I really, err, enjoy blogging. This is kind of a surprise to me because I had zero plans to blog, ever. But it’s really nice to write stuff without… having so much pressure for it to be something. Or to have to get it published after. A blog! Instant publishing! Ta-da! Anyway, I thought I should maybe think about writing about… writing and books, because what I tend to blog about… aren’t those things. So I asked on twitter for post suggestions. (If anyone has any other suggestions, let me know?) Roberta suggested writing about the process from idea to published book, and I thought that would be fun. Who knows if I can make it fun. But I’m writing it. 😀
I’m slightly tipsy on wine, so this should be interesting. (I’m scheduling it to post a day later, so I’m not… actually tipsy on a Tuesday afternoon. Promise.)
Uh, I’m going to write this with the idea that this is if you already have an agent or an established relationship with the publisher you’re submitting to (and from the perspective of traditional publishing, not self-publishing.) Getting an agent or publisher requires a lot of steps–such as waiting and waiting, examining your self worth every few minutes, and lying on the floor crying–and writing about that would take up a lot more space. And I’m pretty verbose anyway. But if anyone would like to know about that, I’ll write that up, too. And I’ll actually be serious about it.
Okay. I’m going to try not to forget anything, but probably I will. But.
First! The idea!
So I… I mean, it’s sort of weird to write about any of this like there’s a definitive series (I just spelled series with two ‘i’s, everything is fine) of events, because depending on author, and publisher, and whether you have an agent, and even the book, this all works a little bit different for everyone. But writing about the writing process itself is… well, it varies greatly from person to person. And I’m not going to go too into writing process here, because my friend Laura suggested it as another post, and I totally might do that.
But generally, for me, a plot bunny pops into my head, and I might play around with a few ideas, writing pieces, and then one sticks—usually the one that I can’t not write—and I write it. For me, plot bunnies tend to be vague: ‘I want to write a fantasy about yokai,” or… “I want to write a contemporary about a ménage romance.” Some odd ones are… “I want to write about a triad of werewolves”—I didn’t end up writing the triad aspect, but I did write the wolves. Or, “I want to write about a recording studio.” That was how Scratch Track started. Or, “I want to write about a place I dislike very much.” That was Skin Hunger.
Usually, I have an idea of characters—gender, appearance, job, and romantic interest, but not always. When I wrote Half I had absolutely no idea of Luca’s gender, whether the book would be romance or fantasy or something else, who he’d be in love with… I just wanted to write about fairies and life.
Okay, so you have an idea, and maybe you’ve written some of it. So at this point you have two choices. You can contact your publisher and see if you can contract on pitch. Or you can… not. (If you have an agent, this probably works differently! But I don’t have one so I don’t know.)
Contracting on pitch means that you write a chunk of the book (I think the usual amount is maybe 10K words) and a full synopsis, which includes all major plot points, as well as how you’ll end the book, and you pitch that all to your editor and see if they’re confident enough in the idea to sign the book without actually reading the entire book, or, y’know, having the book exist at all.
Contracting on pitch depends on a bunch of stuff, like what your relationship with your publisher is like, whether you want to write under a deadline, whether you actually know how your book’s going to end and how you’ll get there, and whether you have an agent. I could be wrong, but I think agents tend to like to do this? With good reason—it gets the ball rolling faster, and it also means you’re not sitting around, writing a book that may never get picked up by a publisher.
I’ve never contracted on pitch, technically. (I contracted Scratch Track on pitch, but it was already completely written.) I’d love to do this, it just… hasn’t happened. I always have a finished book to hand over. Maybe someday.
So, whether you’ve managed to contract the book, or not, you now write it. If you’re me, you let your characters lead you around until you come out with a book, and only at the end do you figure out what you were actually writing. If you contracted on pitch, or if you’re more of a plotter, you follow your synopsis or outline as you write—although, even people who contract on pitch sometimes tend to vary from their original outline a lot, so, it’s a bit of both.
And then you have a book! It’s a first draft, so it’s rough, and if you’re me, you’ve probably changed a major plot line, so the first half doesn’t at all match up with the second half, and you’ve left wonderfully helpful notes to yourself like “Add tenseness” or “You need a scene here that does stuff.” O____o I wish I was joking.
Then you self revise. I mean, I do. But this is the part where you fix that wonky plot line you messed with, and you make sure your characters have the same name throughout the whole book, and you take out notes to yourself, and fill all the gaps you left, and basically try to make it, y’know, readable.
There’s only so much you can do at this point, because your mind is still buried in the characters, and you can’t see anything because you’re drowning in words, and you really need another perspective. So you send it off to a reader. If you contracted it, this is probably (I’m guessing, because, see above) where you send it to your editor. If you’re me, you send it to one of your amazingly talented, amazingly generous, amazingly patient beta readers.
Then you hope you didn’t fuck up too bad, and that the mess of ink you produced is actually a book and not a figment of your imagination.
Once the beta feedback comes in, I read it, and read it again, and then, if I have time, I wait. I sit and absorb that feedback for as long as possible. Usually, I try to take two weeks. Sometimes I take a month. And then I revise again.
(I want to make a note here and say that you don’t need a beta reader. I mean, if you don’t have an agent or editor, I would strongly recommend it. But I know some people use only the agent or editor, or both, and I totally get that. Asking someone to read for you requires a massive amount of trust, and it’s why I feel so incredibly grateful to my beta readers—because I trust them with all of my mistakes, all my raw feelings and emotions, all the stuff that’s not quite right on the page, all the stuff that’s embarrassing, as well as all the stuff that’s good. And they’re fantastic and caring and they also help me grow as a writer. I personally LOVE having beta readers, because they give a different perspective than even my incredibly talented editor does. But it’s really a personal choice.)
Okay. So at this point, the book should be as polished as possible. This is where I write my synopsis—because at this point I actually know what’s going on in the book. I love writing the synopsis because if I struggle a lot writing it, it means the story’s still wonky, and it gives me an idea of where it’s wonky.
Then, you submit. This is the most nerve-wracking part of writing, and it never gets better. Much. Again, this process depends on publisher. Some publishers require a synopsis and query or pitch and like… a lot of formality, even if you have an established relationship with them. Me, I usually pitch by saying something like, “I have this book, it has people in it. Would you like to see it?” And then I apologize in the same email for how awful my pitch is. No, really, I do try to give some idea of what the book’s about, in about two sentences—which is much harder than it seems! I also let the publisher know what genre, pairing, and length the book is, that it’s finished, and that I have a full synopsis. And I apologize for the awfulness of the pitch. I really do do that.
If they like the idea, they’ll probably ask you to send the book and synopsis over. And then you wait while it gets read and try not to melt into a puddle of anxiety.
Is this super boring yet? I’m sorry.
If they like the book, you get a very exciting email asking you to contract it. This email, for me, usually includes a publishing date, so I know what the timeline will be like, and developmental edits they’d like me to make. You agree (or disagree, I guess) to the edits and timeline, ask for things you want changed in your contract (like, I ask to have my merchandising rights back) and then you sign. Then you party. Which, for me, for some reason, usually involves eating muffins. Idek.
If they don’t like it, they might outright reject the idea—this can happen for any number of reasons, but common ones are that they’re not comfortable with the genre, or the pairing, or… maybe they recently contracted a book with a similar plot, and they don’t want two. Or whatever. Rejections just… happen. Most of the time, it’s not because your book is bad. They also might not offer a contract even if they do like it—it might still be too rough, and they might ask you to make changes and resubmit. Then you take the edits, revise again, and… yeah.
Okay, so you’ve signed your contract. Possibly you’ve already gotten your edits in your contract email. Maybe you’re waiting for them. Either way, after you submit the book and sign the contract, developmental edits are almost always what you’re now working on. Developmental edits are like… the big, sweeping edits that cover stuff like plot, pacing, character arcs, etc. It’s chapter to chapter, page to page stuff. This is both the most stressful and most fun editing to do. Some people hate editing. I love it. I mean… I want to curl into a ball every time I get an editing email in my inbox, because it’s terrifying. But I have a lovely editor who makes me not nearly so scared to open those emails. So that’s a big plus, right off the bat. And I like… knowing that people (beta readers and editors) like my book enough, and have been generous enough, to take the time to read with care and help me make it better.
Also, it’s like fitting a ridiculously complicated puzzle together. It’s a challenge, and when you get it, it feels AMAZING.
After dev edits comes line edits. These are more continuity issues, and paragraph to paragraph or sentence to sentence issues. Making sure everything says exactly what you want it to say and isn’t confusing or overly wordy. I also end up doing a lot of word repetition removal here. Like in Scratch Track, where I used the word ‘just’ almost 400 times in 160 pages. I’m still baffled that I did that. I hate word removal. It’s tedious. But it makes the book so much better.
Somewhere in here is when I add in the front and back matter—the blurb, the dedication, and the acknowledgements. If you follow me on twitter, you know I loathe blurbs with a nearly unrivaled passion. I write a test blurb, and then people at my publisher go over it and make it sound like an actual blurb, and then I get edits on it, and we go back and forth while I struggle and whine. Sometimes the blurb has more versions than the actual book.
I love doing the dedication and acknowledgements, though. It’s where you get to show your love for the people who made the book possible. That’s the best. Generally I get mushy and I’m like, I LOVE YOU ALL SO MUCH. And then I panic and change stuff with the next round of edits. A lot of the mush stays, though, because… I mean it.
Next are copy edits. This is small stuff. Spelling and grammatical errors or changes, and anything else that got passed over in the line edits.
Last, you get proofs. This is a copy of your book in digital format. You get to see it with its cover on, with the layout perfect, and, if you have a talented layout and art person like Riptide does, you screech and dance around over how spectacular the title page and chapter headers look. This is also your last chance to read the book and be like EVERYTHING IS WRONG WITH MY WRITING before it goes out to your readers.
Which brings us to the cover. Somewhere between contracting and editing, you received a form called the Cover Art Request form. At least, that’s what it’s called at Riptide. (I just realized I’m writing this in the second person. I… don’t know why I did that.) Basically, this is a form where you fill out what your book’s about, (because your cover artist isn’t reading the book, but can get an idea of it) who your characters are and what they look like, what you’d like the cover to look like/any ideas you have for the cover, and anything you don’t want. Then you send it off. And a few weeks later you open your email and get a peek at a cover draft. If you love it, you do the screeching and dancing thing again. If it’s not quite right, you ask for changes. I love the art department at Riptide SO MUCH. They have incredibly talented artists, they take what you want into consideration—heavily—they’re very accommodating… They just rock.
All this time, you’ve probably been writing or editing other stuff, too, so you have to make sure to keep everything straight in your head. Which is fun. Seriously. It’s fun.
(I’m writing this like it’s all a whirlwind, and it can be. But sometimes not. For Scratch Track, I signed the contract in… mid… or maybe late… June. I did dev and line edits in July and August. And the book will be out the beginning of next year. That’s the shortest time I’ve worked on a book. For Half, I signed the book in April, and it came out the following February. I did dev edits in April, then didn’t touch the book again until that fall.)
So now you have, pretty much, a complete book. Your job, as far as writing and editing and most other things, is done. This is why, I think, book release days are so weird. It feels like you finished that book months ago, because you did, and then you get all excited about it all over again, but really, it’s… done, and you’ve been done with it for a while. You’ll probably do some marketing—you might write posts, do interviews, or pick excerpts for a blog tour. Or, you might grab some catchy snippets and make teasers. You might send out a newsletter, or talk about it on social media. And you update your website to reflect blurb and cover, and help people find where to buy it. If you’re me, this is also the point where you blog randomly about manga, have a brief, intense panic about your book flopping, and cry to your friends, who hold your hand and pat you comfortingly on the shoulder and very gently tell you that everyone feels this way, and it’s normal, and you’re actually a good writer. Friends are the best.
At this point, the book goes out to advance readers, as well as, depending on your publisher, to professional reviewers like Publishers Weekly and Booklist. I never, ever read reader reviews, ever. (I love them! Thank you tons and tons for reviewing! Whether you liked the book or not! But those reviews are for readers.) So I don’t usually see how the ARCs are going over on that front. Still, you get… a feel. Sometimes people write, or tweet at you, and say they liked the book, and you get the most amazing rush of warm fuzzies ever, and you start to feel okay about this whole book thing. Sometimes people tag you in bad reviews and you feel like shit. Mostly, though, it’s just… like any other few weeks. Sometimes a good review comes in from Publishers Weekly or something, and you walk around on cloud nine for a few days.
And then your book comes out. People read it. You get your paperbacks and marvel at how gorgeous they are. You get your first few paychecks for it. Your friends try to weasel your pen name out of you. You cover up all the sex scenes so that your mom can read the book. Your relatives ask you awkward questions about what you’re writing, and when you say fantasy, you stand and listen as the conversation around you dies. But you don’t care, because you’re an author, and you get to tell yourself you made it. You made this happen, and maybe you’re actually not too bad at it. And maybe some people have found value in what you’ve written. And that’s the best feeling in the world.