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Monday, September 29, 2008

From Sale to Shelf: Part 4

Once I return the copyedited manuscript, I feel as if the book is truly complete. I go back to work on the next project. But there are a few things left to look at: cover art galley proofs, and ARCs.

Sometime in the next weeks, my editor will send me a jpg cover image or an actual cover flat. This is the first time I get to see the cover and it is always a "gulp" moment. Will it match my vision? Will it be striking enough to draw new readers? Will the back copy give away secrets? Will it reflect my own words? Would it make me want to read the book?

I have been fortunate with covers. All the artists have been excellent, even if their vision didn't match mine. Several of my covers have actually given me goose bumps! (Revelation, Restoration). Some covers have fit my image exactly (Daughter of Ancients, Son of Avonar) or even taken my vision one step farther (Revelation). Some have been beautiful or striking - which is the most important function of covers - despite not fitting my image of the person or scene depicted (Flesh and Spirit, Breath and Bone, Restoration). Only two have disappointed. Proof is left to the reader...

Once I have the cover image, I need to start thinking about marketing tasks - making bookmarks, fliers, updating the website, and so forth. Mostly I procrastinate...because I don't like the marketing stuff, but I DO like starting a new book!

But at sometime a month or six weeks after the copyedits have gone in, I'll receive another bundle of pages in the mail from my editor.

These are the galleys or proof pages, the typeset pages printed just as they'll look in the book. For a mass market paperback (the smaller format) I'll see two facing pages per 8 1/2 x 11 sheet. For a trade paperback, I'll see one page per sheet.

This is the first time I see the "book design," the typeface, the chapter headers, the beautiful drop caps they have at the beginning of the Flesh and Spirit chapters, or how they handled the narrator sections in Song of the Beast or the "Part" divisions in Breath and Bone. This pass is really for hunting typos, misspellings, or any other mistake that might have been entered in the typesetting process. These are typically very few.

The tricky thing is that the lines and paragraphs are now set tightly on the page. R
emoving or adding a word or even a comma requires the whole line to be re-typeset. If the word or punctuation is in the middle of a paragraph, the entire paragraph must be reset. If the length of the paragraph changes, it pushes or contracts the text that follows it. Typesetting is expensive.

But as with any time I read the manuscript start to finish, I find things I want to change. Can I do that? Yes, within reason.
1. Certainly errors must be fixed. Those aren't optional. Typesetting errors aren't "charged" to me!
2. I can certainly tweak a word, phrase, or even a sentence, if I see a critical need. The trick is to replace a removed word with something of similar length. I've even gone through and changed a made-up word or a character name - simple replacements are the easiest to deal with.

3. For slightly more complicated changes, if I can make restricts the resetting to a single paragraph, not changing the page length, I'll usually do it.

4. The toughest pieces to deal with are places where I think the prose needs to be tightened, ie. words removed and not replaced. I have actually squeezed this through on one book, in places where the actual chapter page length has not changed. My editor was merciful.

I absolutely cannot do anything that will change the page numbering. The entire rest of the book would have to be reset = Very Expensive.

Once I've made all the changes and fixes, I pull out those pages. I make sure the marks are very clear - don't want to introduce more typos or errors! And then I count the number of pages. And then I try to figure out if that number will make my editor nervous or, heaven forbid, cause the publisher to charge me the cost of retypesetting!! I don't have a set number I'm allowed, but I can get a creepy feeling if the stack of pages is more than about 25. I read each one and decide if this is critical. I keep all error fixes that I've found. But some of my own changes... Honestly, some things a reader will never notice, and I reluctantly pull them out.

I ship off the proof pages that contain corrections, and now I'm really finished. The next time I see the book it will be bound. First, I'll see the ARC (Advance Reader Copy). This bound book has no cover art, and the text is essentially the uncorrected text. It is produced at the same time as the proof pages, and is sent out to reviewers, bookstores, and the like. Sometimes they show up on ebay!

But one day a padded envelope shows up in the mail with my first real copy of the book, real cover, corrected text, and I sit and read and say, "Wow, did I really write this? It looks like a real book!"

Any questions?

My cover artists
Luis Royo: Flesh and Spirit, Breath and Bone

Matt Stawicki: Revelation, Restoration, Song of the Beast, Son of Avonar, Guardians of the Keep, The Soul Weaver, Daughter of Ancients

Kevin Murphy: Transformation

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Friday, September 26, 2008

That nagging feeling

Sometimes when I write a scene, I get a nagging feeling that something is not right. It most often happens when I have a plot point that I'm ready to include.

Today's example: Character A is in trouble. Character B comes to his rescue and demonstrates something. I want some additional things to happen, some curiosity and doubts about who could have done this amazing thing,building up to the revelation that it was Character B. I write the scene as I envision.

I reread it, tweaking words. I tweak more. OK, I've given Character A too much of a hint that Character B is doing the amazing thing. Why wouldn't he recognize what's going on right away?

What do I do about this?

Make Character A "foggier" from the bad guys' brutality. Reread. Tweak more words. Still feels wrong.

Remove all early hints of Character B's action. I really don't want Character A to seem stupid. Even bashed in the head he wouldn't miss what's going on, which makes my "delay" and building question seem stupid and contrived. Wrong.

So Character A must consider and dismiss the possibility that Character B is doing this. As I begin to rewrite yet again, I realize how convoluted this is getting, and the fact that I have now spent DAYS on this one scene. It Is Not Working.

Time to rethink. I must either skip the intervening build-up to the revelation OR give Character A an ironclad reason for believing it couldn't be Character B.

Oh...oh... The answer comes. The ironclad reason why he won't believe it. And the way that particular misconception plays right in to what the bad guys are trying to do to Character A already... DELICIOUS! One more rewrite and I'll be on my way forward.

Should I have made myself skip over the knot for the time being and continue forward with the story, planning to come back and fix it on another pass? Maybe. But I find I can't progress until it "feels right."

I just can't allow my preconceived ideas of a scene to stand without proper attention to character motivation and a reasonable analysis of "what would he know and when would he know it." Even if it takes three days. What if the solution changes the course of the story?

In this particular case, I don't think it changes anything farther along. But I'll see if things feel right as I get there.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

From Sale to Shelf: Part 3

So I've finished revisions and mailed in a new manuscript. Now I'll usually go on to writing the sequel or whatever is next on the schedule. Some authors end up in multiple revision rounds, but fortunately, I've never had to do that. The principal work on this book is done, but not everything. So what comes next?

Many people are under the misapprehension that what editors do is correct grammar and spelling mistakes in a manuscript. Back in Part 2 of this post, I hope I gave a better idea of what an involved editor brings to the table. But someone still has to look at the details.

At some time a few weeks or months after I've submitted my revisions, I'll receive a fat package in the mail which is the exactly the same thick parcel I sent in with my revisions. My editor may have made a few changes as she read - I've never seen much more than a few sentence alterations, usually in regular gray pencil. But someone has gone in and made red marks all over the place. That person is a copyeditor.

Copyeditors are detail people who have three main tasks:

  1. to read for spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Thanks to some great teachers and boring homework back in my school days, I don't have much problem with these, though I'll say that figuring out whether a compound word is actually two words (half sister), hyphenated (half-hearted), or a single word (halfbreed) is my weakness. The CE will make her own dictionary of names and made-up words so that she can make sure they're always spelled and capitalized consistently, too.

  2. to mark up the manuscript for the typesetter, using traditional typesetter's markings to denote things like chapter or section headings, italics, ellipses, em- or en-dashes, specially formatted sections like letters, poetry passage, or epigraphs. This ensures such things are handled consistently throughout the book and enforces the publishers' particular typesetting "style."

  3. to read for continuity, eg. making sure a character doesn't have green eyes on one page and brown eyes on the next.

A good copyeditor will note other things she runs across during this very detailed read, and write a query in the margins about anything that seems problematical. I've had CEs catch errors that no one else has.

Once I receive the copyedited manuscript, my job is to answer all queries to make sure the CE hasn't uncovered a logic error or some such, and to review every change and mark the CE has made to ensure they are correct. I can undo any of them by writing stet in the margin. I'm not supposed to change "stylistic things" like how the chapter headings are to be typeset or how ellipses or em-dashes are handled.

But I occasionally have reasons to violate certain rules, and I want to make sure they remain as I wrote them. For example, you'll notice that even when Aleksander is referred to as "the Prince," Prince is always capitalized. Usually prince would only be capitalized when used in conjunction with his name, as in Prince Aleksander. I did this to reinforce the narrator Seyonne's view of Aleksander (you'll have to read the rai-kirah books to find out what that view is!) And sometimes my worldbuilding will mandate certain word usage or spelling that is not standard English. That's why I get to review.

Something else happens at copyedit time. In reviewing copyedits, I always sit down and read the whole story from start to finish one more time. And this is my last chance to make any wholesale change to the text. I've always got sentence or word changes to make, and because of my tendency toward wordiness, every pass demands I trim and tighten. So I end up removing a lot of words and phrases. Occasionally some larger issue arises. For example, when I realized that The Soul Weaver was not the end of the D'Arnath series, but the third of four books, I went back in at copyedit time and rewrote the ending.

I usually have about a week to ten days to do this review, and, in truth, it rarely takes that long. It involves one good detailed read with my green or blue pencil in hand (don't want to confuse my marks with the CEs marks). I also keep my handy-dandy Webster's Guide to Punctuation, my Oxford English dictionary (to confirm those compound words as CE's sometimes get them wrong, too), and a list of typesetter's marks close by. Any change I make has to be marked for the typesetter, too.

One always hears horror stories about copyeditors who change things they shouldn't or even rewrite pieces of the story. I did have one copyeditor who "corrected" a few long sentences by chopping them up and entirely changing their meaning, but those were easily fixed. The motivation was good, but the execution flawed! Thank goodness, all my other experiences have been great.

So are we there yet?

Not quite. Tune in for Part 4...
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Monday, September 22, 2008

A Gift for the Autumnal Equinox

As on the summer solstice, I can't help but dream of Navronne and Aeginea, the world I created for the Lighthouse books. Here is another snippet, a deleted scene. No spoilers, only very minor revelations about the world for those who have not read the books. For those who have, you'll remember the particular incident from Flesh and Spirit, I think...

The moon settled lower, swelling, brightening for that last moment as it touched the white cliffs and vanished. Fascinated, appalled, Kol watched the human man scrape the hole in the dark soil with a flat stone and lay his dead friend to rest. Though the gentle dignity of this completion must be considered in its turn, the more astonishing events of the night demanded his attention first. Only now did the truth of what this man had done penetrate his understanding.

Earlier on this very evening, Kol had watched the human murderers slaughter one of their own kind apurpose to defile this holy place. He had believed his friend Aniiele dead - poisoned by the victim's blood and torment - and these beauteous lands she nurtured lost forever to the memory of the long-lived. Once Kol turned his back on the meadow, even he would not be able to find it again, save by purest happenstance. Its vigor would fade, its plants and beasts weaken. Rage had threatened to undo him as he had witnessed the violation, the lively, graceful Aniiele’s fate so cruelly and deliberately sealed as she slept away her season in the sweet earth.

The Law of the Everlasting forbade the long-lived to interfere in human affairs unasked. Lacking weapon-skills to match the gross brutality of human conflict, they had been forced to endure the slaughter of their kind through this sort of violation. The Scourge, they called it.

The murderers had vanished, leaving the dying victim’s tainted blood seeping through the veins of earth. But just as Kol’s grief and anger had swelled to breaking, the Cartamandua-son had arrived and changed everything. How was it possible?

Human words bore no power over life and death. The man’s unsavory use of the fragrant nive', mixing it with blood, would disgust the most depraved of the long-lived. The death blow he’d struck upon the victim he named friend should have accrued its own violation atop that of the Scourge. But, indeed, the son of the despised Cartamandua had set the dying victim free of his tormented fate...and with him Aniiele and her meadow. How had he done it?

Kol scrambled higher in the great oak to watch. The dark-haired man laid gifts with the dead, then shoved dirt over the body, hauled stones to shield the turned earth from predators, and sat for a while beside the grave. It was tempting to speak to him, to ask what he had done and why. But Tuari had extended the Law to forbid human contact for all but sentinels. Kol cared nothing for Tuari Archon or his presumptuous attempts to amend the Law of the Everlasting, but these lands lay too near Moth’s range. He dared not overstep when she might be watching. Not yet, at least.

When the human rose and limped slowly down the slope, Kol was tempted to follow and discover if the Cartamandua-son might seek out the Scourge-wielders and challenge them for what was done to his human friend. But his relief and joy at Aniiele’s salvation could not wait to be expressed.

Brushing bits of bark and leaf from his skin, he rose from his crouch, angled his feet for proper balance on the branch, and stretched his arms skyward. Thought and worry and wonder flowed out of him, as he allowed the music of the meadow...of the pool...of the willows...of the grass and trees and wood...to surge in his blood. The gards of his power, scribed on his flesh as he had passed through the changes of childhood and youth, began to glow the cold blue of a mountain winter sky.

Summoning strength and awareness, alight with this one night’s grace in a world doomed to grief and breaking, Kol leaped from the top of the oak, and when his feet touched solidly to the grass, he whirled and spun and leaped to the meadow’s music until the coming of the dawn.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

From Sale To Shelf: Part 2

So I have shipped off my baby. But that doesn't mean I'm satisfied. I've been immersed in it for a year or longer, and haven't had a chance to set it aside and get some distance on the story. Awaiting my editor's reaction forces me to do that. But I always find myself making lists: fix that scene where I glossed over the magic, make the romantic angle stronger. If this is the last book in a series, I have to be giving thought to what's next, as well, ie. writing a proposal. And if it is not the end, I'm already starting to write sequel. I should have plenty of notes to go on. But there's a lot of work yet to do on the current work!

Cover ideas:
As I'm waiting to hear what my editor thinks about the book, I work diligently on a small but meaningful task. I am not a visual artist. Though I have definite opinions about cover art, I have no desire to actually design a cover. Which is a good thing, as I, like most authors, have no say in my covers. Covers are considered the province of marketing folks who study what readers actually respond to. But what I do is offer ideas of key scenes (like D'Sanya at the siege of Avonar) or key elements (like the mask for Flesh and Spirit). And after several disheartening experiences with back cover copy that revealed plot secrets, I decided to offer sample copy. Though it is always modified (seems I use too many words and sentences that are too long!) I am gratified that they've begun to pick up my suggestions. The copy on the Lighthouse books is almost my words. I usually spend a whole day fooling around with these things.

But the Big Job is still ahead. Maybe three weeks, maybe six, after my submission, Anne will send me a revision letter. So what do revisions entail?

Editorial revision letters - at least the ones I've gotten - are not as scary as they might sound. You've got to remember that the editor's job is to work with you, the author, to make the book the best it can be. No one writes perfect prose, and the surest mark of an immature writer is saying "I'm not going to let anyone mess with my words" or "I don't want to be forced to change anything." My editors do not rewrite my words, but they certainly read them. Carefully. Thoughtful revision brings the craft of writing to bear on your manuscript, making your art and passion accessible to your readers.

The revision letter will list the things that bothered the editor, maybe one page worth, maybe ten pages worth. Some editors are much more detailed than others. My first editor was extremely detailed, and I learned a lot from her. Anne is more general in her comments, but I've learned to interpret her "symptoms." The notations might be as small as a word choice or phrase that is unclear, or as large as a scene or subplot that doesn't seem to work or fit in the overall arc of the story. Sometimes the issue is pacing or an action scene with unclear choreography. I have never been asked to cut a scene, change the plot, or add or remove a character. Nor have I ever been forced into a change.

Usually I agree with my editor's remarks. Having a new, experienced set of eyes looking at the work will always reveal holes! Sometimes I disagree, and that's ok, too. It's my book, after all. But I will always take a careful look. Sometimes the problem the editor reports is really a symptom of a different flaw altogether. If she says a particular scene does not seem to fit in the arc of the story, and I believe it does something important, then I probably haven't done a good job of bringing out the necessary details.

I usually have my own long list of issues by the time I get the editor's list. The idea of revisions is to make the book better and stronger and clearer to the reader, to enhance tension and conflict to grip readers from the opening page and draw them through the story. Of course, if the editor sees a major problem with story or, as sometimes happens, with the overall length of the book, negotiation is in order. Sometimes publishing requirements must be taken into account. But at no time is control of the story out of my hands.

I usually have six or eight weeks to do revisions, and I love the process. Having set the book aside for a few weeks gives me a more objective view. So the first thing I do is read it again, from start to finish. I listen for pacing and word use. I watch for ordering - making sure that each sentence follows from the ones before, that I haven't stuck the cart before the horse. I look at the development of my principal characters, making sure their growth and change is logically developed, and that their motivations are clear. Sometimes it just astonishes me that some particular piece "got by me." I watch for plot holes and logic errors. Sometimes I rewrite my pivotal scenes and find that now I understand characters and plot, the words flow much better.

By the time I'm done, I feel truly finished. When the deadline comes around, I send Anne a new printed copy.

Is it really finished yet? No way! Tune in for part three.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

From Sale to Shelf: Part 1

One of my readers said it surprised her to learn that selling a book wasn't the "end" of the writing process. I figured a number of other people might share Valt's mystification, so I thought I'd step through the entire process over the next few posts.

To start:
My publisher is Roc Books, an imprint of New American Library, which is a division of the publishing giant Penguin Putnam. My editor, Anne Sowards, works for Penguin, editing books for Roc and also for Ace, another fantasy/sf imprint of PP. Imprints are specialized divisions that produce books of related styles/genres. My agent, my business representative, is Lucienne Diver of the Knight Agency. In brief: editors work with words, while agents work with contracts.

Transformation and Song of the Beast were written before my first sale. When my first editor read Transformation back in 1999, she, with the approval of her managers, made me an offer to publish the two books. My agent, who is my business representative, negotiated the deal. As a result of the negotiation, the deal actually included three books: Transformation, Song of the Beast, and the unwritten sequel to Transformation that was later called Revelation.

Literary contracts specify the specific book/s to be published. If the work isn't written as yet, the contract specifies the type of work it will be, the subject matter, genre, tentative title. Contracts also specify the delivery date of the manuscript (so the publisher can schedule a release date), the specific rights the publisher is buying (some subset of North American rights, translation rights, audio, electronic, book club, film, gaming, spinoffs, and others), and many other particulars. Agent Kristin Nelson has done a great series explaining all the common clauses of literary contracts on her blog Pub Rants.

For my newer deals I sell books before they are actually written - on proposal. Sometimes the proposal is a multi-page synopsis (The Sabrian Veil series). Sometimes it's only a paragraph (Flesh and Spirit). As always, my editor has to decide if she wants the book/s enough to sell the deal to her superiors. Sometimes the editor has to fight for a book, because there are many other fine proposals and they can't buy them all. Just because an author has published before doesn't ensure the proposal will be accepted. But assuming it is, hooray! - my agent negotiates the new contract. Once it's signed, I start writing. [See my first Unholy Alliance post for how I go about that.]

I've only missed a contracted date once (yes, obstreperous Valen was the reason). I negotiated a new date beforehand.

Now skip forward a year or so...

Whoa, not quite yet. There are a few other things that go on before the book is written, depending on the editor. Some editors require outlines or more detailed synopses. Thank goodness, my editor does not. If you've been following the way I write, you see that is not at all a part of my process!

If the book I'm writing is a sequel, I might need to provide an opening scene to stick in the back of the previous book as a teaser. And there are all those other things that go on all year, every year: marketing the last book, doing conferences and conventions, blogs and forums and newsletters, and updating the website, and networking...

But most of the time is writing, writing, and the due date approaches inevitably.

So I have agonized and plotted, written and rewritten, making the manuscript the best I can make it. I'm always up late the night before - just like college! - but at last I ship off a paper copy to New York. And then, I wait.

Tomorrow...the book is not nearly done yet. On to Revisions...

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Colorado Gold

Just a quick review of the Colorado Gold Writers' Conference. This conference is presented every September in Denver by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. I try to go if I can, as it is a group of people I enjoy hanging around. It is not the biggest conference, nor does it pull in the kind of big name presenters that the Surrey International or even Pikes Peak does. But it certainly is a place where a beginning writer can feel welcome and learn a lot. And I think it is improving in quality every year. Here were the highlights of my experience this year...

I don't do the editor/agent critique or pitch sessions, as I have quite enough on my plate at present, thank you very much. But I do enjoy meeting these guests when I can. Some are very nice about hanging around the convention spaces and visiting. Some run off to be by themselves when they're not working.

I also enjoy meeting the attendees. At the Friday night welcome buffet, the organizers took a page from some other conferences and designated genre tables where attendees could sit with the agents, editors, or guest authors to talk about fantasy or romance or historical writing. And after the buffet (maybe too short a time to talk very much) and introductions (maybe a bit too long) and Writer of the Year speech (maybe a bit too short) came the booksale. This is a great event where a book dealer comes in (this year my friends Ron and Nina Else from Who Else books in Denver) and provides each of the guest authors wiht a table and a supply of books. Attendees can talk to the authors, get books signed, and buy them that night. Very well organized and very nice both for the authors and the attendees.

Another good thing - the hospitality suite. After the evening's activities, guests and attendees can mingle with daquiris, margaritas, or other drinkables in an informal setting. Always fun to catch up with old friends and meet new.

I did two workshops, one of them my standard revision workshop, and one a new one on persona voice that I think went off very well. (Voice being "the expressive communication of fictional characters.") I can tell the attendees are comfortable with the conference format, as many seem to feel free to come up afterward and talk or comment.

I attended a couple of workshops, too, which says to me that the organizers are really trying to come up with new and interesting ideas for experienced authors as well as beginners. One workshop on promotion, given by Bella Stander, was excellent, as was another on the uses of herbs, given by Laurey Patten. There were several more I'd like to have attended, but had conflicts. Agent Kristin Nelson, of the excellent PubRants blog, gave a well-received two part workshop on queries. Fortunately I got to visit with all three of these women at other times during the weekend.

Of the various keynote speeches, I'd have to say the one from Shirley Jump was the best. Short and to the point. Well presented. Careers have ups and downs. Persist. Write.

In between all this I sat around in the nice conversation areas in the hotel, talking to all sorts of people - which is always the best.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Epic Fantasy Week

Check out epic fantasy week on my agent, Lucienne Diver's blog. There have already been postings on promotion from Lynn Flewelling, and series and story arcs from David Coe. Next up...

Diana Francis on worldbuilding, me own self on developing fantasy heroes, and then Sarah Hoyt on writing fantasy in a scientific world. Enjoy! Read more of this post!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Fits and Starts

Yes, I've been a faithless blogger of late. I blame it on more interruptions - this time a family reunion for my mom's 90th birthday (a VERY happy occasion). And in between, I've been working on a lot of those "extraneous matters." Workshop handouts. Travel arrangements. An impromptu fill-in appearance on a publishing panel at the Tattered Cover bookstore. Of course, I've acquired a couple more extracurriculars - like a blog post on heroes for "fantasy week" on my agent's blog. [Beginning 9/15/08.] I've just returned from the Colorado Gold Writers Conference, and before you know it, I'll be off to Vancouver and Calgary.

Lest you feel that my three investigators have been neglected, let me assure you I have inched forward. I am in what is known (mildly) as the cursed middle. I've set up many threads. Some are going to work. Some are not. But I have reached a turning point, where a new piece of evidence shifts Portier's head (unfortunately with a bit of blood and bruises) into a new way of thinking. All the things he assumed he knew take on a new shape. Perhaps it is not the black moment, but it is a crux of the story, and a piece I never thought I'd reach.

Sorry for the long silence. I'm on now, and plan to keep up!
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