This is something I knew very little about before I got my book deal, and it’s something I do get asked about, so I thought I’d lay it out in a post. I was amazed that it takes a year (or more) between delivery of manuscript and publication when I first turned up wide-eyed and slightly giggly in the publishing world. With two books published, and another in the editorial pipeline, I now see why, so here is a rough summary of how it goes, for me at least.
1. May. Manuscript delivered. This is my third or fourth full draft, but the first I’d be willing to let anyone else read. I’ll have discussed the plot with Ned a lot, and asked him read extracts, but no more than that. It goes electronically to my agent, Annette, and my editor Flora. She’ll also give it to Jane, the CEO at Headline and the person who gave me my book deal in the first place to read.
2. I run off on holiday for a few days, if possible, remind my friends I still exist and casually check my email every few minutes (or hours, if I’m away) till I hear from Flora and Annette. They tell me (hopefully) that it’s a good book, and Flora says she’s looking forward to working on it. (End of May)
3. During June and early July I start my first research and idea gathering for the next book while Flora works on her comments, do events, stare out of the window and in Julia Cameron’s phrase refill the well a bit. Museums, walks, eavesdropping, random jottings…
4. July / August Flora’s notes come through and I put everything else on one side to go through them, re-read the book and make whatever changes and alterations are needed. This is the part of the process everyone expects me to find very traumatic, but so far I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I come back to the book with fresh eyes, relaxed and with a close and detailed reading from Flora to work with.
5. September I deliver the manuscript again. (Again, electronically). I also make my own notes on Flora’s notes just to explain why I’ve done what I have. In Anatomy for instance the character of Mr Palmer wasn’t really fully formed in the first draft Flora got. Flora suggested making him consistently more aloof, controlled. In re-reading I realised I actually wanted him to be a little younger, without all the idealism knocked off him yet. I explained my re-working of him in the notes. Flora was happy with how he turned out. Then I go back to plotting and starting to write the novel I was researching before Flora’s notes arrived.
6. October. Copy-edited manuscript arrives. So this is the manuscript printed out and covered with notes and markings. This is where some wonderperson goes through every page checking grammar and spelling, formatting etc, but most importantly also checks for repeated words on a page, over-used phrases, unclear speech tags etc. If Flora’s notes are the scene by scene notes, these are the line by line notes. I go through and check I agree, marking the page if I don’t and writing in my alternatives. This takes a few days. Then the whole manuscript goes back to Headline. Back to novel in hand.
7. November (ish). Page proofs. Font and layout just as the book will be, page numbers etc, but not bound. Headline go through it too of course. In Anatomy I had begun a sentence ‘Crossing her arms, Jocasta…’, when the page proofs came back it read ‘Crossing her anus, Jocasta…’, I suspect the print-setter was on auto-pilot that day. Still it made me laugh, I told my poetry workshop friends about it in the evening and we decided crossing your anus was some 18th century superstition to stop the devil attacking from behind… Ahem. This is also probably the last time I will read the book in full. After this point I can’t change anything anyway, so I’ll just be opening the book to find a bit for a reading or to check something that affects later books. Back to writing.
8. January (ish) Bound proofs. A wonderful moment. A bound book with a cover on it. This is when my parents and Ned finally get to read it. Writing frenzy in full flow.
9. A month before publication, and as I complete my third or fourth draft of the next book and start deciding when to get it to Headline and Annette, my copies of the hardback arrive. There are victory marches round the living room and we start planning parties.
10. Hardback publication, and next one delivered. Return to step one.
This is just me of course. It may be different at times in the future, and I know other writers discuss the books with their editors and sent them chapters before they finish writing etc.