A reader asked, “Did your book just unfold by a series of miracles or did you usher it through the process?”
Last time I talked about the process of writing and submitting up until: You receive an offer.
It’s only just beginning, grasshopper. Your book gets accepted. Your editor takes the MS, and will get in touch with you with his or her own concerns about the book (and a good editor WILL HAVE A FEW. You can bet on that.)
If you’re writing YA, which is where editing is still a little more rigorous than with the generic adult title, you might get an editorial letter of several single-spaced pages (my record was seven single-spaced pages) of questions and comments and suggestions about your book. Please don’t faint. Most of these are going to be invaluable and you will be smacking yourself on the forehead wondering why you hadn’t noticed before.
But also… this is YOUR book, and if you choose to draw a line in the sand and have rational reasons for it your editor is most likely willing to listen and discuss things with you, especially if you’re willing to work with that editor on the things that you are fine with changing according to his/her guidelines.
So you go away and you go through your book again, dealing with the editorial changes.
You send in the fixed MS. The editor looks it over, and accepts it. The MS gets sent in for copy-editing. You get the copy-edited MS (usually with a note telling you they want it back in three days) and it’s a frightening animal. It’s been gone through with a fine-tooth comb, and then gone through again. It bristles with post-it notes from every angle. There are comments scribbled in the margin in two or three different colored pens, depending on how many people have been through this. You gulp and swallow, and you go through it AGAIN. Line by line. Word by word. You okay some of the editors’ changes and suggestions; but you write a big red STET in the margins telling them to leave other changes alone. [Remember, this is the LAST TIME YOU GET TO MAKE CHANGES.]
You send the copy-edited MS back to the publisher.
Somehow, in a process very like black magic, that unholy mess of post-its and messy scribbled comments gets turned into something clean and wonderful called the proofs. The proofs are typeset pages which look like the finished book is going to look. You get these for a final pass, and this time you’re only really allowed to correct an egregious typo if you find it, or to yell if you discover they have missed out an entire section of some chapter which renders the rest unintelligible. Any other changes at this point are expensive to make and they WILL affect the final product so they’re reluctant to shift too much around once you get to this stage.
You can confidently expect to hate your own book at this point, because this is the fourth or fifth or sixth time you’ve gone through it in more detail than you care to, and you can see that the whole thing is an unadulterated mess, and everyone will, of course, hate it hate it hate it. But you struggle through your proofs, and you hold yourself in check because now, suddenly, you want to change EVERYTHING but can’t any more – and you send them back.
The next thing that happens is that a box arrives on your doorstep with ARCs – that is, Advanced Readers Copies. These are the things that get sent out to reviewers and such, the pre-publication publicity copies. They’re pretty and they’re shiny and they’re all OOOOH, LOOOK!… but trust me, the true reward is coming, the second box. The second box, THE box, arrives not too long after that… with your authors’ copies in it.
Of the book.
Of the ACTUAL BOOK!
And all that stuff you were worried about is forgotten, all the pains of book-birth and the pre-partum and post-partum depressions, because this is it, this is your newborn, and it’s SHINY, and it’s… it’s… it’s a BOOK, a real book and it has your name on the cover, and your words inside, and it’s pure magic, it’s your birthday and all the Christmas mornings of your childhood rolled into one. People have lost it completely and bounced around their living rooms squealing like five year olds when this happens. People have sat down cradling a copy of their book and cried. People have fallen down on their knees and prayed.
There’s nothing like it. Nothing in the whole wide world.
There’s your miracle. Right there.