Last week Hillary e-mailed to ask a few questions about the process since I mentioned line edits. So, for those of you who are interested in how an idea becomes a book, here's a quick rundown of Silent on the Moor!
I was already under contract for SOTM after Silent in the Sanctuary, so I knew precisely where I was going when I finished the last book. I knew the book would be set in Yorkshire, and I knew the storyline. So, I wrote a synopsis and turned that in to my editor for approval. Once she had okayed it, I booked a trip to Yorkshire on the grounds that I needed to "smell a moor". In April 2007 I went to England for a quick five days, smelled a LOT of moors, and took loads of notes and bought scads of books. Then I came home and set to work.
First, I read. I took notes; I made copies; I highlighted. Then I roughed out the plot, and on July 1, I began the rough draft. I finished it August 31. I worked every day without fail for those two months because I have learned the hard way that taking even a day off is fatal to my sense of "flow". At the beginning of the process, I set a page minimum for the day because starting a rough draft is a Sisyphean task. Towards the end of the process, I set a page maximum, because I will start to write too quickly and throw my pacing off if I don't keep a tight rein on myself. I write in the morning when my energy is highest. Then I usually lie around the rest of the day, drinking cups of tea and watching things like the Tour de France and thinking about the next day's scene.
Once the rough draft was finished, I left it strictly alone until November. (I had expected to rework it in October, but I had surgery that month and it threw me off. Writing under the influence of pain meds is GREAT for the blog, very bad for the book.) November 1 I started revisions, and those took the better part of the month--three weeks, give or take. I sent the completed manuscript off to my editor on December 1. Within a few days she e-mailed me a heartfelt, emotional, VERY complimentary reaction to the book, and I started breathing again for the first time since July.
My editor kept the book until the middle of April when she sent it back with the line edits completed. It's still my manuscript, but it has little notes in the margin, both praise and helpful criticism. (I am extremely fortunate to have a gifted editor who has a laser-like focus. A word or two jotted in the margin, and an entire scene will suddenly snap into focus for me and I see where I could change a few lines and clarify or tighten or enrich an entire chapter. Being able to edit well IS a gift, and it's vastly underrated, believe me.) She also sent along nine pages of thoughts, questions, notes, etc. for me to think about while I'm polishing up the book. I should point out that she NEVER commands or instructs or demands. She only ever offers suggestions which I am free to take or discard, and that courtesy on her part makes me MUCH more likely to listen.
In this case, I have about six weeks altogether to make the adjustments I want to make, although I will actually only need a week. (The changes are not at all extensive, just a few tweaks here and there, and if pressed, I could do them in a few days if I worked flat out.) In the meantime, it occurred to me that since she needs my revision back by the end of May, she has left us NO time to fix anything if she doesn't like the changes I made. (I actually sat bolt-upright in bed the other night, panicking when I realized we didn't have a buffer. I asked her about it the next day, and she laughed at me. "If I thought you needed a buffer, I'd have given you one," she said breezily. Sometimes she has MUCH more confidence in my abilities than I do.)
Once my revision is turned in to her, she will go over it, then send it off to the copy editor who will read it VERY closely and make her own corrections, usually for issues of grammar and continuity. My editor and I prefer an extremely light copy edit for a variety of reasons. The biggest difficulty we've had in the past is when my preferences are not in line with the "house style". Very basically, the house style is the set of guidelines established for the entire publishing company as to how matters of grammar and style should be addressed. Some companies are very specific about house style, others are more relaxed. My own house, mercifully, is very lenient and if what I want contradicts what the copy editor says is house style, my choice prevails. (Many times in my case this is an issue of British syntax conflicting with North American usage.)
Once the copy edits are finished, the manuscript leaves me for awhile and I get on with the next book. (In my case, I will be writing the rough draft of the fourth book at this point.) Sometime in late summer probably, I will get a peculiar-looking bound copy of the book that must be proofread. There are usually VERY few changes at this point. This is the last opportunity to make any corrections before the book goes to print. Once I surrender that copy, I don't see it again until the ARC or Advanced Reading Copy is printed, usually a few months before the actual books are printed. These copies are for promotion, and are mailed out to reviewers and handed out at trade shows. It is the first chance I have to see the book complete with cover art and cover copy. Creating cover art is a LENGTHY and involved process of its own with several departments, and writing the cover copy can involve four or five people e-mailing back and forth until we have something that everyone likes. There are also readers' group questions to prepare, biographies to write, and other PR issues to discuss. Some of those things are done by me, most by other people, and a few are collaborative.
Then it's time to nibble my nails until March '09 when the book finally arrives in bookstores! (And now I bet Hillary is VERY sorry she asked...)