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.
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.