Things got pretty quiet after I signed my publishing contract. I had a quick meet and greet with my publishers at my agent’s place – followed shortly by a visit to the Harper Collins offices to meet the Marketing & PR team working on my book. Nothing was discussed in fine detail – it was more of an update on the process to follow (structural editing, copy editing, designing a cover), a hope from both sides on whether the other had chosen a title (the manuscript remains untitled, or should I say, tentatively titled with the first title I ever gave it) and suggestions as to whether or not I knew someone (with some sort of profile relevant to my target audience) who might be able to provide a back-of-cover testimonial for the book (though this was not a pre-requisite or must for publishing).
Turns out, choosing a title is quite a big priority at the moment because publishers design their covers months in advance – even six months to eight months out from release date. They also start thinking about marketing material; and promotional material goes out to media (as it must due to lead times) three or four months in advance. Suddenly, the one year lead-time between signing my contract and my intended publishing timeframe (late August/early September) made a lot more sense.
But it was about to be a lot more explainable. When I signed my contract in August/September 2012, I had signed for delivering a second manuscript in draft form to my publishers by the end of September 2013. I knew I was cutting it finely, but I had no idea how much. My first book took a long time to write. I never had a storyline from the outset: I wrote it in random chapters and then strung it all together at the end to make a story, then filled in any gaps. But the format of my second novel makes this quite hard to do, which means I have been forced to wait around for my characters to talk to me, tell me their problems, explain what is happening and why it is so bad for me to put it out on paper.
As another month ends and nears me closer to deadline, my stress is magnifying. I wish I had worked a little more on the second book (though it was not for lack of trying) because I’ve just had my manuscript returned to me from its jaunt with the Structural Editor – who works on a freelance basis and was contracted by my publishers. The return of the manuscript means a lot more work, a shorter turn-around time given release date is eight months away and a worry that the structural editor’s opinion might clash with those of the other gate-keepers (publisher, agent, me).
For those that don’t know what I am referring to when I say ‘Structural Edit’: there could more than a few rounds of editing to a novel. There are the edits you do yourself before you submit it to anyone, then there are the edits you might do you for your agent – to strengthen the plot or characters and make it more sellable to a publisher. For me that involved things like changing the dynamics of a certain character’s family, or adding an additional chapter to allow some loose ends to be tied. Little things essentially, and things that did not take a lot of time, but they make a big difference to whether it gets a nod from a publisher or not. My publisher then requested I set my novel in the present, because mine was linked to an event that would have been seven years prior to the publishing date. With that done, it was time for the structural edit: an edit by a professional that looks at the bigger picture of the entire novel. A structural edit involves seeing if the storyline works, if the character says something that seem out of odds with his/her inner thoughts or even behaviours, if other characters mentioned in the novel need more air-time. It’s different to the copy-edit which takes place after the story is pretty much set in stone and the text is ready for grammatical run-throughs and the like.
Here are some examples of the feedback from my structural edit (some bits are obviously left out to not ruin the story):
- These are excellent themes for a YA novel, but I think you could do more to incorporate them into the story and into Sophie’s character. That idea of XXX is set up at the very start of the novel, before she meets XXX and starts working at XXX, so where is it coming from?
- I’d suggest in your next draft you showcase the change happening on the page, rather than telling us it’s already happened.
- You tell us she’s a big reader, but what kind of books is she reading? What are the authors she is following? Could you have her following a certain set of commentary blogs?
- Perhaps you can look at including her mother more in the scenes?
- XXX’s story provides a sub-plot to the main storyline, but it’s not quite as developed as it might be. I’ve made notes on the manuscript where you might consider expanding what’s there, to give her story a little more substance.
As you can see, the structural edit can be a lot of hard work. I have a four page overview of my structural editor’s thoughts, as well as little markings and notes on the manuscript on what things should be changed, removed, expanded or edited. It’s going to take a long time to get through with all my other commitments in the picture (I’ve taken a little pause from freelancing, and clearly I am not blogging regularly, but there’s still the second book, my full-time job, my non-working life and the small matter of the postgrad thesis I am supposed to be writing, and whether I drop out of it in March, which is increasingly likely).
But as my good friend Liv Hambrett reminded me the other day, I am living my dream. That’s gotta count for something, no matter what the next sessions in my book publishing journey hold. But as some of you might know, I am doing this – blogging about this – because I would have liked to know what was in store for me as an Australian-author-to-be. That means sharing the highlight reels as well as the haphazard realities from the journey. I hope those of you reading are benefiting from my tales.
If you have any questions about this process so far, please feel free to contact me via my Facebook page and I will do my best to answer them.