Does an author need a brief? Well if you have asked someone to write some content the answer is yes. Providing a clear informative brief is crucial. It’s how you get to prescribe the content you want and how it needs to be delivered. The author brief gives your expectations in writing. It usually gives more detail than, and is often referred to, in the contract. If you don’t get what you want from your author, for example twice as many pages as you asked for, it gives you some recourse and at least a basis for discussion.
There is a fine balance between a brief which hasn’t got enough detail and one which the reader gives up on. In both cases the author will probably go off and write what they think you want – not necessarily the same as what you actually want!
Even though you will have outlined the purpose of the writing during your initial contact the brief does need an introduction. This should describe the background to the project, what the purpose of the writing is and what it is supposed to do.
This is where you explain the role to the author. The primary role is to produce the content but you should make the author aware of any other tasks that will be expected on top of the writing, such as revising after various reviews and reviewing the proofs.
You should also explain the product, whether it’s going to be two or four colour, the structure of the product, the extent in terms of number of words, and the tone of voice i.e. formal – use of passive voice and third person, informal – active voice and second person. The author also needs to know about the features of the product he/she is producing – what the feature is designed to do, length in approximate number of words. It is great if you can give examples of these. If you have a design you can also share this and show how the features relate to the design. If the product is going to have artworks and/ or images you can say how many and what sort.
In this part of the brief you can explain the workflow and the process. You can also provide some help to make the writing easier, you may want to provide a template to help the author structure their writing and keep to extent. You can also stipulate the format you want the files supplied in. Things like the filename, filename ending and whether you want the whole book in one file or split up into chapters.
Other things to consider are how authors are going to brief artworks and images and the guidelines you need to give around third party permissions. You might consider also whether you want author’s to add the placeholder for the artwork/image into the manuscript. A pet hate of mine is the use of text boxes, so I would ask for them not to use text boxes.
A checklist is a good idea so the author can check their manuscript before they deliver it to you. It might also help to add links into the brief, which take the author to a separate online folder that contains all the information they need. For example to create artwork briefs.
Beware it’s easy to get carried away in this section and it could be the part of the brief where there is too much information and author loses the will. Make sure there is a strong line between what the author and what the editor does.
This is where you give the dates you want the manuscript delivered to you by, otherwise known as the schedule. It is helpful if you can also give other dates, such as when you expect the manuscript to be back from review for revising and dates of proofs if you want the author to do these tasks.
It’s a good idea to ask the author if there are any dates they know they will not be available.
Provide a list of people the author is likely to work with on the project and their roles, together with their contact details.
Now your author will have a comprehensive document with all the information they need to do their writing. The next step is to send the brief to your author and go through it in detail with him or her as there will be areas that are not as clear as you think!
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