Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Pleasure and Pain - Publishing

Hi Guys,

As you'll have noticed I've returned to my old ways and not put out a blog for a while. But this time I think you'll agree the wait was worth it since I just published Wildling - my first new traditional fantasy novel in a while. I'm really pleased with it by the way, and with the cover. But that's probably the same with every author and their latest book.

I did think I'd share with you a little of what it's like to publish a book for me. It may be of particular interest to those of you thinking of taking that plunge.

The first thing I'd say is that - Yes - while publishing is I think an essential part of a writer's life and we should all strive for that goal, it is a heady journey. There are highs and lows along the way.

For me publishing begins with the end of the first draft. Up until then I've been writing, tapping away on my keyboard, but for me and me alone. The books I write until that stage are the books I want to write and to read. Even though there's a lot of editing during that process, there is never any real consideration of what other people might think of them. But publishing is when that all changes.

It all begins when I finish the first draft, take a deep breath, and send the completed draft to my editor - who happens to be my wonderful baby sister Lucy. That's a big step for me. For two reasons. The first is that in taking it I have committed myself to the publishing process - a brand new change in focus. And the second is that like all authors I suspect, my work is my baby. So handing it over to someone else to paw through, comment on and criticise is a very hard thing.

After that comes the waiting. That's hard. Not just because my sister is very thorough and detailed and therefore slow, but because for all that time I'm sitting there waiting for the report. It's like waiting for your exam results. And during this time I find it hard to think about anything else. I barely write at all.

Then comes the return and the piles and piles of red pixels. At once I feel incredible relief to have my book back, and shock and horror at seeing how many mistakes she's found. And a lot of them are mistakes. It's a sad thing to have to admit, but I'm not perfect and neither is my work. It's not the typos and the grammatical errors that trouble me so much - I could never spell so I can live with them. It's the issues with language and plot that cause me consternation. These are the story telling part of the work, and the parts that I do think I do well.

From there the process is methodical and sadly more pain than pleasure. It's about going through the edited draft bit by bit, and seeing what she's found and then arguing with myself about whether they are fair. But of course by then I am committed to the publishing process, so I will work all the hours that I can, sometimes falling asleep in front of the computer, to get things in order.

All the way through as the writer I am torn with doubt. Asking myself the same questions I'm sure every author has at this stage. Is she right? Was there not sufficient narrative before to explain this event? Let the reader understand? Is it really right that I can't use the English language this particular way when it sounds so right in my head? Is this truly my "voice" that she's striking out or just bad English?

Editing for all of you intending to go through the process, is a difficult process. A lengthy conversation between you and your editor that will test you. And the most difficult part - that you have to go through it several times for each book. So my first redraft after the editing, goes back to my sister and then returns in due course for a second run etc.

Eventually - and though it probably only takes a month or so all up - it will come to an end. And at that point a switch is flipped on for me at least. The text is done, now it's about publishing. But that involves more work. There is of course the format edit, setting the text out so that it looks good on a page, chucking in things like chapter numbers and a front end - title, dedication etc. The cover -though usually I will have created that long before - needs to be completed. And then worst of all for me - the blurb. I don't know why but those one to two hundred words are the most difficult to write.

All up here I'm talking three or four days without sleep and most of my supply of coffee and diet coke. But the switch has been turned on and it becomes an all out rush. It has to be done.

And then finally there's the battle with Amazon - which never goes smoothly - not for me. I have never once managed to upload and publish a book within the promised hour. Admittedly I'm on dial up which slows things down. But still sometimes it's days as things fall over, the computer won't upload etc etc. (This time however it was incredibly quick though there were still hiccups. And Amazon a huge thank you to you and the Kindle team for putting those changes in to require automatic saves throughout the process. The number of times before this that I've lost everything and had to start again from scratch is beyond belief.)

Then comes the publish button. The moment where I push it and can finally go to bed.

You'd think this would be a victory - a triumph of sometimes seemingly biblical proportions. And it is. But it's also a moment when everything ends and for me, a huge sadness. The book is finished, my baby has left the nest, an as well as exhausted and relieved there is something incredibly difficult about that moment. So difficult that after having done it I actually feel as though I never want to see that book again. It's over, finished, gone.

Maybe that's just me. But for me the easiest thing to do then is start something new. The hardest thing to do is go back into what's done.

Anyway that's my publishing process. I expect you will all have your own experiences of it.

Cheers, Greg.

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