First there's the writing.
Now when I'm on a roll, I can probably write close to a novel in a month. However, I'm not always on a role, so it's usually a good 2-3 months to get a decent first draft out.
Then there's the time for writing sit for a while to settle.
It's a good idea to let a novel sit for a week or more before beginning edits. This is because it's all so fresh in the mind that issues are likely to be miss. A week (or ideally more) offers the words a chance to leave your mind so that you are seeing them fresh. Some websites even advocate leaving it for months or more before coming back to do a round of edits. (Gah!)
In all honesty, I tend to skip this step most of the time, I'll have an enforced gap coming up after I complete a few read throughs of the text. Also, I tend to write quite linearly, so by the time I get to the end it's usually been a month or more since I read the beginning (see above).
Once it's rested, there's the first (second and usually third) round of editing.
It's surprising how terrible a first draft can be. Just like a gem isn't perfectly cut and polished after being extracted from the ground, they need to be refined and worked to get to a shiny story. This is not true only for me, but in general. I doubt there is anyone who turns out a perfect first draft, anyone who says they do is
There are so many reasons that stories need polishing, here are just a few:
- Voice of the character. Often, the character, especially a minor one, reveals his/her true voice once he's been in the story for a while. Anything written before that it discovered will then begin to sound false for that character. For one of my characters recently, I thought I had learned his true voice only for him to show me what it really was almost a full book later. During edits, I was able to refine this until his speech sounded authentic for him.
- Grammar/Missed words/Substituted words. Usually in first draft mode, I am so focused on getting the full plot down that I miss a word here and there (if you ask my lovely pre-reader, she'll probably tell you of a number of times when I miss whole ends of sentences and don't finish thoughts), I miss and misplace commas, semi-colons etc and the big one, substitute one word for something that's similar but not the same (me/my, the/there). It's just a consequence of being in 'story-mode' not edit mode.
- Plot holes/Loose threads. This is a big one, often something is expected to happen, but when it comes time for it to happen it doesn't 'feel' right for the characters. When that happens, all of the groundwork carefully laid out and foreshadowed is now useless and needs to be unwoven from the fabric of the story. Of course, it can occur the other way too, where something expected leaps from nowhere and then the foreshadowing for that event needs to be sprinkled throughout the story so that it's not a slap in the face to the reader when it arrives.
Once this has been done once, it needs to be done again to catch all of the things that might have been missed (or changed) on the second round.
Next is the friendly critique/prereader.
This is where you find a very trusted friend, prefereably one who writes as well and understands plot, structure, characters, dialogue, and grammar. Then you email it to them and
Lastly is a rinse and repeat of the last two steps.
Even after the first rinse off and cut, a gem isn't the shiny perfect thing set into the ring at the jewelers that you fall in love with on sight. It takes many rounds of cutting and polishing and wiping away the grime to get that beauty to shine. This is the same for novels. It may take two rounds, it may take four. Each book is different.
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I'm sure you can already see why novel-writing is not for the impatient. The count is up to at least three to four months already and the publishers haven't even entered the scene. Once the draft is at this stage, it's likely to be in a decent enough condition to start thinking about sending out queries to publishers/agents (or self-publishing but that's a whole other kettle of fish). The query process goes something like this:
- Draft a query letter. And don't think you can't edit that bad boy to within an inch of it's life just like the novel.
- Draft a synopsis (depending on publisher/agent requirements). I don't know if everyone agrees with me, but
synopsises, synopsi,synopses are the devil. It's like trying to fit a twenty-six bedroom mansion into a backyard shed without losing any of the essence or scope that makes it a mansion.
- Research the publishers/agents you want to submit to.
- Email off query and synopsis (with or without the first three chapters, again depending on agent/publisher requirements).
- Seriously, there is a lot of waiting at this stage. My publishers were great, they came back to me relatively quickly and well within their stated time frames. However, the things is publishers are busy. Agents are busy. They are busy doing what they need to be doing to stay in business--publishing and selling books. It takes time to read a query, to read the synopsis, and then to read the sample chapters.
- If the agent/publisher likes the query and sample, then there'll be a brief relief from the waiting where they request the full. Then the waiting begins again, only now they have twenty-something chapters to read and consider rather than three. Obviously, there's a bit more waiting involved here.
- If the agent/publisher likes your full manuscript, they'll offer a contract.
That's when the real waiting begins.
I'm still in this waiting stage. That's not to say there isn't communication, but the editing process has to start from scratch with the publisher's fresh eyes and sales/industry knowledge. I know the final book-in-hand process is still a number of months away, but it'll be worth every second of the wait so I'm okay with it.