In which I steal an old post

I’m in the midst of both copyedits and event planning, and my blogging has suffered. As a result, I’m going to go back and rehash an old post of Diana’s, way back in February.  While Diana talks about the whole process after the sale, I’d like to concentrate on just one aspect: edits to the manuscript itself.  (This way, I can look like I had a whole new topic, while secretly cribbing off my fellow Magic District authors!  Woo!)

When I first sold Spiral Hunt, I had only a vague idea of how much more work would need to be done. I knew there would be changes; I didn’t think my editor would decide that every word was a work of genius and would never need to be even questioned, let alone changed, and that a team of designers and copyeditors would rush forward to handle the precious, precious prose while I lounged on a divan eating caramels and saying “good work, chaps” now and then.

Okay, so maybe I thought that a little. But never seriously. I don’t even have a divan, after all.

So here’s a quick run-down of the stages of edits Spiral Hunt went through (and that Wild Hunt is currently going through). Standard disclaimers apply: your mileage may vary, not every author has the same experience, I may have my terms wrong, not all plates increase in value, sea monkeys may not build castles but are nicely crunchy when prepared properly, etc.

Round 1: First-round edits. This is the longest stage, and the one that takes the most thought. The editor sends a marked-up copy of the manuscript and an editorial letter which contains all the questions and comments that could not be confined to the margin. The letter also has broad edits — character problems, implausibilities, pacing issues, and suggestions for changing all of these.

The big changes are made here, the ones that require whole chapters (or at least whole scenes) to be restructured. Usually I can make a first pass through the manuscript in a week or so, reading through it, making most of the small changes, tagging the ones that need another look or that I’ve balked at. This ensures that 1) I’m actually doing some work rather than getting stuck on one edit and 2) by the time I come back to it, I’ve had time to think. Ninety percent of the time, even if I don’t like the edit the first time through, when I go back through the manuscript I’ll have figured out how to make it without wonking things up.

Once I’ve made all of the edits, I send a copy back to my editor. If there are edits that I felt really strongly about, I write up a short note justifying why I’ve left the text unchanged (or why I’ve changed it into a new direction). I’m trying to get away from this; in general, I believe that the text should stand on its own.

Round 2: Second-round edits, or Fun With Track Changes. This stage is, essentially, a second round of clean-up, catching small edits that made it through the first round and new problems that any fixes in the first round might have introduced. For this round, my editor sent me a Word file with Track Changes turned on. (If you’ve never used Track Changes, the easy way to describe it is that it’s an easy way to show what edits have been made to a document. It’s also, if you’re not used to it, a pain in the butt. I’ve worked with it enough at ConHugeCo that I’ve seen any number of ways for it to go wonky.)  Depending on how well the new changes take and what new errors get introduced, this round could repeat a couple of times.

Round 3: Copyedits. Again, a brick of a manuscript arrives, marked up and ready for inspection. To get an idea what this looks like, see Diana’s post — mine lacked the sticky notes, but had plenty of other lumps to make up for it.

This is the stage I’m working on now, and thanks to some good work on the production editor’s part, I’ve even got it a week ahead of time. A style sheet also comes with the document, including important phrases and basic styles that will be used throughout the document. At this stage, I go through and check every change that the copyeditor has made. Most of these are points where my grammar and style failed me; some are where the copyeditor is saving my butt by pointing out factual inaccuracies or confusing passages. It helps that this is the first pass from someone who isn’t familiar with the novel; since my editor’s had the manuscript on her desk and I’ve had the characters in my head, it can be very easy for one of us to overlook an important error just because we know what happens. (This hits me at every single draft, honestly; if I know the answer, I often forget to put it on the page as well.)

I look at this stage as the last chance to make any changes of substance. Really, all big changes should have been made before this point, but if I suddenly have a panic attack over the end of one chapter, this is the last time for me to dither about it.

Round 4: Galleys. At this stage, it starts to look a little like a real book. Granted, it’s still a stack of pages, but the pages are laid out as they will be in the final book, with chapter headings and numbers and all. This is the last opportunity to make any changes, so it’s important to go through with a fine-tooth comb. Unfortunately, by this time I’m usually sick of the book and just want to get it out there — and because my day job at ConHugeCo involves making this kind of changes to other documents, I feel bad about sticking the production team with any huge edits. So I try to limit myself to making only absolutely necessary changes: typos, missing words, glaring inaccuracies, etc.

Round 5: Advance Review Copies. At this point, it’s a real book as far as I’m concerned. It might have “NOT FOR SALE” and “ADVANCE READING COPY ONLY” in big letters on the cover, but it’s a bound book, suitable for reading on the T or carrying around to show to people or squishing small insects.  In theory, if anything looked horribly wrong at this point, I could raise a fuss. In practice, I don’t think that the fuss would do much, since these are the copies that get sent out to reviewers, magazines, etc.

And after that, well, after that it’s just a matter of waiting for the release date and trying not to freak out.  (This isn’t counting all the side material — author questionnaires, bios, acknowledgments, publicity, etc. — but those are a subject for another post.)  It’s not a terribly involved process, unless you do something silly like trying to write an entirely new novel in between these rounds of edits and therefore have to keep track of what plot elements go in which book.  But really, who’d do a silly thing like…uh…never mind.

3 Responses to “In which I steal an old post”

  1. June 11, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    In general, how much time is there between the start of the first round and the ARCs coming out?

  2. 2 mlronald
    June 12, 2009 at 5:25 am

    I can’t really say what it is in general — I’m only working from a couple of data points here — but I got the first round of edits for Spiral Hunt in late January and the ARCs in September, so say about eight months? We’ll see how it turns out with the current novel.

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