My First Novel: The Production Process

Production technically starts, I believe, with the copy-edited manuscript (aka CEM), which I discussed in the previous section. The author can rewrite things if necessary, but mostly the CEM is for smaller details, like grammar, typos, and house style. I’m proud to say that my grammar is mostly good (semi-colon overuse and that/which aside), and I have very, very few typos. The other issue, house style, has to do with making sure your writing fits the Chicago Manual of Style or whatever guide your publisher uses. On this basis, the copy-editor may hyphenate or unhyphenate words, or make similar changes. (For example, the style guide would determine whether that ought to be copy-editor, copy editor, or copyeditor, all three of which you’ll sometimes see people using.)

But in truth, that’s when production starts for the writer. There are all kinds of other things going on where you can’t see them, with many people working very hard to get your novel on the shelves. Those months where it seems like nothing’s happening are far busier than you think.

The next time you see your manuscript after the CEM goes back will be when you get page proofs. (Mine, to continue the timeline, came in mid-October; I had to take them with me to the American Folklore Society meeting to get them done in time.) You might be surprised to realize how many decisions get made in the course of producing those. Page proofs are the typeset pages of your novel; they’re your first glimpse of what it’s really going to look like. That means that someone has to choose the font your novel will be printed in. Also how large or small the margins will be, and how closely or widely spaced the lines will be. Will the page numbers go in the upper corner or the lower? What header, if any, will they put at the top of the recto and verso? What will demarcate one scene from another — a blank space, or some marker? Should the first part of each scene be italicized or small-capped or given a fancy capital? How about the chapters? Once they pour your text into the template they’ve created, then they have to fiddle with it and make sure there aren’t any weird widows or orphans or last pages of chapters with just two words on them.

These, for comparison, are services you generally don’t get from vanity/subsidy presses. I won’t spend long on this, as it could be a separate essay, but I should mention. They earn money off their writers (instead of off their reading audiences), and the less money they spend on paying people to do production work, the more profit they make. This is why vanity-published books often look crappy. Not only have they often not gotten copy-editing, but the typesetting is slipshod and unaesthetic.

So that’s the inside of the book. What about the outside? I was fortunate to have an editor who asked for my input on the cover, which I honestly didn’t expect, after hearing horror stories of authors who got no say whatsoever. We talked initially about artists and style, agreeing easily on the sort of photo-realistic approach I ended up. Then there were discussions of the composition of the image. My ideas here didn’t fare as well (I sort of wanted both Miryo and Mirage), since there are entire philosophies of cover design I’m ignorant of; I got to provide input, but that certainly didn’t mean I controlled the process. My editor chose an artist, who did an initial mockup in April, then revised it to editorial requirements in July. (I’m not allowed to post the original image, but to give you an idea of what changed, she used to be wearing a cloak, and the “camera” was further back, showing her from head to toe.)

As with the interior text, the image was only the base. Someone chose the font for the title and my name. There were changes here, too; the initial concept my editor described to me had “Doppelganger” being printed on some kind of stone-slab background. I suspect that went away when my novel got moved from Warner Aspect (the sf/f imprint) to Warner Books (the main line), and they decided to give it less of a stereotypical fantasy look. The stuff printed on the back is called cover copy; I got to give that a once-over, and I think I suggested a minor change or two to the wording, but the actual text is (I think) my editor’s work. The knotwork is my doing, though; I remember (at the stupidly-last minute) that I wanted the witches’ symbol included, and cobbled together an image that they could use on the cover and interior.

It was kind of fascinating, becoming aware of all the facets of the process I’d mostly ignored before. And I’m sure I’m forgetting or overlooking others; for example, somebody decided what weight of paper to print the novel on. The process takes a long time because, by the time you reach this stage, your book has entered a pipeline that also involves a lot of other books; printing a given novel doesn’t take months, but you have to wait your turn. I admit there are times when I sigh over the almost year and a half between sale and shelves, but such, of course, is life in publishing.


Last: One Year Later