THE WRITING TIMELINE
In traditional markets, it is not unheard of for a novel to take 18-24 months from the time of an offer to publication (i.e. book store shelves). Add that to the 6-12 months to even 18-24 months it takes to write the damned thing and you can see how novels can take up YEARS of your life. And this isn’t even taking into account those that work, have families, commitments, and other priorities that take away time from their “work.” (We’ll touch on making writing your MAIN personal priority some other time).
For ease of understanding and follow-through, I’m going to divide this into sections, 1 for WRITING, 1 for PUBLISHING, and 1 for MARKETING/RELEASE! I also hope to get this up as a PDF is the upcoming future, but for now, please just love it here. (Copy + Paste works too).
This round can last minutes, days, or years, if necessary. This is where you sit down at the wheel with a lump of clay and try and figure out what beast you’re shooting for.
Worldbuilding, character interviews, the IDEA train, whatever you want to call it, it’s here. You can use flash cards, charts, graphs, spreadsheets, freehand art like you see above. Whatever keeps you organized and gets you off the ground running is the best system for you.
It’s a very mobile, fluid round, so you need to be able to move thoughts/scenes/images/ideas freely. I like the notecard method also. Just make sure you keep it all together with a rubber band or it might get lost.
Timeframe: As long as it takes.
- THE FIRST DRAFT
Some people use Scrivener, some people use Word. I am old-fashioned and every first draft I write is written by hand (about 80% of the novel). Some people start at CHAPTER ONE and work their way to that fabled THE END.
I don’t. I start at the beginning, like I am supposed to, and then by about the 1/3 point I have to deviate and I start writing the end, then the middle and loop around and around until I manage to get all the pieces in place.
Some stories unfold, one chapter, one layer at a time like an onion. Some are more like a puzzle and have to form slowly and deliberately, with clusters of pieces forming in areas until that final DONE moment arrives. The genre of your novel will be what mostly dictates this.
Fantasy novels have so much world-building that there is bound to be a great deal of freestyling involved in this. Time-traveling novels are the same way. They work in Mobius-like strips and cannot be depended upon to unravel in a manner befit of a historical romance like Pride and Prejudice.
Timeframe: 1 month – 1 year.
(Realistically, it should take you 2-4 months for the first draft that is between 80,000 to 120,000 words.)
NOTE: (I DON’T LIVE IN THE REAL WORLD, FYI. With a toddler that I watch during the daytime and a job at night, I don’t write as much as I would like to. Even when I have vacation.)
THE SELF EDITS
3. ROUND 1 (COHERENCE)
The first round of edits I call COHERENCE because that is exactly what it is. COHERENCE. Here you will tear apart stilted dialogue, awkward sentences, or complete and total crap. Whole sections and paragraphs can also go during this time. Against the advice of many novelists, I edit as I write, which slows down the project considerably.
HOWEVER, as I was raised by an editor and a professor, self-editing is ingrained in me about as much as my blood is. I do not write like I did in my teens or early twenties, and as such, the red becomes less as I progressively grow as a writer. I am learning to become more concise in my writing, and it’s paying off.
This first round blends into and overlaps with STEP 3, just so you know. They are like two halves of one whole.
Timeframe: 1-2 months.
- 4. ROUND 2 (PRE-BETA READ-THROUGH)
Prior to any of my books going to their respective betas, I read the entire novel in it’s entirety twice. Maybe three or four more times. It’s hard to say because of the way I read and edit, read and edit. Edit and read the chapter. Cooking? Reread the chapter. Walking? Reread the chapter. By the time I actually make it to where I print it out (see image) onto paper, we are at the BETA stage and my final read-through is for READABILITY and MINOR DETAILS like CONTINUALITY glitches.
Timeframe: 1 month.
5. BETA READ
The fabled BETA STAGE. This is where your novel goes out into the big bad world of willing torture victims in the hopes that it will come back with a big red bow on top.
During this stage, your manuscript may go to one person or a trusted few. Beta Readers are dangerous in the aspect that they can either be total crap [i.e. I love it, it’s great, or I hate it, it sucks.] or they can chew through each chapter with their teeth until there’s nothing left but a carcass. Again, this can be good or bad.
By having a group of Betas, the probability that they at least comb through all the parts that need combing and validate what needs to be validated is higher. Feedback is the only job that a Beta Reader has. Everything that you liked, everything that you hated, everything that made you feel or confused you is important. The BETA is “the reader.” You have please them, stroke them, coddle them, and make sure they are tucked in at night.
Only then will the author get the feedback they so desire.
Timeframe: 1 week to 1 month.
6. ROUND 3 (POST BETA)
This is where you get the manuscript back with as many or as little notes that have been provided to you by your BETAs. Here, you will clarify, reduce, rewrite, eliminate, correct anything that needs to be handled before your manuscript heads off to the PROFESSIONAL ROUND OF EDITS.
Timeframe: 1 week to 1 month.
THE PROFESSIONAL EDITS
NOTE: I will dive into Choosing An Editor next week, but in the meantime, here is the best advice I can give you.
Editors and authors are both a dime a dozen. Find the editor that works best for you and never let them go.
7. ROUND 1 (DEVELOPMENTAL & SUBSTANTIVE)
Now you’re running with the big dogs. The manuscript goes to the editor and no matter what happens, it will have red marks. Some pages may have none, some will have a lot. There will be commentation included in the notes of the Word document, as well as a RIDICULOUSLY long exchange of emails.
Consider this normal. Do not panic.
A Developmental & Substantive editor will focus on character development, plot flow, structure, tone, style, continuality, and the like. The biggest problems you will run into during this round is if the editor possibly doesn’t “like” your style.
Timeframe: 1-4 weeks.
8. ROUND 2 (COPY & LINE)
This is the real nitty-gritty. Grammar, punctuation, spelling, word choice, brevity. Chapter by chapter, line by line, word by word. Whatever needs to go, will.
Know that by the time you get it back, it will be 1000% better and you will be glad you had it done. Just make sure you have alcohol by your side to handle STEP 9 REWRITES.
Timeframe: 1-4 weeks
I have taken the liberty of inserting the obvious step known as “REWRITES.”
You will cry. You will scream. You will cry and scream on the floor as you kick your feet in vain.
And then you sit your ass in the seat and you do it. Over and over and over again until everything makes sense. At that point you will consider your STEP 2 self a total and complete jackass and possibly die of embarrassment.
10. ROUND 3 (PROOFREADER)
I put this under the professional section even though you yourself can do a proofread as can a trusted colleague or friend.
This is the second to last stage. Here is where the book goes through a proofreader, typically someone who has not looked at the manuscript and is able to spot errors, typos, and other minor problems from a mile away. With the indie publication market, this can also stem into letting your PROOFREADER do their thing with an ARC/PROOF. This will allow both you guys to catch errors in formatting (both print and digital) as well as anything that needs to be brought to life before the manuscript hits the presses.
Timeframe: 1-2 weeks
11. FINAL PROOF REVIEW
The last final hurrah. Digital and print versions of your work for your review. You can do it, someone else can do it. All of the above, none of the above. Use at your own peril [ PERIL = jackassery].
It’s your choice. Again, this blends into Step 10 PROOFREADING.
Timeframe: 1-2 weeks
And there you have it, THE WRITING TIMELINE of your manuscript. Freelance editors can be found with a basic Google search, or you can use sites like Elance or Guru. Many will do a 5 page sample or even more depending on the length and complexity of your project for free.
If they don’t, keep looking. Even though you are paying them, it is still an audition. Remember, you guys are a team and you don’t want to dump $3,000 on someone who can’t make it off your first page without dropping it into a bucket of red paint.
Pens get expensive. I know.
Something else you should know is that just because you learn to write better, it may not cost you any less depending on the editor[s] you choose.
Some editors will automatically sell you a developmental/substantive editing package because your novel/series is so high concept that it’s going to require more out of them. This is not necessarily anything against you, it just is what it is. Again, some genres are more simplistic, others more complex, and some people are just out to make a buck.
So in conclusion, WRITE LONG, EDIT HARD, AND LOVE STRONG. It makes for a great novel.