While working on it, I was chatting one day with the lovely French book blogger, Fairy Neverland, and she asked why it takes so long between completing the first draft (which, for me, happened in early April), and publication (which in the UK will be in January 2013).
This struck me as a great blog subject since all the behind-the-scenes work in publishing is pretty mysterious unless you’re right in the middle of it.
So here’s why it all takes AGES.
First write the damn book
For most people, writing the first draft takes a long time. I take between four and five months to write a solid first draft. As soon as that draft is ready I send it to my agent and my lead editor, who is Sam Smith at Atom/Little Brown.
They both read it and give me their feedback. Because editors are busy and have to schedule this in, this can take anywhere from a few weeks to a month. This, in my opinion, is the worst part. Waiting to hear back from your editor – it’s horrendous. What if they don’t like it? What if your book totally sucks? This is when self-doubt dances a merry jig on your subconscious.
It would be wonderful if my editor came back to me and said, ‘Your manuscript is perfect. I wouldn’t change a word.’ But I’m pretty sure that never happens.
Instead, what happens is you get the first round of edit notes. These are (sometimes lengthy) lists of weaknesses in the manuscript. Places where it need work. Things you could do to make it more believable, dramatic, sexy or exciting. Characters that need work.
My edit notes for the first draft of Night School: Legacy were three double-spaced pages.
So it goes. Then I sat down to do the second draft.
The joy and heartache of revising
Now, I am clearly not a well person because I really like revising. Once I’ve got constructive criticism and solid input, I’m happy. I use a paper copy of my manuscript (Sorry trees!) three highlighters, a box of colourful post-its and page flags and, using the edit notes, I mark every page that needs work.
This is fun.
It’s important to say that writers don’t always agree with their edit notes. There were things in the edit notes for Legacy that I thought couldn’t possibly be right. How could the amazing football scene be boring? How could my brilliant chapter eleven drag?!
I just couldn’t see it. Until I reached that point in my revision. Then, no matter how I tarted up the football scene it slowed the pace. Characters weren’t developed. Plot wasn’t progressed. It was just… there.
I actually stopped to write my editor an email that day to tell her how clever she is.
And so it went. Based on her suggestions and my own ideas, I added transitions here, bigged up a character there, added more motivation here, more suspense there. Cut things that my editor said didn’t work, added new, more exciting things instead.
The whole thing took about five weeks.
Third time’s a charm
Now I’ve sent the revised manuscript off to my editor to read again. She will most likely have a second – hopefully shorter – round of edit notes for me after that. We are planning to discuss it over margaritas. Because that is a good idea.
My next revision will be faster – I usually spend no more than two or three weeks on a third revision.
So now we’re looking at, say, the end of July.
Are we there yet?
If she loves that revision – and she will – next we do line edits. This is when she goes through the manuscript making notes line-by-line. For this edit you’re looking at words that don’t work, phrases that are overused or out of place, continuity errors… Anything that doesn’t fit and could take the reader out of the story.
My manuscript is more than four hundred pages, each page has, let’s say, fifty lines. So this is time consuming and fiddly. I usually spend a little over a week on it.
It is magical to me that changing one word can make such a huge difference. But it is absolutely true. One word can take a character from cardboard cut-out to living breathing vibrancy. And vice versa.
Surely that’s all…
So now in our timeline it’s the middle of August at the very earliest. At this point the manuscript is sent to a copy editor. This is an editor who’s never seen the book before and so comes to it with fresh eyes.
This editor will look for typos, continuity errors, language problems, grammar mistakes… All the usual writer bugbears.
These edits are made on paper and the manuscript is sent to me. I then go over it all and decide which edits to keep and which to drop. Sometimes copy editors are not comfortable with colloquialisms, slang and so forth. On the first manuscript, the copy editor changed every mention of “cops” to “police”.
It was kind of sweet.
Anyway. I changed those back.
In September at the earliest, the manuscript is sent to a proofreader. Another pair of fresh eyes to look for anything all the rest of us missed. Believe it or not? They do find things.
Again the changes are made on paper and sent to me for my final sign-off.
I send back any changes, along with things like the bio, acknowledgements and dedication.
And then I can focus full time on Book Three!