Writing Your Book
After all this work and finally signing a deal…it’s time to do the thing you’ve been asking for, and write the book.
Leave plenty of time to do this — more than you think you need. And then, add additional time for unexpected rewrites, reviewer feedback, finding photos and illustrations, securing permissions, doing followup research, and interviewing people.
It’s helpful to construct a master calendar or timeline showing what needs to happen each month, from signing all the way until publication and beyond. This will come in handy not only for making consistent writing progress but for marketing and promotional events and deadlines.
While a lot of what goes in in writing is mysterious, there’s a few things you can do to make it as painless (and even fun) as possible.
Join a writing group
Consider joining a writing group. Writing groups and writing partners can be a great source of inspiration, accountability, feedback, and moral support.
It’s hard to take on all the roles you’ll need to become successful – brilliant writer, excellent editor, superb proofreader, social media guru, salesperson extraordinaire, graphics genius, and perfect publicist – all by yourself. You need to build a team, even if you ultimately decide to self-publish.
Documenting your research
Keep track of everything. Whether you are gathering information from historical documents, interviewing experts, getting photos and articles online, or using excerpts from books or magazines, write down everything relevant: publications, exact dates and times, photographers’ names, page numbers, etc. You’ll need these details for footnotes, the bibliography, and for tracking permissions.
For interviews, the best documentation method is to record them. Be sure to ask for permission, and to test your equipment before starting.
If you want to reprint more than one or two lines from a poem, song, essay, or book, you’ll likely need written permission from the copyright holder. You’ll certainly need permission to reprint a photograph, illustration, or painting. If you don’t, your publisher will ask you to remove the material in question or they won’t publish your book. Don’t pay for permissions until the last possible moment, in case you end up not using them.
As you write, it’s important to get feedback from people whose judgment you trust. After writing and rewriting as much as you can, step away from the book so you can get some distance. Give the draft manuscript to diverse readers and ask them to tell you what they liked, and what didn’t work.
Here are some questions to ask of reviewers:
- Did the book deliver on its promise?
- Was anything confusing or awkward?
- Was the information easy to understand?
- Was any information missing?
- Did the arguments make sense?
- Where does it flow? Where is it choppy?
- Was there enough humor? Too much? Did any jokes fall flat?
Once the manuscript is near completion, read the whole thing out loud. This will take a long time, but the process is invaluable for catching mistakes, unnatural language, and wordy passages. Your voice will naturally find the point of emphasis, and you’ll find ways to add your own personal rhythm and inflection.
Working with your publisher
Publishing houses are made up of humans and thus operate with all the idiosyncrasies and foibles native to our species. They are hierarchical organizations, with power and authority flowing from the head of the publisher down to the editor-in-chief, editorial directors, executive directors, senior editors, editors, associate editors, assistant editors, and finally, editorial assistants.
When a senior executive at a publisher makes you an offer, they are making a big statement about you within their organization. Acquiring and publishing a book often takes years and involves a lot of people, so the offer represents a big bet on you. Because they’ve put a lot of trust in you, it makes sense to put a lot of trust in the editor you’ll be working with.
A good first step is to set up an onboarding call and get to know each other. Prepare a list of practical, substantive questions. Here are some examples to choose from:
- What would you like me to know about how you and this process work before we begin?
- Do you want to see chapters as I finish them? Or would you prefer to see a completed manuscript?
- Do you prefer telephone or email communication?
- Do you have any general or specific editorial suggestions before I start? Is there anything in my argument/presentation/information/plot/characters and/or tone that needs work? Did you see any stylistic problems in my sample writing/manuscript that you would like me to work on?
- How closely should I stick to my outline? Would you like me to let you know about any outline changes?
- What is the ideal publication date? Are there certain key holidays or events you want to plan my book release around that will affect my deadline?
As you establish a working relationship with your editor, don’t forget to maintain contact with your agent. Keep them updated on the state of your manuscript, since they will know when and how to manage expectations with other stakeholders. Use your agent as a sounding board for concerns or questions you want to bring up with your publisher.
Copy editing and proofs
Once your manuscript is received and accepted, it will be handed off to a copy editor. Their job is to nitpick your spelling, punctuation, grammar, clarity and consistency of language, and accuracy of facts. Depending on the size and complexity of your manuscript, this could take a week to a month or more.
They will send you back a copyedited manuscript, which you then go through in detail, approving or rejecting every change. You typically have a week or two to do this. If you disagree with changes, you may need some back and forth with your primary editor, though you almost never have direct contact with your copy editor.
Once you approve this final manuscript, you won’t be invited to make any further changes. The manuscript will now be on its way to the typesetter to be turned into page proofs, a set of which will be sent to you for approval. After this point, all you can do is point out typesetting errors or make small, last-minute adjustments.
While you’re checking the page proofs, the printer is turning them into bound galleys with pages cut to size. These will go to a number of book reviewers, who are warned not to publicly quote anything as they are still subject to change.
The last thing you’ll see is a “blad” (an acronym for “book layout and design”), a pamphlet-sized sampler of your book sent to reviewers and media people for a first look.
Once you’ve submitted your final manuscript and reviewed the last few items, it’s time to switch gears to launching and promoting your book. You’ll have plenty of time for this, as it can take between 6-12 months for a final manuscript to show up on store shelves.
In the next post, we’ll look at the most effective ways of getting the word out about your book, with the ultimate goal of selling as many copies as possible.