There are a lot of things I wish I’d known early on in my writing career. Like many folks, I assumed I just put words on paper, let an editor clean it up, then sit back and wait for it to arrive on bookshelves.
Well, that’s not the case.
For starters, writing a book takes a long time. A very long time. At times, it felt like an Ice Age was faster than putting new words on paper.
At my peak for Paranormal Chaos, I was putting down 2000 words a day, 5 days a week. Sometimes I’d write on weekends, but the weekly goal was 10,000 words. PC initially clocked in at a little over 90,000 words, so that’s 9 straight weeks of new words. Basically, just over 2 months to build all new concept. That’s AFTER I’d outlined and toyed with ideas.
I’ve heard legends of folks that can write 10,000 words in a day, but that’s nothing more than a dream for me. Between a full-time job, family, other hobbies, sleep, etc, it’s a wonder I get get 10 words down, much less 10,000. That said, some folks are pretty prolific, so you might find that it takes you less time to write a story. For many, many others, it may take longer.
No matter what, once you type “The End”, it’s time to enter The Revision Cave. If you think writing the book is long, stand by for the shock of revision. Whereas before you were simply throwing ideas onto paper, now you’re worried about things like spelling, syntax, and quality. You’ll review the same sentence over and over and over and over and over again. You’ll micromanage each word, every punctuation, all the characters, until you’re nearly cross-eyed.
When you’re relatively pleased with, or at least able to stomach, your story, then it’s time to call up your beta readers. These folks are some of the greatest hidden warriors of writing. Many times they are fellow writers with their own hectic schedules, so being willing to read your raw, unpasteurized manuscript in their spare time is a huge sacrifice. But they are also crucial to a good story because they see things with fresh eyes. The plot and character motivations don’t live in their heads like they do in yours, so they can pick out items that need clarification or concepts that read too thin. They’re worth more than their weight in gold because once you revise (again) based on their input, your story is looking pretty darn good.
Another revision and polishing session later and your book is ready to be submitted. Where you send it depends heavily on where you are in your career. Maybe you’re pitching it to agents or perhaps you’re with a publishing house and sending it to an editor. If the former, you’ll likely have a lull as your agent reviews it and/or pitches it to publishers. If you’re in the latter category, your editor whips out the Big Red Pen and goes to town with Developmental Edits.
DEs cover the big picture of your tale. Your editor will go through your manuscript from the 30,000 foot level, worrying about overall plot points. This is shaping the forest while (mostly) ignoring the trees. Do the characters behave correctly? Does the plot make sense? Is there too much background too early?
After DEs, you, the author, get another crack at the manuscript to fix or expand as needed. This is where you can kill off a character you’ve been hemming and hawing over or swap genders for someone. You do a lot of heavy lifting here, filling in the blanks and basically molding your story from a square block into something pretty, but within the timeline requested by your editor. For me, this period took between 2-4 weeks before entering the Line Edits phase.
LEs are just that: your editor going through Every. Single. Sentence. I don’t know how they do it, but I have to believe whiskey is involved because when I’VE done it, it’s driven me batty. Then again, that’s why a good editor is a key piece of your writing team.
I was lucky with The Shifter Chronicles in that I had two of the best editors in the business. Mallory Braus worked on Undead Chaos and Summoned Chaos while Deborah Nemeth edited Paranormal Chaos. To say that their input was crucial to making the stories shine would be a gross understatement.
Once the LEs come back to you, you’ll get about a week or two to revise again, then it’s off to the Copy Editors. If you think Betas are unheralded heroes of writing, Copy Editors are the ninjas. Many times unseen, they go through every word of a story to make sure it’s the right choice. More than that, they look at punctuation. Why use a colon here? There are too many exclamation points. An ampersand doesn’t work. They are the difference between a good story and a great one.
Brooke Smith of Carina Press handled CEs for Undead Chaos and Michael Valsted edited Summoned Chaos and Paranormal Chaos. Their ability to tweak the small stuff was, and is, impressive. And I can’t thank them enough.
When you get back your Copy Edits, you have one, last revision to make. Unlike the previous edits which allowed large changes, this time you’re limited to the little stuff. So no grandiose plot changes or killing off of a major character here. Timing is quick, maybe less than a week, then your beautiful bundle of words heads off to the publisher for good. Say goodbye because the next time you see it, it’ll be on the shelves.
During this period, there’s still work to be done, specifically a Back Cover Copy sheet where you work on the words that go inside the cover flap. You’ll also be working with the graphics arts team on the cover itself and promotional materials for the publisher. I’ve heard of horror stories from other writers about awful covers, but a decent team will get pretty close to nailing it on the head. Again, I was pretty lucky in this aspect because the Carina Press graphics team did a great job.
With all the above items complete, you, the author, then get to sit around and wait until release day. This can feel like an eternity because you want the book now. You’re done with it, so why isn’t it already on the shelves? The answer: because the publisher still has behind-the-scenes stuff to complete. Items like finalizing the cover, getting the Back Cover Copy out there, submitting the book to reviewers or pre-sale sites like Netgalley, and so on. They have a lot of titles to worry about and schedule things as needed. I can’t speak for self-pubbed books, but this “lull” can be useful for seeking out reviewers for your upcoming novel. It’s also a perfect time to begin working on your next book.
Then, one day, you look at the calendar and realize your release date is just around the corner. When that day does finally arrive, all the fun of promoting it goes into full swing. You’ll do a happy-dance, have a glass of wine to celebrate, and be very glad to see your shiny new novel sitting on the shelves.
And, for the briefest of moments, you’ll marvel at how “quickly” time passed.
From cradle to grave, Paranormal Chaos took almost a full year. I wrote it in just over 2 months, worked with Deborah for another 2-3, then the BCC/Cover folks for a good month. Not only does it take a long time to get your own affairs in order, but publishers have a lot of other projects in motion, so you wind up in line somewhere. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, just part of the process.
I learned a lot over the last few years about the timing and patience it takes to create a book. I’d always wondered why authors, even prolific ones, couldn’t crank them out every couple of months. Having been in the trenches these past few years, I now understand. Maybe you’ll choose to self-pub or maybe you’ll go with a small press. Perhaps you’ll wind up with a major publisher. But, no matter what, keep in mind that patience is your best friend.
And that it’s worth it in the end.