Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Things I Didn't Know I Didn't Know About Writing

When I first started on the journey to publication, I thought I'd write a book, sell it, and write another. In my mind, there was nothing between sale and store. Since then, I've learned there are lots of things that have to be done before a story is ready for release. And, to my surprise, the author is involved in much of the process.

If you're working toward publication and don't know much about the process, this might be of interest to you. Please keep in mind, I've only worked with one publishing house. Things vary from publisher to publisher.

Once an author gets 'the call', s/he's in for an exciting and fascinating ride (at least it was to me, but then it doesn't take much to fascinate me :0)). First, there's the revision letter. Most authors get them. A few, like Brenda Coulter, don't have to revise. Some, like me, are asked to make some major changes. What do I consider major changes? Rewriting a heroes background and characterization, changing a major plot thread. Anything that requires revising most (and maybe even all) scenes in the book. Depending on the scope of revisions required, you and your editor will choose a date by which the revised manuscript will be ready. For a fresh perspective on that, check out Brenda has just finished some major revisions, and I'm sure she'd be happy to share her experience. While you're working on revisions, your editor may ask you to brainstorm new titles, create a bio, and write a reader letter.

After you've sweated bullets over revisions, you'll print the completed product, save the revised manuscript to disk, package your baby up, and send it out. Then you're on to the next step of the journey.

While your editor reviews your changes, you'll begin work on an art fact sheet (at least you will if you write for Harlequin, I'm not sure the process in other publishing houses). This requires coming up with a short synopsis, character descriptions, themes, and several scene descriptions that the art department can use to create a cover for your book. Once you get your editor's approval on this, she'll send it to the art department where work will begin.

Meanwhile, a copyeditor is going over your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. She's marking it up with all kinds of copyedit symbols (that can really freak you out if you're like me and have no knowledge of such things). Other things are being checked as well. Did you say it was dawn on one page and then have a scene set at dusk? Did you use a brand name? Are there inconsistencies in the time-line? If so, there will be notes in the margin of your manuscript.

And then you get your baby back. Printed out, marked up, with plenty of questions you need to answer. Your job will be to go through, answer the questions, and look for anything that might have been missed by the two or three people who've already looked at the manuscript. Once again, you have a specific time-frame that you must work within.

Once again, your manuscript makes its journey back to the publishing house.

And once again it is returned to you. This time it's been set up for printing. Each line of text is numbered. Your job is to read the story as if it were a book, checking for spelling errors, grammatical errors, missing words, wrong words. At this point, you won't be making any major changes. You're simply looking for printer errors, or errors of your own...maybe you've used a character's name five times in one paragraph and want to change it. Generally, you'll have ten days to two weeks to look for these kind of errors.

Once again, you'll package your manuscript up and send it out. The book is now in production. The art department is creating a stellar cover, your editor has worked up a back cover blurb.

You wait.

When your manuscript is returned to you for the last time, it will no longer be a pile of white paper, but a beautifully bound book, the shiny cover proclaiming its name...and yours. Receiving advanced copies is the thrilling conclusion to the ride. Soon, you'll be heading to the bookstores, searching for the book that you, the editorial team, and the art department have created.


Sabrina L. Fox said...

Best post yet, Shirlee. Wow, how imformative. I have a friend who's published with LI and I asked her some questions about the way they do things. Sheesh, you covered everything and more. Love seeing this side of the business.

I've been busy working on my ms this week. I'm changing the tense to see if it reads better. It's a lot of work, but it's been fun to see the book with a different voice. Anyway, thanks again for the insight.

Shirlee McCoy said...

I'm curious. What tense are you using?