The Making Of A Novel

As you may know, Action Figures – Issue Five: Team-Ups got delayed until January. I hated to make that call, but as I remarked to one disappointed reader, real life came calling and pushed the process back. It’s one of the unfortunate and sometimes unavoidable pitfalls of being an independent author.

When I talk to people about my work, they’re often surprised at what goes into creating a novel. The process is much more complex than they realized, and fraught with potential hurdles than can easily screw up a release schedule, so I thought I’d chat about the process of creating a book start to finish — or, more specifically, my process. There is no one single “right way” to write a novel, despite what some might claim.

For me, the process starts with what I call the “rough plotting” phase. This is when I hash out the story from beginning to end. I lay out the plot and character arcs, set up key scenes, etc. All this happens in my head; I am not the kind of writer who takes extensive notes or meticulously lays out a story in advance. I like an organic process that surprises me with where the story and characters go. It keeps my creative energy up.

Next, the actual writing begins. This part of the process can take a few months, and my day-to-day page output depends on several factors, such whether I’m having a high or low creative energy day, how confident I’m feeling about a given section of the story, and if I actually have time to write. Four days out of the week, I work for my wife’s company Storied Threads, which leaves me with Friday through Sunday to write.

…Unless she’s vending at a show, which occurs a dozen or so times each year; or if I’m involved with the Connecticut Renaissance Faire as a performer/assistant fight director, in which case I can kiss my weekends goodbye for two months; or if life stuff happens (social gatherings, holidays, emergencies, etc.).

I cant brainAnd of course, there are days when I’m supposed to write but can’t, because my brain hates me and won’t let me do anything. This condition is often called ‘writer’s block” but is also known simply as “the dumb.” On days like that I usually spend a couple hours trying to power through it, but when I write the same paragraph over and over again and it still feels like a big bag of suck, I usually give up for the day and try again tomorrow.

During the writing phase, I often come up with an idea for the cover art, which I throw over to my artist, Tricia, so she can start doing her thing. This is one part of the process that is completely out of my hands. I can request a deadline for the completed artwork, but all it will be is a request. Tricia has a family, a day job, other art projects (her own and for other clients), a life of her own — all things that just might take priority over whatever work I have for her. It’s in my overall best interests to be flexible and understanding when stuff comes up. She does great work for me and I don’t want to lose her!

Colbert Give It
This is not how you get results from your cover artist.

After I finish writing the novel, I begin the revision process. Depending on how confident I am with the first draft — and on how much time I have, and how much the creative juices are flowing — I can do a second draft in as little as one three-day weekend. More often it takes me at least two weekends of work. Measured in hours, that’s 30 to 60 hours to revise a full manuscript. Tack on another 30 to 60 hours if I decide a third draft is in order.

Once I’m pleased with the manuscript, I send it off to my test readers, which is another point in the process that I can’t control. They’re doing me a favor by reading and critiquing my book, so I have no right to put them on a deadline or rush them. Fortunately, they tend to be fast readers and I normally receive my feedback within two to three weeks.

Once all my test readers have reported in, it’s time to work on the next draft, wherein I correct any problems with the story, strengthen the parts that work well, and fine-tune the prose (I have a bad habit of over-writing, so I’m always on the lookout for superfluous material to cut for the sake of length and pacing). This takes another weekend or two.

Next step is to send the manuscript off to my editor, Julie. She is wonderfully thorough, insightful, and always offers meaty feedback. That level of diligence requires time on her part, and depending on how her schedule is — again, she has commitments above and beyond my needs — it could take her up to two months to finish editing a manuscript.

When she’s finished, guess what? That’s right: I do another round of revisions! Usually by this point all the major parts are set and all I have to do is make final corrections.

Hurry Up
My relationship with formatting.

And then it’s on to the boring part of the job: formatting everything. I have to format the base MS Word file, which includes scintillating tasks like making sure all the page breaks and paragraph indentations are where they should be; and then I have to format the whole thing for the print edition (which doesn’t take too long if I did that first part right); and then I have to format it again for the e-book edition.

That part finished, I then go into CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing to set up the books — which is quite a bit more than simply uploading my various files. I have to choose book categories and keywords for search engines, get my ISBN and AISN numbers, select my pricing and royalty options, and after my files are uploaded, I have to review the books cover to cover to ensure they formatted properly. And if they don’t? I have to go back into my master files to make the corrections, re-upload the new files, and start the review process all over again.

Throughout this entire ordeal, I’m doing things like maintaining my online presence, promoting the next release, setting up book signings and public appearances, and looking for new ways to spread the word about my work — and sometimes, during the “hurry up and wait” points in the timeline, I’m starting work on the next book.

All told, the process of creating a novel from the time I start writing to the day it sees publication is six months if everything goes smoothly — which it almost never does. More often it takes around eight months, start to finish, before readers get to enjoy the fruits of my labor.

And that, boys and girls, is how a novel gets made.

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