Saturday, November 28, 2015

The writing process

I'm occasionally asked by readers why I can't publish books closer together. I blogged about it last year, but my process has changed a little. I usually give the short answer, and everyone is always gracious about understanding that writing is not a quick process. While there are some authors who are what I call "1st draft writers" (requiring no revisions) and some who write short books to allow for more releases, it's important to know that every author is different. Not only in how fast they write, but their process. I've compared notes with numerous author friends of mine, and sometimes our checklists are fairly close while other times not.

Some writers skip the editing process entirely, and I personally think that is the most critical part of publishing.

In general, it takes me an average of 6 months from start to finish to have a book "publish ready." Because I work on multiple project in different stages, I created a spreadsheet that keeps track of project tasks and due dates. I worked project management at my last job, so that helped immensely in getting me organized.

Here is the order and estimated completion time for each task. Items in italics are where the process is in someone else's hands. This varies based on project size and what's going on in my life.

1. Write first draft - 2-5 weeks
2. 2nd draft/revision - 2-4 weeks
3. Final pre-beta edit - 2-3 weeks
4. Beta read - 4 weeks
5. Post-beta edits - 4 weeks
6. Pre-editor edits - 2 weeks
7. *Editor - 3-4 weeks
8.  Post-editor edits - up to 1 week
9. *Proofreader - 1-2 weeks
10. Proofreader edits: 1-4 days
11. *Oops detection:  2-4 weeks
12. Text-to-Audio proofread: 1 week

Aside from the tasks above, part of my process also includes: writing synopsis, working with the paperback formatter, designing my cover, ordering paperback proof copies and making changes as needed, as well as promotional stuff.

Now, on the above tasks, more of a breakdown:

This can vary. Charming literally took me a week to write the first draft, whereas some books seem to drag up to five weeks because of how complex the storylines are. Because each book I write ties into a main story arc and links with previous and even future events, I'm always working with a notes document in the background and referring to it. I think the process can go a lot faster when there's a clean slate. Typically the first in a series is the quickest to write.

What I didn't mention above is that while I'm writing the first draft, I load chapters to my kindle and do "back end edits" at night. I do this so my second revision is cleaner. On the SECOND DRAFT, I'm basically fixing a hot mess by expanding scenes, rearranging timeline events, and cleaning it up. I call the first draft "the big idea", so the second draft I actually end up adding words and not deleting since it's not bloated with descriptions. I run my editing software to help with the changes.

Because I also do back-end Kindle edits during the second draft, by the time I'm done, I review the book once (or twice) more before it goes to the beta readers. They will find errors, but I utilize my betas for their feedback on specific elements to the story, characters, etc. They are an amazing part of the process.

I typically give my betas 3-4 weeks depending on my schedule or the project size to review. During this time, I'm usually writing the first draft of another book and working on projects in another stage.

This is just basically my last chance to take into consideration all their feedback and make adjustments to the story as needed. Betas aren't there to change the story, but they have a good eye at giving me a readers' perspective and identifying what works and what doesn't, and leaving it up to me on whether to tweak.

The difference between this step and the above is this is just a polish - a final check to clean up my doc so I won't be embarrassed to hand it over to my editor.

EDITOR *paid service
While the editor has my book, I'm usually working on other projects (typically a second draft revision).

The editor hands me back my manuscript and it's bleeding with errors and issues. Part of me wants to curl up with a bottle of whiskey and cry, but I'd seriously worry if an editor handed me back a fairly clean document. Their job is to spot the issues that you don't see, like style rules in whether a movie name should be in italics or quotes. Hyphens, word repeats, redundancy, speech tags, wrong words, grammar, punctuation, and the list goes on. It takes me days to go through because I review each one and will even research if it's not a rule I'm familiar with. Sometimes the rules are grey, and we'll go back and forth over things like: should jerk-off be hyphenated or not?

PROOFREADER *paid service
It's always good to have another set of eyes look at your manuscript to catch the simple things.

This is just when I get the document back to fix the errors. The reason why this can take a couple days is that sometimes a suggestion to modify a word or add punctuation can create a problem in which I have to rewrite or delete the sentence.

OOPS DETECTION *paid service
This is a final level of proofreading where yet another set of eyes reviews my manuscript for basic errors.

Now, I could just leave it at that. After all, by this time I've had up to nine eyeballs on my manuscript, excluding my own self edits. But, onward....

This is something I would recommend every author do in their final step, whether they do it themselves or have an assistant help. You would be surprised what your brains sees that isn't really there. I can (and have) read out loud and missed errors because my mind is seeing the word "ON" which is not actually on the page. During text to audio, the most common errors I'll find are dropped words in a sentence. Otherwise, it's usually a word repeated more than once in a sentence or paragraph. Only once in a blue moon do I catch a typo, and usually it's a case of something like "compliment" instead of "complement," which are homonyms. You won't catch that if you're just listening to the audio, which is why I read along while listening.

Errors will still manage to slip through, because no process is foolproof. This is why I've tried to create as many steps as possible prior to the editor and even after. If you go back to my earlier works, you'll find more issues since I didn't have all these processes in place. But now I have peace of mind that when I publish a book, I've done the utmost in putting out a solid piece of work I can be proud of - one that wasn't rushed and tells the story the way it was meant to be.

And what's awesome? When I can get ahead of schedule and sneak in a secret project. I have at least one coming in 2016.

Happy reading.


  1. As a reader, I very much appreciate the extra effort. I've seen so many self published books that desperately need the attention of a copyeditor. Missing words, wrong words, misused homophones, etc. The errors leap out at me and distract me from the story (and sometimes the homophones put some pretty strange mental images in my head).

  2. I truly appreciate the work you do to make the reader's experience as enjoyable as possible. I hate being distracted by the lack of editing on a book i have paid for. I have stopped reading halfway through a book where the story is good but the editing was so bad i couldn't continue. The author goes on my list of authors i will not purchase from again. To give you a cringe-worthy example, i was struggling to read a book with a great story but an author who was making mistakes nearly every line. Halfway thru the book, during a sex scene, the female's scent was referred to as a " rank odor". That did it. I closed the book, wrote a one star review with sample quotes in the book and flagged the author so i would never buy from her again.

  3. You are awesome. That's all!