News, commentary, and fiction by Barb Hendee, co-author of the Noble Dead saga (www.NobleDead.org); author of the Mist-Torn Witches series, the Vampire Memories series, and more.

The Wednesday’s Writer Corner: The Stages of Getting a Novel Ready for Publication


Back when JC and I sold DHAMPIR, we were so blissfully ignorant about what was going to happen next, that we didn’t even realize just how many stages actually “were” going to happen next.  I’ll probably talk about negotiations and contracts in a future post, but that really is a different topic, so I’m going to sort of jump over that.  The only thing I need to mention is that writer is typically paid an “advance against royalties”—sort of like a loan against how much your book will earn.  A typical first advance from a New York publisher is around $6,000.  Half of that is paid upon signing the contract and the other half upon “Delivery and Acceptance,” and I’ll chat about that in a minute.  Do note that the signing check won’t arrive until between six weeks and two months after you sign the contract—or at least that’s how it works for us.

So, here are the steps a typical novel takes to reach publication.

The Draft:  Now for me and JC, we start with an extensive outline before the draft, but that’s our own process.  The main thing to note here is that you write a first draft of the book and submit it to your editor.  With a “first sale” this part will most likely already have been done, and for future books on the contract (as publishers often contract for more than one book), you’ll simply have an agreed upon deadline written into the contract.  So . . . you finish the draft, and you turn it in, and then you collapse on the couch in a fetal position.

The Revision Letter:  Hopefully, within the span of a few months, your editor reads it and she sends you a “revision letter” explaining all the things she wants cut, expanded, or revised before the book will be considered publishable.  JC and I were stunned when an eight-page, single-spaced revision letter arrived for DHAMPIR, and we thought we must have written the worst book in the whole world.  Fear not, intrepid writers.  This is normal.  Now, you don’t have to do everything she suggests and there is room for negotiation here, but we’ve had three very good editors, and the truth is . . . most of the time, once we really look at the suggestion, we agree with it.  This all entails “content stuff,” but our current editor once suggested we cut the first two chapters of a draft, do a little reworking to introduce the characters and begin the book in chapter three.  We were stunned.  Mortified!  How dare she?  Then the next day, I looked at JC and said, “She’s right, you know.”  He nodded. “I know.”  Sometimes, you just have to let the suggestions sink in.

Okay, so you revise the draft from her suggestions—and probably some notes you’ve taken in the meantime as well—and you resubmit it.  She reads it.  So far, we’ve never had an editor ask for a second revision (but she certainly can).  Hopefully, she pronounces the book “accepted.”  At that point, she will put in a “request” to the royalties department for the second half of your advance, and then five to six weeks later, the check will arrive either at your agent’s office or your home depending on whether you’re using an agent.

Line Editing:  At this point, some editors will line edit the manuscript.  This means, she goes through it at the sentence level.  You will get a chance to approve or disapprove or discuss those changes with her.  Not all editors do line edits, but I think most do.  The writer will then go through the line-edited manuscript (these days, this is all done via email, using track changes in Word) and re-submit it

Once this is done, the editor will send the book off to the production department, and at that point, the marketing and art department folks will also step in.  There is a cover conference (some writers get a small say in what’s going on the cover, but most do not).  The artist is officially hired and the “creation of the cover” begins.

Copy Editing:  At the same time, the manuscript itself is sent off to be “copy edited.”  The copy editor is a person you’ve never spoken to (and probably never will) who goes through the manuscript getting it ready for final typesetting.  She reads every word of the manuscript and fixes typos, sometimes changes sentences, looks for inconsistencies, and asks the writer to clarify confusing sections or sentences.  Then . . . the writer gets the whole manuscript back along with a note that reads, “Please go through the copy-edited manuscript.  We need this back in two weeks.”  The writer drops everything in his/her life and goes to work, going through the whole manuscript approving or disapproving changes, answering questions, and making clarifications.  The writer can still make major editorial changes in the book at this point.  Then . . . the manuscript gets re-submitted to the publisher.

Typesetting/Proofreading:  So now, the manuscript is professionally typeset.  Then you will receive what is called “Galley Proofs” or “Proof Pages,” and your job is to proofread the whole thing.  The publisher also hires a professional proofreader who will read it as well, and between the two of you, most to all errors should be caught.  At this point, you cannot make any editorial changes . . . and normally, here is when you read a number of sentences that make you cringe and desperately want to re-write them . . . and you can’t.  Once the book has been typeset, it costs the publisher money to make changes, so you are only allowed to fix typos at this point.

And you’re done!  The book is ready for publication.  This is a marathon, and since I write two books a year, I am always at one stage with one book and another stage with the second book, so I often have to switch mental gears to stop drafting a Noble Dead book and jump into the copy-edited manuscript for a Vampire Memories book.  Some writers find this easy.  I tend to get so incredibly involved in a story, that I find switching gears can be difficult.

Another thing to consider here is that recently, a large numbers of writers who for one reason or another, do not go with a publisher and who simply go the “indie route” have a tendency to skip all of the above steps, and you can just imagine the result of the work they are publishing.  My personal feeling is even the most talented writers need a good editor and some professional assistance—but again, that’s just my own opinion.  There are corners of the writer’s world on the Internet where just the whisper of such a suggestion could get me shot.

Okay, gang, that’s the scoop.