about the series they are developing. The series may be a place for more urgent and timely topics that can be covered in shorter publications under 50,000 words. Brainstorm what would be the right place for your book (a specific series, a specific publisher, self-publishing, or even digital publishing).

Consider the length of your book project. Many editors expect the traditional length of up to 90,000 words with 50-60 images. Acquisitions editors estimate book length in words, not pages. If your book is longer than 90,000 words and has more than 50 images (especially in color), the acquisitions editor may be able to recommend ways to secure funding through grants to cover additional production costs.


What should I know about image permissions for art history publications?

In the early stages of planning your manuscript, consider the images you want to use.

How many of them must be in color?
How many can be black-and-white? What is their size?
Can you rely on fair use practices or do you need to clear the rights?

As an author, you are responsible for seeking and obtaining image permissions. Prices vary and the application process may take months. Discuss your image plans with your publisher. Be prepared to use only the necessary images and never refer (in the text) to an image that will not be included in the book; this may confuse the reader. Learn about the four criteria for claiming academic fair use. Your publisher may help you prepare fair use claims.

Another convenient option is to use the photographs you personally took for your research. Document all image origins (author, date, location, publication, and URL).

Learn about the public domain and two copyright systems in the U.S. A work of art may be in the public domain, but the image rights may belong to the right owners. While most museum images may be used under the creative commons license, you need to know when permissions are required. Due diligence and image logs will be an important part of our book planning process.

High-resolution images owned by a museum, gallery, or library may cost $50–$100/image or higher if a new scan is required, not including permissions fees.

When requesting permissions, request them for all languages worldwide (in case your book will be translated into other languages in the future). You must obtain and check all the permissions before the book goes into the production process. If the image rights owner eventually denies permission to use an image that was already placed in a published book, it obviously cannot be taken out of the book and the whole publication may be compromised.

Plan images for the cover design and keep notes on some symbols or color themes that may not be appropriate for your subject matter, to alert book cover designers in the future.

Resources on image rights:

Read Permissions, A Survival Guide by Susan M. Bielstein.

For additional funding for image rights and color printing, consider your doctoral research fund, grants by niche associations in your field, Getty Foundation’s grants, or CAA grants: Wyeth Foundation for American Art Publication Grant, Millard Meiss Publication Fund, or Terra Foundation for American Art International Publication Grant.

Review CAA’s materials on fair use.

In Canada, you may look into Awards to Scholarly Publications Program by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Canada Book Fund, and grants by Canada Council for the Arts.

As a book author in art history, what costs will I incur?

Illustrated book production fees can range from $2,500 to $20,000. The author is usually financially responsible for image permissions, image scans, copyediting, indexing, and proofreading. The publisher will help provide the estimates and inform you about grant opportunities. Some publishers may help you prepare grant applications, depending on grant requirements.

What happens after I send my book proposal?

Two or three anonymous peer reviewers will review your proposal and sample chapters. This may take up to three months. You will receive feedback and ideas for the next steps. Take several days to review the comments. If your book project is not the right fit for a specific publisher, their acquisitions editors may recommend and introduce you to other colleagues and publishers you could contact. Network actively through LinkedIn, conferences, and niche associations in your field to find the right place for your book.

How do I propose an academic article for an art history journal?

When writing a journal article, start by choosing a scholarly journal where you would like to be published and read several issues. Check which journals publish the authors you read regularly. Create an outline for your proposed article. Contact journal editors and inquire if your article is a good fit. Explore themed issues that are planned by various journals on an annual basis or as special issues.

Create a spreadsheet of journals you would like to follow and connect with their editors on LinkedIn or via email. Speak with librarians at your university for additional ideas. Network with your colleagues and share knowledge of journals and publication opportunities.

Use to verify a journal and protect yourself against fraud or predatory publishing practices.

Listen to this workshop on scholarly articles with Emily D. Shapiro, executive editor of the scholarly journal American Art. 

I am a graduate student in art history. Am I allowed to work with an outside copyeditor?

First, check with your graduate advisor and reread your university’s policy on academic integrity and research practices. Some supervisors may allow you to work with an outside copyeditor, perhaps by indicating certain limits or expectations. Some universities may offer writing and editing assistance through their Writing Center; others may even encourage students to seek outside assistance.

Copyeditors are your allies in the writing process; their goal is to ensure that your work is in line with all the expectations of the target readers and the institutions you are affiliated with. Always check with your institution to comply with all requirements. Here are the Guidelines for Ethical Editing of Student Texts by Editors Canada.

Once my book proposal is accepted, what is the production process like in art history?

You will be working with your publisher’s in-house team and a team of freelancers. Acquisitions editor and editorial assistant work with you on ensuring that your book is the right fit for the market and the target audience.

Once the book is accepted, the managing editor takes over. The managing editor oversees copy editors, proofreaders, and indexers. The production manager oversees book designers. You will work together with the production manager and the book designer to coordinate the size and placement of illustrations as well as cover design.

The marketing manager strategizes book sales, and the publicist will secure media coverage. These two professionals will help you develop your marketing plan, including social media and book promotion before and after the publication. This may include launching a website, starting a blog about your upcoming book, and using Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social channels to reach your readers. You may also work on creating a video book trailer. It is a good idea to update your author bio, CV, and your page on your employer’s website to highlight your upcoming book.


What levels of editing and types of editors are there?

Developmental editors focus on content and organization. They may help you with structuring your argument, (re)organizing chapters, and checking larger ideas for logic, flow, and coherence.

Line editors focus on writing style, tone, voice, word choice, clarity, concision, and sentence structure issues. They will help you eliminate repetition, tighten the sentences, and ensure the most effective phrasing for your target reader.

Copyeditors focus on consistency of style, grammar, punctuation, layout, and accuracy of graphs, charts, images, and citations.

Proofreaders focus on the errors that may have been introduced in layout; they will check graphics and page numbers. Major edits to content cannot occur at this stage as they may disrupt the layout and the publishing schedule.

Indexers will review your manuscript and compile an index to make the search easy for your reader. When submitting your manuscript to an indexer, consider including a list of terms and concepts that may not be obvious to them. You have a better knowledge of your subject and target audience, and a list of such terms will help the indexer achieve more for you.

For more information, consult Definitions of Editorial Skills by Editors Canada.

How long does it take to publish a book?

The length of a book production process varies by publisher. On average, you can expect it to take 15+ months, with each stage—copyediting; design; proofreading and indexing; printing and shipping—taking 3–4 months.

How much do copyediting services cost?

If you want to hire a freelance copy editor, familiarize yourself with the rates and page estimates. A page is defined as 250 words. Professional editors charge hourly or by word. Some levels of editing (such as developmental and line editing) take longer than copyediting and proofreading, and the editor’s speed will differ.

For the latest industry rates in USD, consult this chart by Editorial Freelancers Association.

For rates in CAD, consult the Editors Canada page on what editors charge.

What are the payment terms for an art history copyedit?

Once a line editor or a copy editor reviews your manuscript or sample, they will send you an estimate (costs and time commitment). They will also discuss the editing strategy with you to ensure that both of you work as a team in the service of your reader. Most editors require a deposit (usually 50%), and you can expect to pay the remaining fee before receiving the final edited version.

What should I know about using editing agencies for my art history articles and book chapters?

Editing agencies screen and hire editors as contractors. Most agencies require an editing test and an advanced degree. They may match authors with academic editors who specialize in the same discipline. However, direct contact with your editor is usually limited since you are working through a provider. Before you sign up, review what the agency’s freelancers and past clients have said about it on Glassdoor, Trustpilot, Better Business Bureau, and within the community of editors.

Editing is a supportive process where you may be learning new information about the industry, language, writing, and the publishing process. If having a good relationship and direct email contact with your editor is important to you, you may choose to work with an editor directly. This would also offer you additional (and ongoing) networking opportunities where you can gain insights about the publishing industry and get referrals for other services you may need for your publication. A personalized approach goes a long way in helping you achieve your long-term goals.

Editorial associations like Editorial Freelancers Association, Editors Canada, and Association of Art Editors have directory listings for their members.

What should I know about hiring and working with a freelance art history editor?

To begin, you will send your copy editor a sample text or a larger manuscript portion for assessment. They will estimate the fees and time commitment. You can discuss your target audience, schedule, and editing approach. An editor may also do a free or paid test to show you how they work. This is usually a segment of the text that takes no more than one hour of the editor’s time (3–5 pages).

Once you make a deposit, the editor will create a style sheet (or use and expand yours), send you the edited files (a copy with Tracked Changes on and a clean copy), and list their comments and suggestions in an additional letter to help you work through the edits.

What is the relationship with an art history copy editor like?

An editor supports you in your goal to deliver the best quality of writing for your intended readers. From the readers’ perspective, the editor will be making comments to help you achieve a better level of clarity and coherence. The two of you work together in the service of your reader. In the best of author-editor relationships, egos do not interfere.

As the author, you have the final say on edits while the editor only proposes ways to improve the text and is always able to explain the logic behind their suggested changes. Before you begin, the two of you can agree on the style sheet and the scope of edits. The author is responsible for any errors in the publication.

Additional Resources: 

Ask UP, a site run by the Association of University Presses, is dedicated to explaining university press work processes.

Directory of art publishers

About the author:

Tanya Mykhaylychenko is the owner and operator of providing resume writing and copyediting services to job seekers, academic professionals, and businesses.

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