by Raelene Gorlinsky
You’ve sold your story! You’ve signed the contract. (I’m assuming here that you read every word of that contract and understand and agree with it all—before you signed.) So…uh, what do you do now? What happens between contract signing and book release? How does the manuscript you submitted get turned into the polished gem that will soon glow on the “New Releases” page of your publisher’s website?
(I will address this as if this is your first publication, or at least the first with this publisher.)
The actual process will vary from publisher to publisher, and there will be variation between e-publishers and traditional NY print houses. But here are the basics.
“Meet” your editor: You may have had some contact with your editor already, especially if your submission went through discussions or a revise&resubmit before being accepted. Or your only contact to this point may have been “the call” to tell you about acceptance (for an e-pub, most likely an email, not a phone call). But now that you have an official relationship and a joint project—your book!—you need to get in touch and start to build that working relationship. Things like exchanging contact information and preferences and information that will help you work together smoothly.
Always remember, this is a professional relationship, not a personal one. Do not try to turn your editor into your best friend or mommy or therapist. You both want to have a pleasant, productive, friendly relationship, of course. But your editor works for the publisher, not you. She must put the publisher’s interests first, and that can mean occasionally having to give you bad news or be more blunt than your crit partners were (‘cause they’re your friends and didn’t want to hurt your feelings). The editor’s job is to make this the most marketable book that will be a product of pride from the publisher; her job is not to pamper your feelings or provide for your emotional needs. So the editor does not need to know about your personal life except as it affects your writing career. If you have a day job or have four kids at home, convey that to your editor in the context of what hours it is easiest to reach you and how many hours per week you have available to work on your writing. Same with anything else that impacts how long it will take you to work through edits, or when you can submit the next book, etc. Authors, like any other people, may have disabilities that affect their work, and it helps your editor to understand and compensate if she knows about it up front. (And of course, notify your editor of any situations in future that affect your work—if you are unavailable because of a serious personal or family emergency, are taking a three-month vacation, just gave birth to triplets, or are entering the Witness Protection Program.)
Also exchange “technical compatibility” information at the start, since our business involves constant exchange of electronic documents. The default work platform for most is MSWord on a PC. If you are using some other software or a Mac, let your editor know, so she is alert to file incompatibility issues.
Discuss the plan: Ask your editor what the steps of the process will be, what dates to aim for. There is a lot more than just “here are your edits”. What about cover art? When will a release date be available? When can you get the book’s ISBN? (Bet you didn’t think of that, did you? But some advertising venues require that before they’ll let you place an ad.)
Your editor should send you any forms or procedures you need. Here at EC, we send new authors a whole bunch of stuff, including our house Style Guide, cover art request form, contact list, and editing checklists.
Okay, now we’re ready to actually edit your book!
Revision letter/Content edits: Maybe your plot and characters are already very close to perfect. But for many, if not most, books, the first step in the editing process is story content revisions. Beef up this scene and take that one out, delete this extraneous subplot, fix all these timeline issues, put more oomph into the conflict. Make the sex sexier! Her actions here make no sense, just aren’t realistic or believable. He does not grovel enough to redeem himself. Why is the heroine’s sister Cindy for the first half of the book, then Candy for the rest? And if this is an historical, either change that name or provide proof that women in 1234 England were named Cindy/Candy.
Yep, lots of rewriting. Did you really think that acceptance meant the book was perfect as is? Let me introduce you to the Easter Bunny… Or in this case, your editor, the Fairy Godmother who helps you get your wish for publication of a fantastic book.
Cover Art: When this happens will vary. But at some point, you will be given a chance for input to your cover design. For a newbie author at a traditional NY pub, this could be as little as your editor saying, “Oh, by the way, you got any suggestions about the cover?” At e-pubs and many small presses, the author traditionally gets more chance for input; you may be asked to fill out a form about your book and its important elements. But remember, what you provide are suggestions only—there is no commitment that the cover will match that. The cover art is the publisher’s choice, not the author’s.
Edits: Can be called line edits, copy edits, proofing—actually, all of that. Now that the “story” has been revised, it’s time to start tweaking all the words. Clunky sentences, awkward phrases, misused words, unclear dialogue. Plus, of course, grammar and punctuation and spelling. (You did self-edit and proof each revision before sending to your editor, right?) And don’t forget the house style guide. If the publisher doesn’t have one of their own, they probably specify something like CMOS as their standard.
There may be several rounds of editing until the book is clean and both editor and author are satisfied.
Copy Edits: After you think the book is done, then the copy editor gets a crack at it! The copy editor is the expert proofreader, consistency checker, final and fresh pair of eyes to look at your book. She will catch all the things you and the editor missed because you’d read this thing so many times now you aren’t seeing what’s actually there anymore. At EC, our copy editors check for:
· Consistency (names, words, timeline, and physical descriptions).
· Coherence and choreography of physical actions.
· Verify correctness of facts; copyright and trademark issues.
· Sentence structure, proper word usage, clarity, point of view.
· Typos, misspellings, grammar, punctuation.
· Proper formatting per our standard Word template.
· Conformance with EC’s style and standards and with our story guidelines.
Copy editors aren’t paid nearly enough. A good copy editor is worth her weight in gold and should be remembered in your prayers and your will.
Release Planning/Promotion: Once your book was actually contracted, of course you immediately started promoting it all over the place. On your blog, website, e-newsletter, MySpace, Facebook, on other people’s blogs, on chat loops. And on and on. Let people know the title, what it is about, that it is “coming soon”.
Once you get a cover and a confirmed release date, do it all again! Decide on promo items to buy and how to distribute them. Hold contests and giveaways. Make sure every potential reader recognizes your title and cover, and knows when and where they can buy your book.
Oh yeah, and then don’t forget this one. Celebrate! Your book is finally done and out. Accept congratulations from friends and fans. Enjoy the fan email. Anticipate that first royalty check.
Now—have you submitted the next book yet? And are you working on the one after that?