How Many Drafts Would A Writer Draft…

Crossposted to the Deadline Dames, where there are more contests, writing advice, and pie than you can shake a stick at. Check us out!

Heaven’s Spite has been nominated for an award over at Fourth Day Universe. Go vote, if the spirit moves you. Also, there’s a giveaway for Defiance over at SmartPop. Big fun!

I’ve had to shift gears and do a last round of nitpicky revising on a book, as well as putting together a dedication, acknowledgements, a map of fictional countries, and a whole series bible so I can write the second in a duology without my head exploding. It used to be I kept all the details in my head, but with three books due before the end of the year I need that bandwidth for other things. Like remembering to feed and wash myself. Seriously, I’ll take care of everyone else in the house (even the cats) and somehow forget to brush my own teeth. It’s maddening.

This brings up something I wish a lot of aspiring writers would absorb: getting the manuscript accepted is NOT the end of your job. Oh, no. Even getting to the place where your editor says, “Okay, this is good, I’ll transmit it to production!” is not the end of the road. Not by a long shot, cupcake.

Let me give you an example. Let’s pick Reckoning, the upcoming final book of the Strange Angels series. Let’s count how many steps in the process I’ve gone through so far.

* Initial draft, about 68K words. Took me about six months, mostly because I had proof pages, copyedits, and other books due at the same time.

* Zero draft, another month and a half. Clocking in at about 72K; scenes added and other tweaks.

* Waiting for editorial letter. Editorial letter comes. Beat head against wall, give letter a week to stew, reopen it and decide it’s not that bad. First revision. Add another month.

* First revised draft, about 76K. Still needs some things, I can’t see where they are, I’m too close to the book.

* Wait for second editorial letter. Second editorial letter comes. Beat head against wall, give letter a week to stew, reopen it and decide it’s not that bad. Second revision.

* Second revised draft, about 78K. Still not right. Add a month and a half.

* Third revised draft, clocks in at 82K, add another month or two. By this point I have lost track of time and I HATE THIS BOOK.

* Fourth revised draft, done at white heat. Now we’re there. 88K words, and I am sick of each and every one of them. There may have been another editorial letter or a marked-up paper draft (always what I prefer) in there, I can’t remember. The fear and loathing boiling in my cerebellum won’t let me.

* Finally editor says “BACK AWAY FROM THE GODDAMN BOOK.” Only she says it very nicely as she works it free of my jaws, as if taking a dead toy out of a terrier’s mouth without exciting the little beast even more. She also is probably hoping I’ve had my shots, because that foam around my mouth is troubling.

* Wait while working on other books, anywhere from three to four months.

* Copyedits come. I would tell you more about the joy that is copyedits, but that’s (say it with me) another blog post. Anyway, this requires reading the whole book over again, looking at every single change the CE made, and letting the change go or scrawling STET. This takes time. This is the last moment I have for any large changes, since changes at the next stage–the proof pages–are time-consuming and expensive. I have to look at every. single. word. And every. single. change. If I want to stet a change, I need to have a good reason for doing so. If the copyeditor has tried to change my first-person colloquialisms to Exact Third-Person Grammar I need to catch it and stet it every time. This requires an entirely different set of mental muscles than writing OR revising.

* Send copyedits back to editor. Self-tranquilise in whatever fashion one can. No, I will NOT tell you what I did to ease the pain. (I would, maybe, but I can’t remember. The pain has given me amnesia.)

If one counts the copyedits as a draft, that’s five of them, with a significant increase in complexity and density in the story each time. (I tend to write very lean on the zero and first drafts anyway.) Normally I don’t have more than two drafts, but those two take just as much time as the four above. Then there’s copyedits for every book.

But I am not done. Oh, no, darling.

No, next will come the proof pages–where I receive a hardcopy of what the pages will look like in the actual book. I go through by hand, catch any stets that didn’t make it through production, look for dropped words, typos, etc. While I do that, a professional proofreader also looks over another copy, but they won’t be able to tell about the little fiddles and tweaks I want in this last stage. This takes a while, and then I send the hardcopy with my notations back to my editor. (For some reason, I cannot proof effectively in PDF. It just doesn’t work.) Plus there’s the dedication and acknowledgements to worry over, fights about whether or not the damn thing needs a glossary, appendices if applicable, and not a few nights of me laying in bed thinking that I could have done something, anything, about the book better.

Then it’s a wait of five months to a year until the book actually hits the shelves, during which I am hard at work on other projects in varying stages of completion. By the time an actual honest-to-goodness Reader gets to see the book, my traumatised brain is beginning to recover from the whole thing, and I’d much rather talk about the books I’m working on now.

My point (and yes, I do have one) is that very few aspiring authors take this part of the process into account. Very few of them actually think past the “IT GOT SOLD! I GOT THE SIGNING CHEQUE! WHEE!” part to the grinding slog of work you need to plan energy and time for after that particular high point. It ends up being an unpleasant surprise, and I’ve seen not a few new authors implode under the stress of the copyedit stage in particular. If you really, truly want to get a book published, you need to be prepared for this. Finishing a draft is the least of your milestones–albeit the one milestone that everything else in the process depends on.

Doesn’t that sound like joy? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Over and out.

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