Bubonicon was lots of fun this past weekend. I’m still defragging from being around so many people. And on Friday I leave for the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. I’m sure it will be fun… At least once the travel part is over! Anyhow…
A few weeks ago, I asked Wanderings readers to suggest topics they’d like me to talk about. (Hint! I’m still open to questions. I really like writing about topics I know you’re interested in hearing about.)
Louis asked a very complicated question. Last week I set out to answer part of it. This week I’m continuing on.
If you haven’t read my previous post on this topic, you might want to take a look at “The Cost: Part One.”
I’m going to repeat Louis’ question in full, because the context is important: “Well, my immediate reaction was to wonder how much we’d have to raise on Kickstarter to pay you to write the 4th Breaking the Wall [hmmm… should I maybe be taking that series title literally, or at least more so than I have so far?] book. And no, you don’t need to answer that, or even think about the answer. But it did lead me to something that might be answerable: what does it cost you to produce a new book – in terms of time, of resources, of blood, sweat, toil and tears? And how do you judge that you’ve been fairly recompensed for your labour?”
Last week I talked about the time it would take to write such a book, and also touched on the question of length. Now to talk about the actual writing and some of what happens once a manuscript is complete.
Ever since writing became my full-time job, I treat it like one. That includes allowing myself weekends and evenings off. If this sounds overly liberal, please remind yourself that I don’t get any paid vacation or holidays. Also, I often end up working on weekends, whether responding to e-mails and keeping an eye on social media, participating in book events, or doing research.
And I’m usually at my desk by 8:00 in the morning, often by 6:30, so while I may be self-employed, I don’t think I qualify as a slacker.
My writing “pulse points” vary depending on where I am in a book. I’m slower at the start, faster toward the end. An interruption in composition (for example to deal with another project) will slow me down until I get back into the writing. Basically, I’m neither slow nor fast, but I am steady. What I write in my first draft tends to be of good, but not perfect, quality.
I’ve talked a lot about various aspects of how I write in these Wanderings. You can look at the other posts to get a feel for how I go about things (see the “Writing” category). Or, for a slightly more organized and focused look at the topic, I recommend my recent book Wanderings on Writing.
So, let’s assume I’ve spent a good chunk of the previous year immersed in writing a 150,000 word novel. As I said, what I write in that first draft tends to be of good, but not perfect, quality. I am, however, a perfectionist, so my next job is going through the manuscript, looking for where I put notes to myself (I mark these with square brackets, because that makes for a fast search), and addressing any questions or incomplete material. In the process of doing this, I usually re-read the manuscript off the screen, tightening as I go. As I said earlier, despite the length of my books, I don’t write “fat.”
When that on-screen read-through is complete, I print a copy of the manuscript and settle in to read it all over again, this time with a red pencil in hand. Again, my goal is to make the novel as tight, clear, and vivid as possible.
How long does this take? Weeks for each read-through. The amount of time needed for that first “off the screen” read will vary, depending on how many bracketed comments I need to address and how complex the questions I’ve asked myself are. The second read-through is deliberately slow, because my goal is to read carefully and I’m fighting an urge to rush. After this, it’s data entry time as I make numerous small changes.
Only when I’ve gone through the manuscript at least twice and made it as perfect as I can, does patient Jim get to see what has been obsessing me for the better part of the last year. He reads through with pencil in hand. Based on the number of typos, missed words, and suchlike he catches, he provides evidence for the frequent assertion that authors cannot proof themselves because they know what they wrote, rather than seeing what was actually written.
How long does Jim’s read-through take? This depends on his schedule, but I usually try to allow at least a month in my time allocation toward making a deadline because he has a full-time job and is reading during his commute or maybe a bit on the weekends. Oh… I consider his erratic reading schedule an advantage. That’s just how most “real” readers read a book, at scattered moments, not in a sitting or two (as do many editors). If Jim says, “I’d forgotten that…” or something similar, and I hadn’t intended for that element to be overlooked until the proper moment, I know I have work to do.
Then, after Jim is finished, I’m back to data entry, making his suggested corrections or, occasionally, making a note of a comment that I don’t agree with but that I want to remember in case I hear it from another reader. Sometimes, at this point, either a friend will offer to read the manuscript and offer comments, or (maybe because of something Jim brought up) I’ll solicit more feedback.
These numerous read-throughs are just the beginning of what I might term the blood, sweat, toil, and tears phase of a book. However, even at the times when I rely on a traditional publisher, they are far from the last.
I’ve written elsewhere about the value of a professional editor, so I won’t go into that again except to say that if I were to self-publish a novel, I’d want to do my best to find someone to do that job. This doesn’t come cheap, not if you want someone who is good. If I was trying to get a novel in a series edited, I’d need to find someone who was either familiar with the original books or was willing to read the previous books…
So a professional editor is a “cost” element, too.
Oh… And a professional editor is also a “time” element. This goes back to my comment in the prior essay about “handing in to my editor.” More often than not, a writer meets his or her deadline, then settles in to chew his or her nails while waiting for a response. After all, unless you’re very lucky or a bestie-bestseller, you are not your editor’s only concern. I’ve had slow editors and fast editors. Speed had absolutely nothing to do with quality. Some slow ones sucked. Some fast ones were brilliant. And vice versa.
If you’re going to work with a professional editor, in addition to budgeting money to pay the bill, you’d better budget time. If the book is coming out “whenever,” that’s okay, but if you’ve promised those folks on Kickstarter you’ll have it out by Christmas or you want to catch the summer “beach book” crowd or whatever, then this can be acid stomach time if you didn’t budget for a delay at this point.
Even if I was willing to do without a professional editor, which I just maybe might be willing to do for a novel in a series, since I’m likely to be more familiar with the foundation material than anyone I could hire, I wouldn’t do without a copyeditor.
What’s a copyeditor? A copyeditor is someone skilled in proofreading a text not only for typos and suchlike, but for inconsistencies (whether of content or spelling and format). A copyeditor also knows all the rules for punctuation. Yes. There are always disagreements regarding as to when a certain piece of punctuation should be used. However, most publishing houses have a “house” style they use. For many, this is the Chicago Manual of Style. This will be the default unless the author expresses a strong desire for an alternate.
In these cases, the copyeditor’s job also includes making and maintaining a list of these oddities. For example, I always spell the color “gray” (to Americans) as “grey.” This is because my brother is named “Graydon,” usually shortened to “Gray” and so, even as a relatively small child, my brain categorized “gray” as a name and “grey” as a color.
A good copyeditor is worth bouquets of flowers and boxes of chocolate (or bottles of whisky and bags of coffee). A poor copyeditor is a nightmare beyond knowing… Authors sit around and tell stories about bad copyeditors the way normal people tell ghost stories. Really!
If you want to know more about copyediting, I highly recommend Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s excellent essay, “On Copyediting.” You can find it in her collection Making Book. In addition to talking about copyediting in a general sense, she includes a bunch of material specific to SF/F, which cannot be praised enough as a means toward avoiding dumb mistakes.
Since my punctuation can become, uh, idiosyncratic, especially when I’m typing fast, and because (as noted above) a writer really cannot proof herself, I would need a professional quality copy editor. These do not come cheap. And they do not work fast, so here’s another investment in both money and time.
And the “expenses” involved in producing a book don’t end here, especially if you’re self-publishing… However, I’ll save the next phase for next week!