Friday, October 10, 2014

Writing: "The Deadline Cometh"

When I meet with readers’ groups, the questions I’m asked are generally pretty predictable. “Where do you get your ideas?” “How do you name your characters?” “How do you get an agent?” “I have a nephew who thinks he wants to write a book? What’s your advice for him?”

But the question I never get asked is, “What’s the fuss about an author meeting a deadline?” And that’s pretty interesting, unless you’re the person sweating over the computer keyboard, casting an anxious eye toward the calendar, and telling the family they’ll have to order pizza for dinner because you’re going to be chained to your desk for the evening.

The time between submission of a manuscript and publication of a novel is generally about a year. There are exceptions, but a year is pretty standard in my experience. The reason is that the original manuscript undergoes several revisions before it’s ever ready to be printed (or formatted for e-publication). First, an editor at the publishing house does a macro-edit. That is, they look at the big picture. Their suggestions are generally transmitted to the author in a letter or email, and often cover several pages. I’ve been asked to change the names, sexes, or races of characters. Some of my colleagues have had to make drastic alterations in their plot lines. The macro-edit is the tiger behind the publishing door for a writer, and has caused more sleepless nights than a cup of double espresso. But let me hasten to say that, in my experience, the suggestions always make the work better.

After the macro-edit and subsequent rewrite, another editor performs the copy edit. That’s the one that takes out and puts in commas, suggests different (and hopefully better) wording, and fine-tunes the work. The author is, of course, free to ignore every suggestion, but most don’t. Again, I’ve found that it’s a good idea to pay attention to these professionals. However, they’re wrong just often enough that it’s necessary to go over their suggestions carefully, instead of accepting them all blindly.

The final stage is a review of galley proofs. These constitute the book in its final form. Any significant changes here can cause consternation at the publishing house. Although an editor will check them for errors, it’s the ultimate responsibility of the author to make sure everything is correct. One of the worst enemies of authors is autocorrect. If we misspell a word, and autocorrect tries to clean up our mistake, for reasons known only to Bill Gates and people at Microsoft our computer can decide that we meant “rate” when we tried to write “hate.”

By now you must be saying, “I thought writers did it all themselves.” Nope, although there is one famous writer in the general market whose contracts, legend has it, call for his books to be printed exactly as he submits them, with no edits. Of course, I stopped reading his work a few years back, although some of his latest ones make pretty good doorstops.

And that, gentle reader, is why writers have to meet deadlines. Sometimes the publishing house will build in a little time, and deadline is a “soft” one. But in most instances, these things are timed out pretty closely. And the author who consistently fails to meet a deadline may find himself/herself without a subsequent contract.

Do you have other questions about writing and publishing? Leave a comment, and I'll try to answer them in a future blog.

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Patricia Bradley said...

With every edit, I email my editors and thank them for saving my rear for catching my errors. Without my great editors I would be dead in the water. lol.

Richard Mabry said...

Patricia, the general public may know that a writer is totally responsible for a book, but authors know better. Truly, "it takes a village." Thanks for your comment.