From blank page to Bookstore

(July 2006) Working on the basis of about 10,000 words a week I aim to complete the first draft of a novel in three months or so. A second draft might take another week.

Once complete, a hard copy is forwarded to my agent.  He comes back with recommended revisions and changes, and once those are done the draft goes to my editor at Orion. He reads it, returns it with a series of notes to add, subtract, alter, modify, and generally make the whole thing better. Another couple of weeks to do this, and then the script is sent to my copy editor, and she works through the script from an entirely different angle. She corrects syntax, grammar, punctuation as needed, but first and foremost she looks for irregularities such as a character’s age being 34 in one section and 35 in another despite the fact that he hasn’t had a birthday!

The copy-editor sends the script back to me covered in runes and hieroglyphics worthy of Tolkien, and once I have approved her changes the script goes to the typesetter. These diligent and endlessly patient guys re-type (yes, I said re-type!) the entire script anew, and produce something called page proofs.

Page proofs are A4 sheets with the actual format pages of the book printed in the middle of them. This is the first time you actually get to see what the book will look like in finished typeface. Myself and a couple of other people then proofread the thing, highlight the errors, and it goes back to the typesetter to be corrected. From these page proofs a bound proof edition is created. This has a soft cover, usually the finalized cover image on the front, and on the back a lot of blurb about how fabulous the book is, how brilliant the author is etc. These proofs (several hundred usually) are produced for the press and the trade. A few months later the book is in its final printing stage; it’s bound, covered and shipped to wherever.

From the end of the first draft to the bookstore usually takes about nine months, and by the time it’s there the author has read the thing six or eight times. When you finally let it go it feels like a large section of your family has disappeared!

Whether such a thing is of interest to you or not, that is the basic procedure. It doesn’t take into account the personal trials and tribulations the author goes through. It doesn’t include the disagreements about how you want to do something versus your agent or your editor’s opinion of how it should be done (though I am extremely fortunate in that I have an agent and an editor who are very patient and understanding; they forgive me my oddities and idiosyncrasies, and I trust them to be right all the time!) It doesn’t include several dozen people asking you for free copies. It doesn’t include signings, readings, literary festivals, e-mails, website additions, finding reviews of your books on the net and scanning through them for the paragpraph at the end that says whether the reviewer thought it was a work of genius or useful only for kindling. Those are all the little things that make this life so unusual. Like you’re waiting for the world to tell you that you did okay! Something like that…

The best bit is when you finish the book and you print it, wrap it, throw it in the letter box and wait. Sometimes for weeks. Then the phone call comes. Then you hear ‘It’s good…let me start by saying it’s good…but, well…well, I don’t know that it’s the right next book for you to be doing…’

That’s the bit I love the most!

Luckily I work diligently enough to say ‘Okay, fine…you don’t like it. Well, I’ve got another one for you…’

Read a book recently called ‘How Not To Write A Novel’ by David Armstrong. Piece of advice I liked the most has been repeated in various ways and attributed to a catalogue of people: ‘The harder you work the luckier you get’.  That ethos I can ascribe to, and so I’ll just keep on working, and then when I’ve had enough of work I’ll sit down and work some more. That’s just how I am.  Like Lennon said, ‘Find something you love and you’ll never work another day.’

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