Twists, Curves, Exciting Thrills: What Happens After the Book is Written

Thirteen Orphans is out. The second “Breaking the Wall” book, Nine Gates, is written. I’ve been told the copy-edited manuscript is on its way to me. Five Odd Honors (“Breaking the Wall” Three) is somewhere among my editor’s papers in New York.

Yeah. New novel out and, for me, that new novel the “old one.”

Nor in my career is this the first time I’ve had this happen. Back when I started with Tor, they had the first several Firekeeper novels in hand before Through Wolf’s Eyes was released.

My first publisher was Avon. They had three or four fully written novels in the queue before Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls came out—and they didn’t even have the excuse of wanting to assure “momentum” for a series. These were all stand-alone novels.

So when I go to a book event or do an interview for Thirteen Orphans, I need to be really careful not to let a spoiler slip. It’s odd to hear someone discussing a character who, in my mind, has changed radically since that novel. Maybe the character has gained confidence or fallen in love with someone new or an enemy has become an ally.

It’s odd. Sort of like living in a time warp.

How can such a lag happen? Well, one thing many readers don’t realize is that the process a book goes through after it leaves the writer’s hands is very complex.

First the editor reads and reviews the manuscript. Then the author and editor discuss possible changes. Time must be permitted not only for the author to make changes, but for the editor to review the new version.

Then the book goes off to be copy-edited. Copy editors are very important, and too rarely praised. A copy editor is responsible for more than merely proofreading. She (my current c/e is female) makes certain the book is in line with the “house” guidelines. In a series, the c/e also watches for continuity problems, not only within the volume, but within volumes in a series.

A good copy editor is purest gold. A bad one… Well, that’s a topic all of its own. (Let me know if you want the horror stories!)

Then the copy-edited manuscript gets mailed back to the author. The author reviews the comments, both those directly written on the page and those included in a side letter.

“Stet” is a useful term for authors. It means “leave it alone.” Usually, if my c/e and I seem completely out of sync, I try to write a letter to explain why I wrote “stet.” After all, the c/e deserves to understand why her suggestions just don’t work.

Back to the post office, because at this point there is one “real” manuscript, and we’re passing it back and forth.

When the manuscript gets back to the publisher, the next place it goes is to Production. These are the people who decide (often in consultation with the editor) on things like style of type, what numbers to use for chapter headings, and whether there will be any art at the start of chapters. (For example, Production is responsible for the cool zodiac wheels at the start of each chapter in Thirteen Orphans.) Production also designs “dingbats”—the little symbols that indicate a break in the action within a chapter.

When all these decisions are made, the book is formatted. Then it is produced as “page proofs.” These are the pages of the book, just as they will appear, but still unbound. Page proofs are sent off to the author for review as well.

For me, this is a much more onerous process than reviewing a copy edit, since there are no scribbled comments to guide me. However, I never ever skip this stage. I’ve found entire paragraphs dropped, sentences missing, words mysteriously misspelled or altered. Page proofs are also my last chance to change anything in the text (although there are contractual limits as to how much I can change without paying for the entire book to be reset).

Oddly, although I usually find going through a copy-edited manuscript a faster job, I’m often given fewer days to review page proofs, so it’s a time of panic. The only good thing is that I can send in only those pages with changes, so if there aren’t a lot, this may not mean another trip to the post office. Honestly, though, it usually does.

Then the book goes back to Production. My changes are made ( or as I sometimes as I find to my frustration, when I look at the book after publication, mysteriously ignored). I’ve never figured out why when I corrected the capitalization of Eagle’s Nest in Through Wolf’s Eyes they kept changing it…

Sigh.

This work on the manuscript isn’t all that goes on in creating the finished novel. There’s cover art and jacket copy to be dealt with. There have been times I’ve seen neither of these until the book is in my hands…

Somewhere in there, the novel must be slotted into the schedule, another point at which massive delays can happen. (Thirteen Orphans‘ release date was shifted two or three times).

Anyhow, that’s why it takes a novel so long to come out. Even after the text is written, there are a tremendous number of stages along the way to the finished book. If a publisher cares about the finished product, none of them will be omitted.

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