My publisher recently told me that publishing a book is like giving birth. I think it might be true. While some authors can put out two or three books a year, my gestation period was much longer than nine months. I can also attest to there being some pain involved. The worst part, though, is letting go.
This blog has been quiet lately because as my book neared its release date, the demands on my time intensified. I’ve never had a deadline quite like this one, where something I labored over for more than a year approached a point where I had to open my hands and let it fly, without any more edits, tweaks, fixes, or fussing. It’s not like wrapping up a research project and turning in the final report. When The Caphenon flies on March 14, it will be out there for people to read and pass judgment on. That judgment part is a tad nerve-racking.
The process has been fascinating, though, so I thought I’d share it for those who might be intrigued by a peek inside the world of publishing.
The first people who saw my manuscript were my beta readers. I have several of them, all with different areas of expertise. They help me with fact checking, offer viewpoints I can’t achieve on my own, and give feedback on their own reception of the story arc and character interactions.
Beta readers are very familiar to me—I wrote five fanfic novels starting in 2002, so that part of the process is unchanged. What does change are the names and faces, because beta reading is a labor of love and most people can’t keep doing it year after year.
After the beta readers had their say, and I tweaked and fixed and added and subtracted to (almost) my heart’s content, the manuscript went to the line editor.
Quick explanation—there are different types of editors. A substantive editor is usually the first to touch a manuscript, because her job is the big picture stuff: plot and character consistency, point of view issues, extraneous text, etc. She hands off to the line editor (sometimes called the copy editor now, though in theory those are two different roles), who digs into the technical aspects: grammar, dialogue attributes, word repetition, fact checks, punctuation, spelling, and much more. After the line editor comes the proofreader, who goes through looking for consistency errors (for example, a character’s name being spelled two different ways), spelling errors, double spaces or periods…the small things that others may have missed.
Proofreaders were originally tasked with looking at a manuscript after it had gone to print—they were examining the first proof, hence the name—and catching things like page layout issues, inconsistent chapter title fonts, etc. These days the varying editor roles have really gotten blended, so a proofreader can end up copy editing, and a line editor may do substantive editing…it gets confusing. In a big publishing house, there could be four editors looking at a manuscript: substantive editor, line editor, copy editor, and finally proofreader. Small publishing houses cannot afford that, so the job titles get blurred.
Because I’m also a line editor for my publisher, I enjoy a lot of freedom in the editing process, which is a great perk. One of the Ylva editors and I look over each other’s work, and play what we call “editing ping pong.” When you start discussing the use of commas in compound predicates, you know you’re in the weeds.
After the line editing, my manuscript went to the proofreader, and from there to the graphic artist who does our layouts. He created the artwork for the chapter titles and laid out the manuscript, a process that can get pretty detailed. For instance, if the layout results in an orphan (a word that ends up by itself on a line at the end of a paragraph), it needs to be manually adjusted to resolve the issue.
(An example of the chapter title art in The Caphenon.)
The graphic artist sent the manuscript back to the publisher for approval. The publisher sent it to me as well, so more eyeballs could check the final layout. We made notes on issues and sent it back for adjustments. The new version came back, we made a few more notes, and after one more round we were done. Now the layout could be sent to the printer…and it was time to create the e-books.
This is something new in the world of publishing. Layout for print editions is not the same as layout for e-books. Because there are so many different types of e-readers (Kindles, iPads, Nooks, other tablets), all of which may be independently adjusted for font, type size, etc. by the readers, there is no way to have a definitive layout in these formats. Instead, the text must flow freely depending on the device, the application being used, and the reader’s personal settings.
So two more layouts came my way, one in the .mobi format (Kindle) and one in the .epub format (everyone else). We checked these for errors as well—and found a few, because it’s unavoidable when running text through those converters—made notes, sent them back, received the adjusted version, and checked those over as well.
If you’re getting the impression by now that I’ve read my manuscript about eighty times in this process, you’re right.
But wait, there’s more! While all of this was going on, we were also dealing with the cover design. This starts early, because it requires the author to say, “I want X and Y and Z, but in purple,” and then the graphic designer sends a rough draft of A, B, and C in violet-blue, and the author says, “Um…kind of like that, except with this instead,” and it goes back and forth. This is a case of two artists with radically different ways of seeing the world trying to communicate their vision, and wow, it is hard. I’m frankly amazed at what our graphic artist produced for us based on my pathetic attempts at describing my vision. In fact…let me give you an example.
Here is what he produced after I sent him a hand-drawn outline of my starship.
And here is what we ended up with after several rounds of explanation and “right, but it needs to be higher here and flatter there and not so pointy” comments.
I saw a ship in my mind’s eye when I wrote my novel, but I didn’t have the capacity to see it in schematic-level detail, which is why describing it to someone trying to draw it was so hard. But seeing it here? Oh yeah—this is MY ship. In fact, after this drawing and the actual schematics were done, I ended up going back into my manuscript and changing a few things to match up with this wonderfully real image I could look at right there on my computer screen.
Once the book cover was done, it had to be produced in half a dozen different iterations. A print cover is not the same shape as an e-book cover (it’s much wider), and different e-readers take different sizes of cover images…and then there’s the print edition’s back cover and spine. Which brought up issues such as, do we put the series name on the spine, or just the book title? What about the series logo? Should it orient toward the back of the book to match the title, or should it orient toward the bottom of the book so that it will be right side up when the book is shelved?
When these details were decided, we actually had the necessary parts for a book.
Did I mention that while all of this was going on, I was also rewriting and editing the next two novels in the series?
But wait, there’s more! Because we didn’t stop with the production of a book. I’ve run my own website for thirteen years, housing my fanfic novels, so it was a no-brainer that I’d create a new website for this series. What startled me was my publisher’s willingness to step up and help with it. Her help, and that of our graphic artist, turned the new site into something much shinier than I could have managed alone. In fact, it’s more than shiny. It’s downright gorgeous. And I could go on about it, but I’ll just send you there instead.
It’s at chroniclesofalsea.com. Check out the maps, the caste shields…oh, and there’s a blog there, too. Yes, I am insane enough to run two of them. This one will continue to be my geek blog, while my Alsea blog will focus on writing—peeks into the process, updates, notes on software and other tools that make a difference, photographs of the piles of chocolate that fuel the whole process…you know, author stuff.
And in eight more days, you can order The Caphenon and read it for yourself instead of seeing me yap about it. If you’re really impatient, you can preorder the Kindle e-book on Amazon right now.