Now that the first draft is completed, the plan is to let it ferment on my laptop for about a month or so. After Moscow Airlift – the sixth novel in the Josh Haman series – comes out in March. In a week or so, I should get the last version from the editor and go through that. Then Moscow Airlift goes into proofreading. Someplace in there the cover will get done and the book will be released.
This will give me a mental break from the The Assassin. So, what are the next steps? The first one, strangely enough, is using the grammar and spell checker built into MS Word to run through the manuscript. It takes about two days. I am less interested in its grammatical corrections than the way it helps me standardize the spellings of words and names. For example, Aliyah one of the main characters can be spelled without an ‘h.’
At the front of the manuscript, I keep a page called “Notes to the Author.” As I am writing, if I think of things that need to be added earlier than I am in the book or stuff that needs to be included in future chapters, they all go there. For example, I wrote “Create more internal conflict within the Skylar family.” Before I finished the manuscript, I added passages earlier in the book and when I got to the appropriate point, wrote a one more.
When any individual note is executed(?), then it gets deleted. At anyone time, there are five or six of them on the page. Some I work on when I finish the draft because it is easier to go back and do rather than interrupt the flow. Others are written when I finish a passage and need to go back and remind myself to modify something earlier in the book. Taking care of these notes is step two.
With that done, step three - the editing process - begins. I read it out loud to myself as I edit. The audience is my three Poodles who have had all my books read to them. Doing this helps in the proofreading because if it doesn’t make sense as I read and hear it, it won’t make sense to the reader. As I come across changes, they get made.
If I delete a whole or major section of a passage, I don’t just delete it. The paragraphs get cut and pasted into another word document called “Stuff cut from The Assassin.” This way I preserve the writing and can either put some or all of it back in the book or adapt it to another one.
The first edit is an agonizingly slow process because as I go, I am checking the dates off on a calendar to make sure they flow, rewriting sections and adding notes in the “Notes to the Author” page. How long does it take, my guess about a month working roughly 40 – 50 hours a week.
O.K. now that the first major edit is done, what is step four?
The process repeats itself. I let the manuscript sit for a month or so to give me a break from the story and then do it again, this time focusing on polishing and smoothing and less on content.
So, you ask, what happens if I find a flaw in the story? Great question. Depending on how bad or ugly it is, I may do what I call “deconstructing” the book. This sub-process, if you will, begins creating a new version of the manuscript with page breaks between each section and printing it. It burns up a ream of paper! Each scene, if it is more than one page is stapled together. Now, I lay it out chapter by chapter on the dining room table so I can see the sections. Some are moved, new scenes are identified and some have to be deleted. I write notes on those that need changes and then put all the scenes back in order.
With that done, it sits next to my laptop and I make another editing pass. Deconstructing the manuscript can add weeks or months to the process. Have I done it before, oh yeah! Render Harmless, Moscow Airlift (to be released in March 2018 by Penmore) and The Sumushir Island Incident (to be released in the fall of 2018 by Penmore) all got this treatment.
In most cases, it takes four or five versions/major editing and polishing passes. The most is 19!