The greatest teacher for any author is his own book. Every book I write teaches me new things, both about myself as a person, and about my craft as a novelist. My fantasy Dreamlander was no different. The book will be released December 2, and in the intervening weeks between now and then, I’d like to share a series of posts about the lessons
this book has taught me during my twelve-year journey with it.
This week, I want to start with something several of you have been asking me for: a start-to-finish checklist of how to write a book. What’s the process? How do you get from idea to publication? How do you capture your beautifully incomplete inspiration and create a story you can share with the world?
Let’s take a look!
Write Your Novel Checklist
Idea dawns (and germinates for a loooong time).
In my case, it was a seed planted by my brother, who thought it would be cool to write a story in which people live two lives: one when we’re awake here on Earth and one when we’re asleep.
Write a few chapters.
Those of you who have read Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success will note that I didexactly what I recommend not doing. I dove in without an outline. Yipes!
Then I got semi-wise. Wrote a very brief outline and dove back in.
Write character interviews.
Write a few more chapters.
Thanks to my impatience with outlining early on, I paid the price fifty pages in. Since I wasn’t sure where I was going, I didn’t yet know how to get there.
Write a serious outline.
So I slowed down for several months and wrote a complete outline. And—voila!—everything fell into place. (Right about now is when I swore I would never start another book without outlining.)
Write first draft.
Edit x 3.
Three quick edits after a draft is my lucky number. Because I essentially edit as I go, my manuscripts are pretty clean by the time I finish. At this stage, I usually only have to clean up minor plot issues and typos (until, of course, the critters get hold of it!).
Send to first round of readers (x 4).
This round of readers is hand-picked to include two hard-hitting critique partners (including editor Linda Yezak), one complimentary beta reader, and one critical beta reader.
Incorporate suggested changes.
Edit every few months.
After the initial round of corrections from my alpha readers, I always like to let manuscripts sit for at least a few months. During this period, I’m usually busy outlining and researching my next book, so it’s a good opportunity for Book #1 to cool its heels in the back of the closet.
Revise to trim word count.
Dreamlander was maxing out at about 50,000 words heavier than I wanted it to be. So she went on a crash diet, using some of these methods.
Send to next round of readers (x 3).
This round of readers is more or less composed of “casual” readers, from whom I’m looking for, not so much technical criticism, as I am just general answers to the all-important, question, “Does this work?”
Send to next round of readers (x 2).
And here we bring in another round of heavy hitters. We’re nearing crunch time, with only a year left before we enter “pre-publication” phase, so any major remaining problems have to be taken care of now.
Finish the next book.
I gotta tell you: it’s like magic. As soon as I finish one book, I’m able to return to the previously written one with new eyes. I see the story much more clearly—its strengths and weaknesses—and I’m able to revise it much more critically than ever before.
Yes, I’m that much of an outline nerd. I even outline my revisions.
This is it. This is the last big makeover before the wheels start rolling inexorably toward publication. Rewrites aren’t supposed to be fun, but I’ll be honest with you—this one was a blast.
Edit x 3.
My lucky number of edits once again!
Send to next round of readers (x 4).
Since this is the last round of readers who will be able to influence content edits, I want a mix of casual readers and savvy writers.
Send to editor.
This was the first time I’ve worked with the fabulous Cathi-Lyn Dyck, who had the manuscript—and a pile of juicy notes—back to me within just a few weeks.
Revise x 4.
Here’s where I roll up my sleeves and start polishing like mad.
Send to proofreader.
Send to final round of beta readers (x 7).
At this point, the book has been typeset for the print version and digitally converted for the e-book versions, so major changes have to be kept to a minimum. But the more eyes on the book to look for those sneaky little typos, the better.
Proofread digital version.
I plug the .mobi version into my Kindle Keyboard and have it read aloud to me as I simultaneously read along. Bar none, this is one of the most comprehensive proofreading methods I’ve ever used.
Proofread hard copy.
For this one, I take a slightly different tack and read it aloud myself—with the aid of plenty of lemon water and tea.
Breathe sigh of relief.
Every book’s journey is unique. The journey on which Dreamlander has taken me is not the same as the road I travelled with either A Man Called Outlaw or Behold the Dawn, and it won’t be the same as your journey. But watching and learning what to do (and what not to!) from the processes of other authors is always valuable in creating your own process—and sometimes just in gauging whether or not you’re on the right course. Can’t wait until I get to read about your book release!
Don’t forget to vote for which prize you’d like to win in the Dreamlander Launch Party Grand Prize Drawing on December 2!
Tell me your opinion: What does your start-to-finish writing process look like?
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