Carrying on from last week, here’s what happens once a book’s past the first draft stage.
Step Four: Waiting for Edits (1-2 Months)
After I send off the first draft to my editors and beta readers, I can relax a bit. This is the closest I get to being on holiday, and it’s generally the only time in a book cycle when I’m genuinely not working. While I’m in the first draft stage, I typically work 7 days a week for the whole 6 months – as a result, by the time I send the manuscript off, I’m often quite exhausted and drained. It takes me a month or so to recharge the batteries. After 3-4 weeks, I’m rested and usually ready to get back to work.
Unfortunately, this stage also marks the end of the point where I have full control over the timing of things. Part of the reason I’m relaxing and doing nothing in this stage is that I’m waiting on my editors to send me their first-stage edits. If I’m lucky, they’re working away on the edits and I’ll receive them after a month or so. If I’m unlucky, the edits are sitting under a pile of work, or in my editor’s inbox, or are bouncing around in limbo between various email accounts. Until I get them, there’s not much I can do but sit around.
In the case of Hidden, I got the editorial report from my UK and US editors on August 7th, a little over 5 weeks after submitting the manuscript.
Step Five: Edits (??? Months)
A novel delivered to the publisher typically has three to four major stages of editing, and the first-round edits are the biggest and longest. This is where your publishers tell you how much they liked the book, followed by all the things they want you to change. If you’re lucky, the suggested changes are things like “This character’s great, can we have more of him?” or “Hey, maybe you should cut out some of the world-building details so we can jump into the action quicker.” If you’re unlucky, it’s stuff like “I’m just not sure I found the supernatural elements in this story really convincing. What if you set the book in a traditional boarding school instead of this ‘Hogwarts’ place? Oh, and if you could change the sex of the main character, that’d be great.”
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that waiting for edits can be somewhat stressful.
Once the email with the editorial report arrives in my inbox, the holiday’s over. My first job is to decide how I’m going to respond to their suggestions, followed by getting in touch with them to agree on what the changes are going to be. Once that’s been agreed, I’ll get to work on the edits themselves. This step can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the size of the changes.
Hidden had a difficult edits stage. The first stage of the process ended up taking a good two and a half months, the first couple of weeks of which was negotiation and discussion, and the rest of which was the writing itself. After that I spent a further couple of months on a second-round edit, with yet more discussion and yet more edits. The final version didn’t get sent back to my publishers until the last week of 2013. Although the end result was a much better book, it was a lot of work and made it difficult to make a start on Alex Verus #6. I couldn’t easily start the next book until I’d settled what was happening in this one, and as a result I didn’t begin writing Alex Verus #6 until several months after its original hoped-for start date.
It’s also usually somewhere during the edits that a title gets decided. Prior to this stage, the manuscript of Hidden was being sent around with the title of ‘Alex Verus #5’.
Step Six: Waiting for Copy-Edits (1-2 Months)
Once the publishers have decided that they like the basic structure of the manuscript, they’ll shunt it off to a copy-editor for the next stage. Again, there’s not much I can do during this process, but unlike Stage Four, this isn’t a holiday – typically by this stage I’ve started work on the next book.
The amount of time I spend waiting for the copy-edits depends on the publisher’s schedules, which in turn depends on how much time pressure they feel they’re under. If the book looks like it’s easily going to hit its publishing slot, they’re not going to be all that hurried about it. If time’s tight, they’ll set a stricter deadline on when the copy-editor has to deliver, and they’ll pressure me to complete the copy-edits faster in turn. In this case, since the edits for Hidden had taken so long, there wasn’t much time to spare, and the copy-edits were delivered to me exactly a month after I’d sent them the edited manuscript.