Today I’d like to tackle what it takes to get a romance novel from computer to publication. I’m not talking about the concept, plotting, research, character development, story arc, etc which goes into the actual creation of the story. I’m not even talking about researching and targeting which publisher is appropriate for you to submit to. I’m talking about the nuts and bolts. You and your publishing house and what happens between you to take your story from submission to reader, an insider’s view. You published authors know all of this already, and feel free to chime in with any additions, but this is for the curious reader, or the aspiring writer.
Since my second story in the bull rider series (Bucked) is releasing in less than 2 weeks, let’s discuss that book specifically in this case. It went directly to my editor for a first read at a little over 60K words. It came back to me with suggestions for improvement. Things like the hero and heroine need to meet sooner. There is too much reference to book 1 in the series. All totally valid points so I took it back and cut (gulp) 10K words out. Then I began to rebuild. A new prologue that showed the past relationship between the hero and heroine. Less back story, less side characters, but more interaction between the main characters. It never reached 60K again, but that’s okay. It’s well over 50K and that is long enough and it is a tighter story because of it. There were other nuances the editor suggested changes to at this stage also. Things like the level of honesty between the two characters regarding the secret the hero was keeping from the heroine. This is all stuff that an outside eye has a clearer view of than you as the author. This is the stage where you have to take a step back and forget this is your baby.
The rewrite was acceptable and Bucked was contracted. Now the fun begins. My editor and I work well together and we can usually knock the edits out in two rounds. First round I usually get comments like “this sentence is a bit acrobatic” or “rework this sentence so it has less commas”. It’s also things like continuity. On page X you said this, on page Y you said this, or “did he have a pain pill or a shot for pain?”. Again, stuff that an outside reader will notice that the author won’t because we are too close to the work. Between rounds 1 and 2 the manuscript really gets tightened. I’ll open it to find many colors (yes, colors) used by the editor to highlight where I have repeated the same word or phrase too often. I have to go in and change those words for synonyms. Also tiny things like using t-shirt in one place but T-shirt in another, have to be made consistent throughout.
An author learns things with each edit so now that I just finished edits on my 4th book with Samhain I know pretty much what my editor is looking for and will head her off so to speak by self-editing before I submit to her. I have learned that the industry is moving away from dialogue tags, so I try not to use ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ if I can avoid it. I’ve learned what a comma splice is and I try to catch myself on those. I’ve learned you can’t have a character doing three different things at once in the same sentence and that beginning sentences with ‘ing’ words can be problematic. I now do a word search to make sure I am consistent with backward and toward (vs. backwards and towards). All things that formerly I never would have thought twice about. Of course there are things I will never get down, such as when to use lay vs. lie. Though I have figured out the ‘effect’ vs. ‘affect’ thing.
Final Line Edits.
So you finish the final round of edits. All changes in Track Changes have been accepted and the manuscript is clean and beautiful and you are both feeling a great sense of accomplishment for a job well done. But oh, you are not done yet because here comes the FLE. The final line editor’s job is to look at the manuscript with fresh eyes, and a cold heart (just kidding….sort of). She is not in love with your book the way your editor and you are. She is the Simon to your editor’s Paula and she now has your baby. She also seems to have some sort of super grammatical powers because this woman knows things that I dare say even Strunk and White and the employees at the Chicago Manual of Style would have to look up. She knows where there should be hyphens and aren’t. She will move commas around. She will question words, sometimes even facts, and yes, she will inevitably find inconsistencies. I am remembering this question from Bucked… “Sage can’t live both down the road from Mustang and next door to Mustang”.
You check your ego at the door, take your baby back and you clean it up again, making sure, as with this entire process, you choose your battles. I rarely dig in my feet on an issue. The only time I can remember recently fighting an edit was when the change didn’t fit the character. Though the FLE was absolutely correct that the proper word was ‘whom’ rather than ‘who’, I could not in good conscience have my 18 year old cowboy who spent more time on horseback than in school say or even think the word ‘whom’. If I was writing dialogue for my college professor hero from Gillian’s Island, yes whom would have worked, but not for my cowboys. Luckily my editor agreed. Battle chosen, and won.
You’re not done after the FLE. There is still the final galleys to proofread. Here you are looking for typos that slipped by (and believe it or not, even after 3 sets of eyes have been over this thing multiple times there will still inevitably be typos because our eye often sees what should be written instead of what is written, especially when we are too familiar with the work). But there is more to proofing than typos. You have to make sure that the header and the footer are correct on each page, as well as in each section. That you haven’t messed up and mistakingly named Chapter 11 Chapter 12 instead. That it is actually your name in the header and not the last author’s name the person who built the files formatted. That words aren’t cut off on the edge of the page. That spaces, words or punctuation didn’t get accidentally dropped or added when any final changes were accepted.
Oh yeah, somewhere in there you have either written a blurb, or had it done for you, suggested and approved cover art and chosen an excerpt for the website. Easy peasy.
Phew. Yeah, all after you’ve been over this book so many times you can quote whole passages. But it is your baby and you love it so it’s not so bad. And you know this is the final thing before your brilliance is exposed to the world…or so you think. I haven’t even touched on promo yet. Websites, blogs, guest appearances online, live book signings, reader conventions, writer conferences, social networking, chats, yahoo groups, advertising, newsletters… but that is a topic for another day.
Those of you who know me, know I sometimes hate this business as much as I love it. All that is written above is actually the part I love, believe it or not. Crafting and honing the story is what I live for. It’s some of the other crap that goes along with this biz I hate, but that again is for another time.