A publishing secret

This may be a secret, or just one of those things you don’t think about much, but I’ve never heard it talked about much, so I’m going to now. The secret? Turn-around time–the amount of time you have to return a manuscript to your editor. After you finish your book and send it to your editor, you wait for the editorial letter (while digging hard into your next book if you have any sense at all because there’s no telling how long it may take for the letter to come back to you).

The editorial letter is sometimes short, sometimes very long, but all of mine have usually begun with some global issue feedback about plot or characters or some such. Like for instance, your character is inconsistent–in the beginning he’s rabidly hateful, and five minutes later for no discernible reason, he’s broken into song and is now starring in his own Disney Musical.

Ahem. Or something like.

That usually goes on for one page or two, and then is usually followed by a list of line edits where the editor lists page numbers and specific editorial suggestions or questions. Somewhere in there it will tell you when you need to return the revisions.

Now here’s the scary part. Sometimes that’s a very short time indeed. Maybe a couple of weeks, maybe a month. If you’re like me and have a dayjob (that creeps into the night), or if you have another book deadline approaching, this can be very tricky. Sometimes the edits are substantial enough that you can’t finish in time (or fear you won’t). Sometimes you get started in on them thinking they’ll go quick, and then something hits you and you realize you could have so much better a book if you just cut the middle third, added fifteen chapters, and so forth, all of which will take you much longer than you expected.

But there’s that deadline. And the deadline is there because after turning in the revisions (and provided your editor approves of them), the book has to go to copy edit and then come back to you for review, and then go to the typesetter, and then come back to you for proofing, and then go back in time to get advanced reader copies out to book buyers and reviewers. This process is not quick.

The worst part is that it is almost impossible to plan ahead for a) when your editor will give you the editorial letter (it could be months) and b) how extensive the necessary edits will be, and c) whether you’ll be able to revise your manuscript in a way that makes you happy in the time permitted (The Black Ship, coming in November, had a scene that took me months to hammer out–I simply could not make it work and then suddenly the key twisted and the lock opened).

Now you might say, well, just move the release date back and then you’ll have more time. But first, that could put your book off by months and months–other books have already been scheduled and you can’t just bump them. You’ll have to wait for the next open slot. That can ruin momentum for fans who are wanting your next book. Second, that could make things hard for your publisher who won’t have a book to schedule into your slot. None of us want to make life difficult for our publishers. That’s a little too much like biting the hand that feeds.

So as you might have guessed, I’m waiting for my editorial letter and feeling a bit nervous about the extent of the edits and whether I’ll be able to turn them around in time and still manage to sleep. We’ll see. Any of you out there have a story about this you want to tell?

And finally, as I said above, The Black Ship is releasing in November and I have two ARCs to give away. You’ll have to head to my livejournal to enter, and I hope you do. Deadline for entering is midnight on September 20th

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There are 10 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Karen Wester Newton

    Forgive me, I know you are a nice person but this kind of post always reminds me of women who complain because they went up one dress size from a 4 to a 6. Yes, it’s hard to make all those edits in a month, but it’s a problem that a lot of us are dying to have! The only thing worse than a tight deadline is no deadline.

  2. 2. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Karen: I can see how you might see it that way. But for me, it leads to anxiety attacks. Shrug. The nature of how it is for me. Plus I’m always certain that there’s something dreadfully wrong with the book that I don’t know about yet and the uncertainty of whether I can actually do what I need to do in time.

  3. 3. Mike Brotherton

    There’s a reason my second novel came out almost five years after my first. Try having a divorce in the midst of major revisions, along with a full-time professional career. Sometimes the revisions can amount to rewriting half a book, while you’re also trying to rebuild your life. Not every writer is the kind to pour their heart out into their novels, especially when the story you’re working on isn’t what you’re feeling at the time.

    Yeah, I try to tell myself that my problems are good problems to have, the kind other people would like to struggle with, but every problem is emotionally evaluated relative to a person’s own life.

    Anyway, finished the book and it didn’t turn out bad in the end, and got my life back together better than before. Now to get the third novel completed…

  4. 4. Merrilee Faber

    That was really interesting. I’ve always wondered what the process is for revisions. Thank you Diana!

  5. 5. glenda larke

    to Karen W.N. at No.1:

    Absolutely. You have put your finger on another secret of the writer’s world…when we start out we all think, “Oh, if only I could get published!” We think that is the ultimate high and after that happens, there’s nothing to worry about. Believe me, we published writers ALL started there, no exceptions.

    And once published, we all learn that there is Life After Publication and it is just as full of things to worry about, one stress after another. To my amazement anyway, I realised that getting that acceptance letter was not the end of anything – it was just the beginning of something and that something was in some ways just as tough. And wonderful too. May you one day indeed discover it for yourself!

  6. 6. S.C. Butler

    Isn’t the rule of thumb on revisions that, the longer your editor takes to get his editorial letter back to you, the shorter the time you’re given to finish said revisions?

  7. 7. cindy

    i’m going through my revisions for the very
    first time and appreciate this post. thank you
    for sharing!

  8. 8. Maria

    Great post with good info! I’m only sorry that I missed out on entering the contest…

    Thanks,
    Maria

  9. 9. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Cindy and Maria: Glad to be helpful.

    Maria: There will be more contests before long. Keep your eyes peeled.

  10. 10. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Sam: uhuh. That’s what I’m afraid of.

Author Information

Diana Pharaoh Francis

Diana Pharaoh Francis has written the fantasy novel trilogy that includes Path of Fate, Path of Honor and Path of Blood. Path of Fate was nominated for the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award. Recently released was The Turning Tide, third in her Crosspointe Chronicles series (look also for The Cipher and The Black Ship). In October 2009, look for Bitter Night, a contemporary fantasy. Diana teaches in the English Department at the University of Montana Western, and is an avid lover of all things chocolate. Visit site.

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