Stages Of A Novel

I will soon be receiving notes on the manuscript for the second Legends of the Red Sun novel. (Currently without a confirmed title.) For those of you interested, or who are killing time, I thought it’d be interesting to shed some light on the process of what happens when a book is produced. So without further ado, here’s my guide to the stages of a novel:

1) Write, bitch, write. In which I close my eyes for a year while life crashes down around me, because it’s real now, I’ve got a contract, I’ve got a deadline. I write, write like there’s no tomorrow. I try stuff which is wildly ambitious, and it goes disastrously wrong. I try again. For any writers out there learning the craft, this is the stage where you should ignore at least 90% of the crap advice banded around the interwebs about how to write. Just get the damn thing written. When I open my eyes I have a book. I sit on it for a week or two, go through it again, polish, then I ping it off to my agent.

2) The agent does not think you’ve lost it. John Jarrold shakes his head at some of what I’ve written and offers some suggestions to make things stronger, but he doesn’t hate it, which is good. He sends it off to the editor with an invoice saying “Writer needs to be able to eat, so please pay promptly.”

3) The editorial tango, in which my ass gets handed back to me on a plate. Julie has read it and will come back with notes. Best not to have an ego here – the editor wants to make a book better, of course. There will be suggestions to make some characters better, thoughts on which chapters are or aren’t working and why. Structural stuff. “We’ll need more of X, less of Y, and what the hell happened to Z, and why did you kill so-and-so?” We do the editorial tango – a step forwards, a step back, give and take. I can choose to throw a tantrum if I wish, and say “No!” to everything, but I’d be a fool if I acted like that – I remind myself, this is to make the book better, after all.

4) Humble pie. I make most of the changes and hand it back to be read again.

5) The line-edit (also known as Humble pie 2). Assuming step 4 went well, this is where the manuscript is line-edited: a sentence by sentence check for errors, a hacking away of pointless sentences, a smartening up of grammar. After this stage, an ARC copy may well pop out – these may still contain errors, of course, since they’ve often not been through step 6.

6) What, you still wanted your eyes? It gets sent out for a copy-edit and proofing, rigorous checks for any typos or stray punctuation, then comes back for a check. At this stage, you want to pluck out and burn your eyes if you see one more damn line of your prose, because you will have read your own work more than a couple of times by now.

Time passes.

7) Royal Mail say: “Sorry, you were out.” The postman doesn’t ring twice – not where I live. He doesn’t ring once. So I get a little red slip sending me shuffling along the next morning to queue up at the post office. There, I pick up a small packet. I rip it open. Look, a novel!

And that’s pretty much all there is to it. Simple really.

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.


  1. I’m still in the ‘Write, Bitch, Write’ phase. Luckily it’s more fun than it sounds.

  2. At least you can skip 1b) Agent/publisher not interested.
    With regards to the title, do you have no idea yet or do you have a couple of options? Or is it something the powers that be decide?

  3. Aidan: ah, to be there again…

    Neil: this is true. And regarding the title, I did have a few suggestions, which weren’t received with open arms. It’s something decided on as a team, generally, though it would be nice if I was the one that came up with it!

  4. I haven’t even gotten to the ‘WBW’ phase. I’m still stuck in ‘Gee, I Sure Wish I was a Writer, that would be Kinda Neat’ mode. Hopeless case, I tell you. Absolutely hopeless.

  5. Hey Mark,

    I’m just coming to the end of the “Wite, bitch, write” section, any advice for us poor bastards who haven’t been lucky enough to snag a literary agent?

  6. Hey Brian,

    Well, the best bet is to get yourself the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, which has a listing of dozens of agents. Then, write a brief covering letter (or email) to each of the ones who represent what it is you’ve written. Give a simple outline of what your book is, and what audience (readers of author x) you think your book will appeal to. If they say send it on, then send it on!

    All the while you do this, you go back and start something else – because you might need to get a few hundred thousand words out of your system before everything clicks in your writing…

  7. Cheers Mark!
    If you don’t mind me asking, did it take you that long until everything “clicked”? Was it something you knew right away, or did you maybe realize through the reactions of friends, relatives, random people forced to read your early work?
    (If I’m being irrelevant/time-consuming/a pain just say!)

  8. Hi Brian, No problem at all.

    Ultimately, it’s not always you who will know when things click. I mean, you can tell if stuff feels good in your writing (self-belief and confidence really helps here), but as for clicking… that’ll be up to an agent or someone well-versed in books/literature, an editor, publisher etc.

    For me, it happened fairly quickly – although it was a long time between getting an agent and then being published. (There are different levels of clicks!) My agent always says that being a talented writer isn’t always enough. You have to get the right book to the right publisher; you have to have commercial appeal to some extent – publishing is a business after all. So add on to everything “good luck”…

  9. Thanks again Mark, I’m just reading through your earlier posts/advice on the getting published side of things, which I’ve only just found (otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered you with that last question!), and I’m finding it all rather interesting!

  10. Hi Mark!

    Having no writing ambitions myself (there is an editor hidden somewhere inside though), I nevertheless enjoyed reading about the road to publication.

    My question is WHEN? When can we expect the sequel? See, that’s the part you judiciously left out: how long the whole process takes 😉

    I fell in love with the characters, the world-building and above all mighty Villjamur itself. Christmas 2009? Spring 2010? When can I get my next fix?

    This time with the map please 😉

    It’s your book, shouldn’t you be able to choose the title?!

    And what about the cover art? It was spectacular for NOV, really hope the same artist gets the commission!

    Happy & fast writing,

    PS: Loved the Hay-on Wye pics. Too long since I’ve been there. Practical as Amazon, play & bookdepository are, nothing beats the atmosphere of a real bookshop.

  11. Hi Jaquie,

    Thanks very much – glad you enjoyed it! 🙂 As for the next one, well it’s scheduled for June 2010, a year after the first. The plan is to have them all a year apart. As for the map – I did send something to them, but I’m not sure what happened to it.

    Regarding the title, yes of course! But it helps that the staff at Pan Macmillan think it’s a good one… I’m not too attached to such things.

    We should actually have some cover art in the next couple of months; the artist has been briefed, and I know (roughly) what it should be. It is the same artist, Benjamin Carre!

    Glad you liked the Hay-on-Wye pics – and I totally agree. Some of these bookshops were the nicest I’ve been in.

  12. Hi Mark,

    That’s great news about the same artist designing the cover for book 2!

    A year seems a long time to a fan who has come to love the characters – and who wouldn’t fall in love with Jeryd?! Actually you are being nice to your fans and I appreciate it.

    Plenty of writers across all genres have their fingers in too many pies at once and take years to release the next book in a series. Very annoying for the readers. If George R Martin continues like that, he’ll be pushing up daisies before he gets to the final book 🙁

    As for the map, your fellow new & upcoming fantasy writer Stephen Deas has put a simple draft map online. I’m adding a link to the rather amusing anecdote that goes with it. Not that I’d go as far as physical abuse lol


    Will we get to know more about the origins of Villjamur and its inhabitants, human, rumel, garuda and a certain mysterious being with no memories?

    Really looking forward to the sequel!


  13. Well, I’m writing as fast as I can! (Actually, that’s not true. I’m drinking beer right now, contemplating writing.) I can’t see myself committing to too many projects – I just about have a social life as it is.

    I’m glad you like Jeryd by the way. He’s got a very interesting story to come…

    Well the next book moves over to a different city entirely, but I hope to shed more light on the origins of the world and races. Although I can’t say too much. 🙂

    That’s a good post by Deas! And I’m glad to know you won’t beat me up just yet…