In an effort to help demystify the editing and publishing process for authors, I've tracked my second novel's editing journey, starting at the very beginning with the manuscript evaluation, which is what the edit letter from a traditional publishing house will often look like.
Mystified about what happens to a book once it's been written? Curious about what happens to a novel before it hits bookshelves and e-readers? You've come to the right place!
If you haven't read my guest post on what to do once you've finished your first draft, that's an excellent place to start. For the purpose of this blog series, I'm assuming that you've polished your story to the best of your ability and are moving on to the publishing stages, either as a self-published author or with your book accepted by a traditional publisher or hybrid press, like Iguana.
I announced earlier that I will be publishing Cultivating Peace next, and that novel will be the focus of this blog series. It's a romantic fantasy about a prince incognito and living on the run (Sam) who falls in love with a career soldier (Tassia) from a rival kingdom. I wrote the first two-thirds of this novel for NaNoWriMo in 2010 and finished it during NaNo 2013.
With no real idea of what to publish after Dragon Whisperer, I sent three of my finished novels to friend and editor Marg Gilks of Scripta Word Services for evaluation. Because I'm an editor as well as writer, I know a lot of editors, and I guess it's sort of cheating. For anyone who doesn't personally know an editor or two, I recommend stopping by the EAC's website and checking out their directory, where you can search editors by genre. (Be sure to do your research and find the right fit!)
All right, so just what is a manuscript evaluation? In a way, you can think of it as something like beta reading. Marg read my books and sent me very detailed feedback on where they worked and where they didn't, looking at broad categories like overall plot, the setting, dialogue, characterization, point of view and many more. She lists small inconsistencies along with large failings (plot holes, unlikeable characters, boring sections) and suggests ways to make these better.
The first two books I sent her were the oldest and I have been mucking away at them since I was a teenager. They have all sorts of problems, but thanks to Marg's guidance, I can actually see those problems that I've known existed but couldn't quite nail down. She's had some excellent suggestions, and I have come up with plenty of solutions on my own just by having the problems articulated.
Cultivating Peace is the most recent book I've written and I think it most clearly shows my growth as a writer. The evaluations Marg sent me for my first two books were long -- 15 and 32 pages, in fact. By comparison, the evaluation for CP is slightly over 7 pages. Those 7 pages contain mostly praise, which was a welcomed change after the other two evaluations. It was also a surprise because what I sent her was a barely polished second draft, that was really sent more out of desperation than anything.
I was pleasantly surprised by Marg's response. I'm also very relieved. There are a few instances of point of view flops and some minor inconsistencies and puzzlements (wrong word choice, characters acting a little out of character, things that are flat out confusing), that I'll have to go through and correct. She also helped me find a better name for a hostile nation that Tassia ends up fighting.
She had one major concern for the book:
I have no major complaints with the plot’s progression except maybe the involvement of the dragons -- the red ones were presented as a threat, but I was a little frustrated that, when they did attack the city, we don’t see them, and there is no actual story action involving them -- everyone goes into shelters and calmly waits out the attack much like people sitting through a bomb raid or a tornado. ... While dragons weren’t focal to the main storyline -- the love story -- if they’re going to be in a story they should perhaps earn their keep a bit more than they do in Cultivating Peace. ... Could Tassia and Sam perhaps be caught outside, still trying to get to shelter, when the dragons attack? ... (idea: it would be kind of nice if Sam could actually defend Tassia somehow, since she’s always the one coming to his rescue/protecting him physically; perhaps she could trip and a dragon swoops toward her, and Sam somehow drives it off? ... Nothing really superhero, just something to redeem him a bit in the monsieur in distress category).
This is a great example of showing the problem and offering a solution. In this instance, she offers an excellent suggestion, and I've made notes on how to expand the scene so that the dragons get a larger role and are shown directly in an assassination attempt. Sam will get to see real battle. This will add to the drama and make the dragons "earn their keep."
So now I will sit down and begin the revisions Marg has suggested before schlepping the novel off to my publisher for approval.
The structural edit is also known as the substantive edit and it involves addressing concerns over big-picture issues in a novel: overall structure, plot, premise, characterization, setting, point of view, and dialogue, to name a few.
With the guidance of a manuscript evaluation, I began methodically going through the novel and addressing problems. The biggest concern the evaluation raised was a lack of direct confrontation with the dragons in the story. So instead of rushing the main characters directly to the underground shelter, I had them pause outside just long enough to get briefly involved.
The scene didn't take long to write and incorporate into the chapter, and it was a lot of fun to write, especially in a book like this. As a romance, there isn't as much opportunity for outright conflict as in some of my other books. It also provided the opportunity for Sam to prove his worth a little more. I deliberately reversed roles in this book, with the woman, Tassia, doing all the battling and rescuing, but it ran the risk of Sam being a frustrating stereotype. In this new scene, he shows his courage and faces down a dragon in order to save Tassia.
The next issue I dealt with was a few flip flops in point of view. There were a few instances where a scene started out in one character's point of view and suddenly switched to another's (and sometimes back again). Marg made page references to each instance, and so I went through each and made them into only one character's point of view.
For instance, there was a scene of Sam talking to Queen Nalea and it started out through her eyes, and then had a few paragraphs of thoughts and emotions that were exclusively Sam's before going back to Nalea's. Since the scene begins and ends with Nalea, I chose to make it all from her point of view. This involved showing Sam's reactions and her interpretations of them, rather than directly showing what he was thinking and feeling.
Then, using Marg's page references, I delt with some issues in the dialogue, where things got too mundane or off topic, and also some miscellaneous issue like inconsistencies. Dealing with the dialogue problems was as simple as finding the excess information and deleting it.
The final big concern to address was the setting. While it's probably the best I've consistently done in a novel to show the setting, there was still plenty of room for improvement. There were no page references to follow this time, so I combed through the entire novel from start to finish -- also known as a pass in the editing world. So I did a pass looking for opportunities to add to the setting.
For the most part, in regard to the setting, I was adding a sentence or two here or there -- a whisper of breeze, a whiff of fresh grass -- to fully evoke the setting. But while I was doing this, I noticed that there were very large sections of unbroken dialogue that seemed more like the characters were talking on the phone than actually interacting with each other.
So in this pass, in addition to setting the scene, I did more to set the characters in the scene and this helped bring more life to the characters. I ended up extending quite a few scenes, adding more flirting between Tassia and Sam, and tweaking the setting for a few key scenes. I ended up surprising myself and adding roughly 5000 words to the story.
Since the novel was written during one NaNoWriMo or another, it's not as surprising to me to have found so much dialogue with little character interaction. When I write quickly, a lot of stuff gets left out in the first draft. Especially in NaNo, when I often compete in word wars (at the same time as other writers, taking a predetermined amount of time to write as many words as you can; whoever has the most words at the end of that period wins) and set myself up to write dialogue for those. I have the easiest time writing dialogue and it flows out of me like a real conversation. Except that I end up neglecting all of the non-verbal communication in the process.
So that was the sort of information added in this most recent pass of the novel. I'm reallly happy with the changes I've made so far and I'm really excited about how much better they've made the story. This draft is currently with my publisher, Iguana Books, and I'm waiting to see if there are any outstanding concerns before moving on.
In terms of work to be done for Cultivating Peace, I have spent most of the last week dividing my time between the ongoing line edit and the fiddly little things that go with putting a book together.
After I was done the structural edit, I sent the book to Greg at Iguana and he has since offered me a contract, which I had to read over and consider. It wasn't much different than the one for Dragon Whisperer, so we've decided to tag this book on in an amendment to the previous contract.
And Greg isn't crazy about the title, so it might not be called Cultivating Peace much longer. Of course, that was the best title I could come up with, but we'll see what the good staff at Iguana have to say about potential alternatives.
I've been emailing Amanda, the excellent author relations person, about all the little details for getting the book ready from a marketing perspective. And we're getting the crowd-funding campaign together too (Iguana is a hybrid publisher), so the perks have to be considered, blurbs written, a promotional video done, excerpts selected. The video is going to be a challenge and will mean at least an afternoon in Toronto very soon.
The book will need a cover image soon as well, so that there's something to put on the campaign and other promotional material. I've been in contact with the excellent Bev Bambury about working on marketing. I've also been working toward finding a copy editor for the book. It's between Una Verdandi, who has been editing my short stories, and someone in-house at Iguana.
And while it doesn't seem like much, it really has been quite time-consuming, and we haven't even gotten into the heart of the crowd-funding campaign, which will be on Pubslush this time.
Also known as stylistic editing, it's often lumped in with either the structural edit or the copy edit, but since I had some time, I gave it its own round of edits. The EAC definitions page describes it as "Clarifying meaning, eliminating jargon, smoothing language and other non-mechanical line-by-line editing."
So my main goals in this round of editing were to fill the remaining gaps in the story -- areas where there were huge chunks of dialogue with no physical markers for the characters or the setting -- and to tighten the prose and word choice. That just meant getting rid of unnecessary words that cluttered up the cadence and choosing more interesting, stronger modifiers (adverbs and adjectives, which you are, in fact, allowed to use in your writing, provided you do it sparingly and pick good ones).
I'll be honest. I didn't do as well as I would have liked. I didn't leave enough time between drafts to let the story sit and I wasn't looking at it with fresh eyes, so I caught myself missing a lot. In the future, I will try to give myself a month between each round of editing.
I also had to rush the last bit of the line edit, as I was assigned to Iguana editor Kathryn Willms for the copy edit, and she was ready to go sooner than I'd anticipated. I'd hoped to get a round of my own copy editing done before sending the book back to Iguana, but I hate copy editing anyway.
In more behind-the-scenes stuff, I'm also still working with the folks at Iguana to come up with a new title, though nothing is really sticking. Greg has come up with such gems as War and Peas; Love, War, Pumpkins, Dragons; and my favourite: Peaceful Pumpkin, Hidden Dragon. In case you were wondering, Greg is a world-class smartass. Heh.
We're still tweaking the wording for the promotional material as well. It's been a bit of a struggle to come up with something accurate without giving too much of the plot away. Hopefully there will be something soon. Also, the cover art is under way and I'm really excited about the reveal. Heck yes!
Picking the title for my upcoming book has been one of the most ridiculously time consuming things I've done toward this book so far. While I didn't have any major problems with the working title I gave it (Cultivating Peace) the publisher was not crazy about it at all.
And so the title search began. I've previously listed some of the gems Greg at Iguana came up with. None of the alternatives we came up with met the main criteria we were searching for: something related to the story, and something catchy/interesting.
We came up with some great titles that were vaguely related to the book's subject matter (love, war and gardening), but none that sounded great and also fit the book. So Iguana held a contest. And again, there were more great titles but with the same setbacks as the ones me and the folks at Iguana had already come up with.
And a huge thank you to everyone who entered! There were some amazing titles that I wish we could have used.
So I picked a shortlist (see below) of the contest titles and sent them to Iguana. Greg's main concern at this point was that the title allude to the fact that the book is a fantasy. So I took the short list and tried to dragonify them.
The Wheat Sky Garden
Fires in the Garden
The short list led to some more ideas:
The Wheat Sky Dragons
Dragons in the Garden
And then I had some fun with alliteration:
Dragons & Desire
Fire & Folly
Lust & Legumes
But all to no avail. So then the team at Iguana revisited the entire list of contest entries and my editor's adjustment to one of the entries gave us the book's new title: After the Dragon Raid.
So congratulations to the winners! Grand prize winner, Olivia Riccia, will have a character named after her, and she, along with Brendan O'Brien, Lynn Bauman-Milner and Janice Thode, whose titles made the short list, will receive a free signed copy of After the Dragon Raid when the book is released this fall.
In Oh, the Places You'll Go, Dr. Seuss warns us about "The Waiting Place". It's a particularly insidious place, and one you'll become quite accustomed to if you get into the world of publishing. Even with Iguana's fast-paced business model, I have been bashing my head against the exterior walls of "The Waiting Place" for over a month now.
The copy edit of After the Dragon Raid has been delayed by at least a month. I had initially expected to have the copy edits back for me to review soon, but in reality, I won't see them until August at the earliest. This is only mildly frustrating compared to some of the other hold ups.
The cover art for the book, at last check of my email a nanosecond ago, has failed to materialize and the artist is AWOL. I'm waiting for a definite answer from the folks at Iguana (hurray, more waiting!) but it looks like a new artist will need to be found. Either way, it's going to be more waiting (awesome!) before the cover reveal.
This is extremely problematic. You don't realize just important that cover is until you actually have a book in print. I can't do much of anything to promote the book's release without the cover art. I have all kinds of ideas for promotional things, like business cards, buttons, and bookmarks for a start, not to mention just showing it off on social media and such. None of that can happen without the artwork. We can't start the Pubslush campaign without the artwork. And of course, without the campaign and the funds we hope it will generate, there will be no book at all.
And I'm also waiting for the release of my first published short story. It will appear in a small online magazine soon -- it shouldn't be too much longer since I was recently paid for the story, and have already spent those funds. I'm really excited about this one, and have been waiting months to finally share the story with everyone.
The thing that really gets me is just how normal all this waiting is. Every author I talk to has the same waiting problem. Some of them have been waiting much longer for much less. But all the waiting is really sapping me of my energy.
There are ways to beat the Waiting Beast, and the simplest way is to just keep busy with other things. I find the waiting is too distracting some days, like today, where I should be editing, or could be working on my trilogy's rewrites, but instead all I do is check my email every couple of minutes (or more often) hoping some of the waiting will come to an end soon.
Some of the writers I've talked to try to have at least one book in the different stages of the process at once -- often that means at least three books on the go -- in order to always have something to work on while waiting.
Even when things go smoothly, there's a lot of waiting involved. The editing takes forever (and it should!) especially to go through all the stages of it -- structural, copy editing, proofreading. And then the layout and design, and converting to ebook, and finding reviewers and waiting for them to get back to you. And the launch date is still a tentative thing in the far future. It might as well happen a century from now. October is forever away!
I just might be too impatient for this. Here's hoping something changes soon!
This is the preliminary artwork for After the Dragon Raid, and Meghan Behse at Iguana deserves a massive thank you for some eleventh hour heroics in putting this together! We're still putting ideas together for the hard cover artwork and finalizing the details of this particular design, but I'm really happy with how it's coming together!
As with Dragon Whisperer, I am crowdfunding to raise funds for production costs (editing, design, marketing, distribution) of After the Dragon Raid. Last time, I used Indiegogo as a platform, and this year I am going with Pubslush, a site devoted to literature, in hopes of reaching a wider readership.
Why am I raising money to publish a book? Check out my explanation of Iguana's business model and why it's a good fit for me.
There are some really excellent giveaways with this campaign. In addition to copies of the books, there are recipes, videos, the chance to be a beta reader on a future project, and the chance to star in your own short story!
Or is it copyediting? Or copy-editing? Not sure? That's what editors (particularly copy editors) are for! So, just what the heck is copy editing? How is it different from proofreading or structural editing? The EAC has a tidy page of definitions for different types of editing, and if the above are burning questions keeping you up at night, then please go have a look.
I am currently working on reviewing the copy edits of After the Dragon Raid. What does that mean, exactly? If you recall, a while back I sent my manuscript into Iguana, and my wonderful copy editor, Kathryn, bashed away at it and recently sent me back a shiny, edited manuscript.
She wasn't doing a strict copy edit as per the definitions provided in the link above. There's a touch of structural (pointing out areas where she feels like information is missing) and some heavy line/stylistic editing as well. She's deleted a few superfluous things and rearranged the structure of some of the paragraphs or sentences to improve clarity or cadence. That's in addition to the strict definition of copy editing, in which she made sure my grammar, spelling and punctuation was up to snuff.
And now, I'm going to open up the pages of After the Dragon Raid so you can see just what, exactly, editing looks like.
First, here's a screenshot of the first page as it looked when I sent it off to Kathryn.
Not too shabby, right? So, it may come as a shock to you, if you've never been edited before, to see that the following image is what the above text looked like once Kathryn was done with it.
Whoa! A little scary, yeah? So this is what the document looks like with all of the tracked changes shown. The bits in blue are the changes that I made as per the suggestions in the comments in the margin.
So you might be hyperventilating on my behalf right now, but I assure you, this really isn't a big deal. Kathryn sent me the file without the changes displayed, so that I could see only the finished product. I didn't notice she'd done anything, and could only see the margin comments. So when I turned the changes on, I was surprised to see all of this. But I promise, it's okay.
Where does reviewing it come in? Well, I'm going through each page, many of which look just like that one up there, to see just what she's done and evaluate how I feel about it. For the most part, I just nod and move on. There are a couple of places where I felt that the changes made the text choppy and I smoothed that out, but didn't necessarily reject the changes outright.
I have rejected a few of the changes, particularly in dialogue, where I feel like the changes aren't authentic to the character in question. But aside from adding in information where she's commented it's missing, I've left the vast majority of her changes untouched. At the very least, when she's made a change, I can see what she means about the section not quite working.
The final product of that colourful mess? It's looking pretty awesome.
So I've finished going through the first chapter and will be working to go through the remaining chapters in the coming days. There's still plenty of work to do on the book, including more editing (proofreading is next, once we're done with this round of copy edits) and marketing.
Here it is! This is the final cover image (very similar to the previous reveal) and now the promotion machine can get a jump on things! There will only be one cover design this time around, since there wasn't a budget to do a second design for the hardcover. I'm a little disappointed about that, but there's nothing to be done about it.
It's been an exhausting process, with the orginal artist unable to do the design, leaving Iguana to find a last-minute replacement. Coming up with a cover image was difficult too, since we wanted to go with something simple and eye-catching like the Dragon Whisperer cover, and the prevailing themes of the book are a little more abstract this time around.
Much of the love story in After the Dragon Raid centres around the heroine's garden, and so that's why we finally went with the lush, leafy imagery on the cover.
After the preliminary cover reveal, there was a lot of back and forth on how to market the book and talk of promoting it as a romance. This led to exploring new cover options, none of which I was crazy about, before we decided to just stick with fantasy. *whew*
I've sent my professional headshot to Iguana along with the back cover copy (the description of the book) and a short bio. There might need to be a little bit of tweaking on that, depending on space and the layout, but for the most part the cover is one less thing for me to worry about.
Next up is the proofreading, but I don't anticipate any surprises there. So the book's layout will be done and I can review the final editing before the book gets formatted for e-readers. We're getting close now! I'm working on some final details for the launch party.
Here's some exciting news: After the Dragon Raid has been fully formatted and the ebook is ready for the release date! Woo-hoo! Everyone who contributed to the higher levels of the PubSlush campaign can expect their advance copy of the ebook very soon. Exciting times!
Earlier this month, the layout for the book was completed and then the proofreading was done. Here's a peek at what the inside of the book will look like.
Everything that's going on with the book now is very behind-the-scenes and I haven't been involved in the process at all, except to answer a couple of questions. It was nice not to have to worry about the editing, especially when I've got the launch party to put together and promotion to start.
So, what's proofreading and how is it different from other kinds of editing? Well, you've seen structural editing and copy editing at work. Proofreading is for once the book has been laid out in its final form, and involves the actual proof pages. The EAC defines proofreading as:
Reading proofs of edited manuscript. Galley proofing may include incorporating and/or exercising discretion on author's alterations; flagging locations of art and page references; verifying computer codes. Page proofing may include checking adherence to mock-up (rough paste-up), accuracy of running heads, folios and changes made to type in mock-up, checking page breaks and location of art, and inserting page numbers to table of contents and cross-references if necessary.
Clear as mud? Basically, it means making sure the formatting is correct and consistent, and doing a final sweep for errors like typos.
So that's a look at the editing process and a little bit of what goes into the production of a book. I left a few things out, including self-promotion because I didn't want this article to get too out of hand. I think this gives you a good overview of what to expect.