Thursday 1 September 2022

Publishing Mechanics

This isn't a 'how to' guide for self-publishing - it's more like one of those info-documentaries where they show you inside the sawmill or how sausages are made. I.e there's enough information here to entertain and enlighten, but not to show you how to assemble your IKEA furniture ... rather like those instructions included with your IKEA furniture flatpack. 

You can watch me talk to this blog post on Youtube.


Here's me writing fiction. I have been at this a while and had very definitely put in my 10,000 hours before getting a book deal. The boy (the younger boy) in the photo is now 29. 

I wasn't writing a book there, but I was writing fiction - I ran (full-time for a year and then for 10+ years in my spare time) part of a fantasy play-by-mail game, creating interactive stories for hundreds of players across a shared world.

So, step 1 - write a manuscript.

There are many ways to do this, a great range of quite different approaches have been shown to work. Don't sweat it.

You may find it helpful to have beta readers, either during or after the process. I wrote my first book all by myself (it was rubbish), my second (Blood of the Red) and third (Prince of Thorns) I wrote to an online critique group, chapter by chapter. These two had feedback from a dozen or more people all trying to do write their own stuff too. The great majority of my books have been beta read as they were written, by a single beta reader to who(*) I am very much indebted. 

(* I refuse to use 'whom', ever. Join me in this quest to eradicate a word!)

When you feel you're done, be it after 1 draft or 20, it's time for editing.

A traditionally published author gets their editing "for free", i.e. the publisher hopes that the book will sell well enough such that their (large) cut of the sales money will cover the expense.

Self-published authors, have to pay for editing directly, and as such can feel tempted to do it themselves. Editing yourself is REALLY hard. Editing requires different skills from writing, Editing yourself requires those skills, plus the incredibly rare ability to detach yourself from the writing, and the author's knowledge about the world/characters. If you can't detach yourself from the text (and I'm not sure anyone could) then you will be blind to the failings on the page - you will unconsciously paper over holes in the story with the author's intention/understanding that you possess.

Beta-readers will help catch some of these issues, but they generally lack the expertise of an editor.

Literary agents can be another layer of the process. Some agents double as "shadow editors" and work on the manuscript with their author. Mine doesn't. Only authors intent on traditional publishing will have agents (if they're lucky).

Step 2 - Developmental Edit

Step 3 - Copy edit

Step 4 - Proofread

These next steps, which I will address individually are not set in stone. They don't have hard and fast borders, but they're the structure adopted across the industry in some form or other.

Looking at the sites of freelance editors that I've heard of, I see that Sarah Chorn (who seems to be in great demand) charges $1,000 for a developmental edit on a typical 100,000 word book, and the same amount for a copy edit. Proofreading is $800. These prices will scale by word-count, 

My beta-reader, published under the name Mitriel Faywood, recently employed the services of UK editor Vicky Brewster for a copy edit. It looked like a good job was done. Vicky's charges (at time of writing - inflation being an big ouch right now) are $535 - $835 for developmental and copy edits on a book of 100,000 words. 

Both these editors (and most others) will want to see some of the book first. Vicky has a price range dependent on how much work she thinks she will need to do. 

Both these editors will turn away a manuscript that needs too much work done to it.

No amount of editing will produce a commercial book if the writer is not yet good enough at writing. Sometimes the answer is to go away, work on your craft, and then write a new book or return to the old one to re-write it.

Step 2 - Developmental Edit

This is a high level edit. The editor is looking at how the story hangs together as a whole. How the pacing works, or doesn't. Whether this character or that character feels like a real person, whether their actions are properly motivated. Whether the whole thing makes sense, is clearly explained, and ... works.

This isn't the same as a review. It doesn't matter if the editor likes the story or even the genre. It's an emotion-free technical look at the mechanics of storytelling. 

The end result will be a set of remarks about what's not working, along with suggestions for improving these area.

It can be a more friendly process than suggested - but the technical stuff is what you're paying for,

My editor - cognisant of author egos - uses the praise sandwich to feed criticisms to me (and all her authors ... I hope). She remarks on a good line / paragraph, tells me something else isn't working, then lauds another line / paragraph. A little bit of sugar helps the medicine go down, as they say. 

The amount of work at this stage is hugely variable, though obviously freelance editors will control the time they spend on it, and editors at publishing houses will determine their input based on their faith that the author/book will eventually repay their efforts with sales.

I recall hearing (though don't swear it's true) that Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind was worked on by Rothfuss and the editor together for an extended period with a great many changes. The editor's efforts were ultimately compensated many times over, but it's a gamble.

The majority of my books have gone through the editing process with very few non-grammar changes. Something that I'm grateful for. I don't like changing my stories, and change for change's sake is not appreciated. That may be one difference between an inhouse editor and freelance editors. The inhouse editor is happy not to have to do a lot of work. The freelance editor has been paid a flat fee, and if (this isn't going to happen) your manuscript is perfect and requires no changes at all ... do they give you your money back? Take your money and say "I changed/corrected nothing!", or shift the furniture around to make you feel you're not being robbed?

The Prince of Thorns on the shelf is 95%+ the one in the file I handed in. With a zillion grammar corrections.

My latest book, The Book That Wouldn't Burn, is, by far, my most heavily edited book to date (not a sign of it being bad - see The Name of the Wind!). I rewrote several parts of it prompted by my own sentiment and by feedback from both my beta-reader and agent. And I never re-write!

Then, during the developmental edit I deleted 15,000+ words ... and I never delete!

I also reworked several areas, added or underlined explanations etc. A whole bunch of effort. I'd say that the finished product is 75% what was in my first draft.

Which shows the system working - a light touch when a light touch is needed, more digging around in the guts when that's what's called for.

I think it's going to be one of my very best books, and certainly my publishers are really excited about it.

My developmental editor also catches typos, suggests rewording various lines, fixes grammar etc in these edits. Not comprehensively, but as she sees it. And being an editor, she sees a lot. This is one stage bleeding into another.

tl:dr = top level issues addressed, author sent away to fix them

Step 3 - Copy Edit

Now it gets dull. We descend into the land of the comma. We add semi-colons. We fix dialogue grammar. We query spoken grammar errors. We suggest reordering awkwardly worded sentences. There's a style sheet stipulating the conventions being employed on spellings where multiple choices exist. We choose between toward and towards. 

There is also a focus on consistency across the book. If on page 10 a hall was entered through doors, and on page 206 it was left by the door ... the copy editor wants to know, "Does it have double doors or just one?" If a character changes eye color, stands up then stands up again ... the copy editor will be there demanding you sort your shit out.

Invaluable, but dull. Consistency errors can take a reader out of the story. You don't want that. You're creating an illusion. Errors whisper to the reader "wake up - this is all a lie".

Step 4 - Proofread

And now we plunge into the pit of despair. Or maybe if you're the jigsaw kind of person it's heaven. In any event, this is all about spotting the genuine typos. Nothing that's not clear cut happens here. If there's an awkward word, or over-repetition of a word, or a badly phrased thought ... doesn't matter ... too late. 

If you have "too" instead of "to" or "there" instead of "their" or "zds--O" instead of "lunch" then the proofreader strikes! 

And that's it. Done. All over bar the printing.

I feel I could do a developmental edit for someone else. 

I couldn't do a copy edit. My grammar is good enough to fix most errors, but not all of them. I also lack the required meticulous nature to spot in a manuscript all errors I would recognise in a short piece.

I would not make a good proofreader. Again, I can spot typos, but I lack the focus and eagle eyes needed to find 'all' of them in a whole book.

1 comment:

  1. I had the good fortune to marry a man whose superpower is spotting errors and inconsistencies, so I've never had to hire a copy-editor or proofreader. My last novel was called "extremely polished and well-edited," by a reviewer, so it's not just me who thinks my husband has the superpower.

    Why not make the line "by a single beta reader I'm very much indebted to" and chuck out the extra rule too? As Winston Churchill is said to have said, "That is the sort of pedantry up with which I will not put."