The third part of our journey from first idea to finished novel. We left off last week at the stage of waiting for copy-edits.
Step Seven: Copy-Edits (<1 Month)
Copy-edits are the middle stage of the editing process. A copy-editor checks the manuscript for errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as well as for more subjective things like repeated words, choice of language, and sentence/paragraph length. On top of that they also look for issues such as consistency (are the characters the right age, do the details match up, does Magic Plot Thing A do the same thing in each chapter) and legality (is the publisher going to get sued for anything the author’s written).
This can add up to an awful lot, and the copy-edited manuscripts I get generally look as though they’ve just come back from being graded by a particularly obsessive-compulsive English professor. Every page will have multiple notes and corrections, and I have to go through each and every one of them to confirm that the corrections and changes are actually right. (It would be nice if I could just let the copy-editor handle everything – unfortunately it doesn’t work that way and I need to check it personally.) All of this takes time.
On the plus side, while checking copy-edits takes a while, it’s not actually very demanding from a creative point of view – easier than writing new material, and much easier than rewrites. I can easily copy-edit a full chapter in a day, and multiple chapters if I work at it. I finished Hidden’s copy-edits in under two weeks.
Step Eight: Waiting for Proofs (1-2 Months)
Back to waiting. By this point I’m fully occupied with the next book, and I’ve probably stopped thinking about this book at all.
Step Nine: Proofs and Author Questions (<1 Week)
A proof is a copy-edited manuscript that is (almost) ready for publication. The proof stage marks the first point at which the book is actually printed – copy-edits and edits are typically done electronically, but proof copies are physical bound books. They usually won’t have a cover – their job isn’t to look pretty, their job is to be read, mainly by a proofreader.
A proofreader is the last line of defence in the editing process, and their job is to catch any errors that made it through all the previous sweeps. They don’t do major or even minor edits – changes at the proof stage are costly, and the larger the change the more costly. Mostly they check small, easy-to-miss things like spelling, grammar, page numbering, etc.
Unlike the copy-edits, I don’t double-check the proofreader’s work line by line – instead my publishers send me an email with author questions covering issues that the proofreader has drawn to their attention. Each question comes with a page and line reference, and I have to look them up one at a time. It’s slow and tedious work, but thankfully there’s generally not much of it and I can usually get it done in an afternoon.
In theory I’m also supposed to check the proofs myself. In practice, by the time I get to this stage I’m sick to death of editing the damn book and just want to do something else. There also isn’t much I’m likely to catch that the proofreader won’t, so I usually just skim the proof copy to make sure the copy-edits actually got done, then go back to writing the next book and trust the proofreader to catch any spelling mistakes.
I sent my responses to the final set of author queries on Hidden around the 25th of March, more than five months before the book’s publication date. This marked the last point at which I had any influence over the book’s content.
Step Ten: Pre-Publication (4-6 Months)
By this point the book’s content is finished, and it’s all ready to be read. So you can buy it, right?
Publishers typically schedule book releases a long time in advance. They have a certain amount of book slots planned over the course of each year, and books are allocated to slots far in advance of their actual publication date (usually a year or so). For obvious reasons, publishers like to get the books ready to go a long time before they’re due to come out. Partly this is because booksellers like to have access to the book a while before the release date, but mostly it’s so that the publishers have some safety margin and don’t have to rush.
A little more work on the book is still done during this stage (mostly finalising what’s on the front and back cover) but mostly the publishers spend this time on marketing – pitching the book to booksellers, sending out copies to reviewers, and so on. How much marketing attention a book gets (and how much good that attention does) varies enormously.
I’m almost completely uninvolved by this point. Usually all I do is look over the cover copy, and take part in any publicity activities. Most of my energy is being spent on writing the next book instead. I finished the first draft of Alex Verus #6 at the end of June, two months before Hidden was due to be released, and I spent very little time thinking about Hidden during this whole stage.
Step Eleven: Publication
The book comes out! Everyone’s excited!
Well, except me. I’m busy with Step Four or Step Five of the next book, and with Step One of the book after that.