The Production of a Book: Wresting with Revisions

October 28, 2009 by in category Archives with 0 and 0
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Like most writers, I like to think that my words are perfect exactly the way I put them on the page. However, as a working writer, I know that there will be changes made to this manuscript before it hits the shelves as a finished book.

A manuscript goes through several incarnations before the book is ready to be printed.

Revisions – Editor indicates changes that need to be made to make the story stronger. This could involve subplots, characters, imbalances (such as need more sexual tension here and more suspense there, but cut this scene over here), and anything else that seems to jar the reader out of the story. Author needs to make these changes (along with line edits sent back on the original manuscript) and send whole new manuscript back to editor.

Important things about revisions:
Revisions need to be on time so that the production schedule is not held up
The author usually gets paid upon Delivery and Acceptance of the revised manuscript (see your contract for exact terms)

Copyedits – The revised manuscript is assigned to a copyeditor, usually freelance. The copyeditor’s job is to identify continuity problems (Her dress was blue at the beginning of the scene but now it’s red), as well as question research items and also format the manuscript in the House Style. Every publishing house has a House Style that provides consistency throughout all their books. House style addresses things like spelling (is it gray or grey), punctuation (in a series, is there a comma before “and” or not?) and so forth.

In the copyediting phase, the manuscript is still in hard copy format, just like when you sent it in. The author gets the copyedited manuscript and needs to address comments by the copyeditor, as well as answer questions posed by him/her. You can still, at this phase, add pages, paragraphs and sentences if necessary. The author can also STET changes made by the copyeditor with which she does not agree. STET basically means “ignore” in publishing lingo and is sometimes an author’s favorite word! After this, it goes to the printer.

Page proofs/galleys – This is the part of production where things are pretty much written in stone. The author gets a copy of the “uncorrected” page proofs, and her job is to go through and look for typos and printer errors. After the corrected page proofs go back, the next time the author sees the manuscript, it is in printed book form.

Now that you understand the steps involved in producing a book, let’s talk about the subject of this post: revisions.

After I’ve submitted a manuscript, a revision letter arrives from my editor, along with a line-edited manuscript. The length and complexity of the revision letter entirely depends on what needs to be done. Each work stands on its own, and the writer who thinks she knows it all, might be in for a rude awakening come revision time!

By the same token, the writer who gets that rare comment from the editor—No Revisions—falls into a panic even while floating on Cloud Nine. Here’s an example of typical internal dialogue of an author who has been told her book needs no revisions: No revisions? Is she sure? Has she ever edited a book by herself before? There has to be something!

I’ve written twelve historical romances for Avon Books over the last eleven years. Book number eleven, TO RUIN THE DUKE (Avon, June 2009) was a No Revisions book. I had just been assigned a new editor, and while I had worked with her peripherally while she had been the assistant to my former editor, she had never edited one of my books before. Upon receiving the email about no revisions, I picked up the phone and called her in a panic. It was approximately 6pm New York time, but she was still in the office and answered the phone. She assured me that No Revisions was not a mistake. And it wasn’t that the book needed NO revisions, just that the changes were so small that I could do them during the copyediting phase.

This, for some reason, made me feel a lot better. There were still changes to be made. Whew!

Then you have the opposite end of the scale—Massive Revisions. I turned in book number twelve, thinking that after No Revisions on the last book, surely there would be little or none on this book. WRONG. This book needed some major revising. Just a more heroic hero and some conflict and motivation changes. Just the core of the whole romance. No big deal, right?

It took me a good three weeks to rewrite a lot of the book, which was necessary due to the way I decided to handle the hero and conflict/motivation issues. And what that taught me was that even after eleven published books and nominations for a Golden Heart, RITA and Holt Medallion, I still had things to learn.

And as long as you keep learning, you will keep growing as a writer.

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