One of the things that I often seem to discuss with new authors – or authors who have just made their first sale – is their productivity. That’s how much they write per day, per week, per year, and it’s important because deadlines are always set by the author. So, the author needs to know how long it will take him/her to write a book, because that author needs to give the house a delivery date.
And the author needs to be right.
This is tough to figure out because new authors often don’t know how long it will take them to write another book – if they’ve made the sale on one complete book manuscript, and the deal includes two more that are mere gleams in the eye, well, that first complete ms might have taken years of writing and editing and revising to get to a publishable state. The next one will take less time – one hopes! – but how much less time is tough to calculate. Or estimate.
The other complicating factor is that a published author doesn’t just write new books. There’s all sorts of other stuff to be done by the author, which is part of the process. We won’t talk about promotion today, as that is another kettle of fish altogether. Just the process of turning the book manuscript into a finished book – the production cycle – requires regular input from the author. A lot of new authors don’t realize that and don’t allocate time for it.
So, let’s talk about that cycle. The first thing that may happen when a book is acquired or delivered is a revision. Once upon a time, smaller changes or tweaks were done in the next phase of the production cycle, but increasingly, it’s seen as ideal to send the book from Editorial into Production in as perfect a state as possible. There are usually revisions now on every book, although they may be quite small. Typically, the ms may be sent back to the author with queries, or there may be a revision letter listing the queries. All questions raised by the editor must be addressed by the author.
The author can have a lot of time to address these or a little bit of time, depending on what publication slot has been assigned to the book. As a rule of thumb, the book ms must leave Editorial and go into Production 11 or 12 months before the publication date. There is some wiggle room on this, and the amount of wiggle can vary from house to house. When the author receives the revision letter, he or she will be given a delivery date (typically if the changes are minor) or asked for a delivery date (typically if the changes are substantial). Again, the author’s projected delivery date should end up being right.
But that’s not the end of it. The ms will come back to the author about 8 weeks after he/she sends it back. This next stage is called the copy-edited ms, because it has been reviewed by a freelance copy editor. The copy editor is an extra pair of eyes, hired to check grammar, spelling, punctuation, continuity and adherence to house style. The copy editor inserts typesetting codes – for italic type, for example, and for chapter headers – and asks questions about elements of the story that are unclear. The author is given a deadline – often 10 days or so – to review the copy editor’s comments, answer the questions, and return the manuscript to the editor. The editor will review the copy edited ms and the author’s changes, then pass the manuscript back to Production.
(Bear in mind that any shipping costs associated with this process will be borne by whoever is sending the ms – so the house will pay the cost to overnight the copy edit to the author, and the author will pay to overnight it back to the house. It is typical to use express services that require a signature for delivery.)
About 8 weeks after that, the book ms lands on the author’s porch again. These are page proofs, or galleys, which are pages that look exactly like the pages in the finished book. For a mass market paperback, each sheet of paper displays a two page spread – page 2 on the left and page 3 on the right, for example – exactly as if you had opened the finished book out flat. Again, the author is given an assigned time period to review the page proofs, which is the last opportunity to make changes to the finished book. (If Advanced Reading Copies are made, they will be made of the uncorrected page proofs.) The idea is that there should be very very few changes in page proofs. It doesn’t always work out that way.
The next time the author sees the book, it will be a finished book. We haven’t talked about cover consultation – in which the author shares ideas for the cover illustration – or cover copy – for which some houses expect the author to write the first draft, while others expect the author to review their copy and make suggestions – or all the other production issues that can fall on the author’s plate. There’s more to do than just write!
Murphy – of Murphy’s Law fame – is alive and well in the publishing business, or at least in my corner of it. It never fails that copy edits or page proofs turn up when I’m going to conference – and are due either before departure, before return, or at the conference itself. I’m not sure how many times I’ve met one of my editors live at a conference and the first time we’ve done is pass edits one way or the other. It’s that common. If you write for two houses, these things will turn up simultaneously, due on the same day, even if the release dates are months apart. (You’ll get copy edits from one and page proofs from the other, for example.) If you are pushing deadline and within a hair of making it, edits will hit the porch, needing to be done first and thereby casting the timely book delivery into jeopardy. It’s inevitable.
The editing process is also very intense. Many authors find it upsetting. It’s a challenge to consider your own work in unemotional terms – far easier to simply mark everything STET and ignore the copy editor’s input – but that is the point of the process. Every book can be made better, and the production process is designed to send each book into the world at its best. OTOH, it eats time.
For about the last ten years, I have allocated two days to each phase of the process – two working days for a copy edit, or two for page proofs. They’re intense days, long days, days fit to melt my eyeballs. I read the complete ms at least three times in those two days. The long days leave me completely wiped out, but focussing so tightly on that book and nothing else diminishes the chances that I will miss anything. My brain is full of that one book, those characters and that story, and all the ins and outs of continuity. I think about nothing else for two days, then I send it back and move on. (Generally, I move down to the kitchen and pour myself a glass of wine!)
So, that’s what happened to my blog post yesterday. I had two sets of edits this week, and learned that doing two two-days stints back to back really does melt my eyeballs. (That would explain those two icky puddles on my desk.) I was on the big push to get done and had nothing bloggish to share – it might have been a soliloquy on the merit of sentence fragments, which would have bored you all to tears.
Today, it’s back to the mip. I need to get Niall back into my imagination, so I can carry on with writing his story this weekend. Deadline for Dragonfire #5 isn’t that far away!