March 2

Next update: March 16

It’s done! The secret book project I’ve been working on (and that I still can’t really talk about) is finished! Well, the first draft is finished. But it’s a long and winding road to the bookshelves…

I think for this post I’m going to talk a little bit about how the whole writer/editor/publisher thing works. Some of you will find it interesting. For the rest of you, tough.

Before I get into that, however, I just want to mention a small charity golf tournament I’m going to be participating in on March 17. (Yeah, I know it’s St. Patrick’s Day; my wife is Irish.) The tournament is at a course just north of Austin called Crystal Falls; the tournament is in support of Lifelong Friends Pet Adoption. If you’re interested in hacking around the course for a good cause, here’s the info to SIGN UP. You can also SPONSOR a hole to raise awareness of your business.

Okay, now on to the story of how a manuscript becomes a novel. Once I’ve talked to my publishers and we’ve settled on an idea (and the contracts are all signed), I start with a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline. This usually runs about 10 pages, and I send it to my editor and any other parties who might have a stake in the novel. (For example, when I wrote the Mass Effect novels some of the key BioWare folks had to sign off on the process every step of the way.)

They review the outline, make some comments and we discuss any issues and concerns. We also talk about things like overall themes and ideas that we want to focus on, and the best way to bring them forward in the manuscript.

Then I start to write the actual manuscript… in theory. I’ll let you in on a little secret: most writer’s are incorrigible procrastinators. The farther away my deadline is, the less I accomplish. As the deadline approaches, I go into a panicked flurry and start churning out chapters at an amazing rate. If I could be as productive all the time as I am in the last two weeks of a deadline, I could write 10 books a year.

I always finish a book on the last day of my deadline. Always. This latest manuscript is my 9th novel, and I’ve never been early. Not even by one day. It just doesn’t happen. On that final day, I’ll hit save on my computer, then I’ll send off an e-mail in the wee hours of the morning to my editor and everyone else who has a stake in the book, with the novel attached in a giant word document.

That’s when I like to say I’m “finished”. But that really isn’t true. Over the next few weeks everyone who reads the novel will give me comments and feedback. There might be a scene that just doesn’t work. The motiviations for a particular character might not be clear or understandable. When writing in a shared universe setting (Star Wars or Mass Effect), there might be continuity issues that I missed that have to be addressed.

All of these issues will be compiled by my editor, who then contacts me after two or three weeks so we can figure out the best way to address these issues in rewrites. Usually my work doesn’t require a lot of revisions – it typically only takes me a week or two to get them done.

At this point, we’re anywhere from six to eight weeks post manuscript deadline. I send the new version of the word doc out, and people take one last look to make sure everything is good. Now we’re done, right? Nope. There’s one more crucial step.

Over the next month or two, the manuscript is changed from a word doc into a format suitable for publication. I think they used to call this typesetting, but I don’t know if the term has changed now that things are more automated. In any case, this produces an “author’s galley” – a version of the manuscript with the font, layout and paging as it will actually appear in the final version of the book. I get a copy of the galley, along with my editor, and we go through it to make sure there aren’t any mistakes.

If I see things I want to change or edit I make the corrections with a pen directly on the manuscript. This is old school stuff; no computers, no e-docs. It’s all done with real pages shipped by courier, and when I’m done I ship ‘em back. Seems quaintly archaic, but I guess the publishing industry likes to stick with what they know.

This is also where I add any acknowledgements or dedications that will appear in the book. I just print them out on a page and add them to the galley before I ship it back to my editor.

Now my part is actually done. After this, the publisher sends the galley to the printer, and they churn out roughly a hundred thousand copies of the book. (If my name was Dan Brown or Tom Clancey or Stephen King, they’d churn out a couple million copies of the book… dare to dream.) Then it ships to bookstores, who hold it until the official release date.

The stores usually get the book a week or so ahead of the shelf date, which is why sometimes on-line retailers will ship it to customers a few days early. (Sometimes you can sweet-talk the staff at the bookstore to sell it to you early, too. But don’t tell anyone I said that.)

Then there’s nothing to do but wait for the bestseller lists to come out and see how I did. As you can see, there’s a lot of people and steps involved in the entire process.

For this book, I probably won’t see the galleys until sometime around June or July – all of this back and forth takes a while. Which is why even though I’ve “finished” the book, we’re still many months away from most people actually being able to read it.

By the time it comes out, I’ll probably be well into the writing of my next book… though hopefully the publisher will give me a break from working and decide to send me on a nice little book signing tour. Those are always fun – nothing like meeting all my fans on someone else’s dime!

Okay, that’s it for this week. A bit long, a bit rambling, but I’m still on the post-project high. Hopefully for the next update I can start dropping some teasers for the book. Or at least, some teasers of when teasers might come out.


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