Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What's taking so long? I want your third book now! (updated)

I've mentioned a few times that there's a third book in my series called The Dark and Hollow Places that is already written and should be coming out Spring 2011.  I honestly can't be more thrilled about the emails I've been getting asking about it and wanting it sooner!*  One question I've been asked a few times is why, since the book is already written, is it taking so long for it to come out?

This is an excellent question and a perfect blog topic :)  The short answer: with all the different aspects involved in how a book if published, it just takes a long time.  When I first sold The Forest of Hands and Teeth (October 2007) and learned it wouldn't be coming out for 17 months (March 2009) I was surprised.  Now I understand how it all works...

So I thought I'd write out the steps involved in getting a book from the author's head into the reader's hands.  This is all from my perspective and if I've gotten something wrong please leave a comment correcting me and I'll make the change!

draft of DTW, ready for work
Step one: author writes and revises the book.  The length of time this takes can vary wildly.

Step two: editor reads and sends edit letter.  It can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months for an editor to put together a round of edits.  These days editors often handle lots and lots of authors and they tend to focus on the closest season (i.e. they'll generally edit a Fall 2010 book before a Spring 2011 book because it's more pressing).

Step three:  author revises based on editorial letter.  Again this can take days, weeks or months depending on the deadlines and extent of revisions needed.

Step four: repeat.  Sometimes the editor and author might go through several rounds of revisions.

Sam likes to sleep on edits
Step five: line edits.  These are the really detailed edits that get down to the sentence level rather than the plot level.  This is where your editor asks if you made the right word choices, if the scene needs tweaking, etc.  This can again take days, weeks or months depending on deadlines.

Step six: copy-edits.  The manuscript is then sent to copy-editors who pour over the pages with a fine-toothed comb marking inconsistencies, grammar and punctuation errors, flow, etc.  Sometimes a book will be sent to a second copy-editor and then to the editor for review.  Then it's sent to the author to review and then back to the editor to check the author's comments.

copyedits! (each person
uses a diff color)
Step seven: typesetting.  The manuscript is sent to be type set which is the point at which it starts to look like a book.  Sometime before this point all the aspects of the typesetting have already been chosen and designed (what font, the layout of the pages, any chapter headers or symbols between sections).  One thing I never realized is that new errors can be introduced at this stage so if you find a typo in a book, sometimes this is where it happens.

Step eight: proofreading.  The typeset pages (first pass pages) are sent to proofreaders to make sure everything from the manuscript made it into the typeset pages correctly.  Sometimes errors will be typos, strange formatting, etc.  Then the pages go to the editor for review, to the author, back to the editor.

Step nine: Advanced Reader Copies.  Generally I think the ARCs are created from the initial type-set pages BEFORE they've been proofed by anyone.  This is why there can be so many errors in ARCs and also why the ARC isn't always the same as the final book (I rewrote part of the ending of The Dead-Tossed Waves at this stage which is why the end in the ARC isn't the same in the final book).

first pass pages
Step ten: books printed.  The books are then printed and shipped.  Also during this time covers are designed and approved, marketing and publicity departments create plans and put them into action, sales reps and told about the books and go to stores to sell them.  TONS of stuff goes on behind the scenes.

Updated to add: as Melissa Marr points out in the comments, the "marketing and publicity plans are created, implemented, etc" phase of the process happens throughout all of these steps, not just at the end.

So there's a fairly lengthy process involved in each book which is why, even though The Dark and Hollow Places is written, it's not nearly close to being ready for publication.  But I'm super stoked y'all are excited about reading it!

* I read every email I receive but am behind on responding - sorry!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Jen Lancaster ate my brain

Sometime this past summer my sister emailed me about a book she was reading that she couldn't put down.  Over the course of the next few days, she kept emailing me little tidbits that had me in hysterics and then finally she wrote "I think I might have to go to the doctor because I just shouldn't be laughing this much" or something like that.  Quite a recommendation and so I immediately picked up the book in question: Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster.

And boy was my sister right!  I DIED reading this book!  She so perfectly nailed so many parts of my life -- it's like she was inside my own brain as she talked about writing, procrastinating, getting in shape, procrastinating, thinking about what to wear on tour, reality TV, etc etc (and though the book is about more than that, these are the parts that really hit home for me).  I mean, Jen holds nothing back and she's fricking hilarious.

Naturally, I bought her entire backlist and have been cyber-stalking her ever since.  Her most recent book, My Fair Lazy, just came out and in reading the first few chapters I wanted to email her a millions times and say "OMG me too!"  Her story about a rat in the house -- we had that (a mouse, but pretty much the same talk with the four legged furry creatures that their JOB is to rid the house of such things); her story about winging over what luggage to buy for tour -- been there and boy have I done that (I dragged my mom around to seven different stores looking for just the right bag); going to a "writing retreat" while under deadline and knowing that really you're going to hang out and swim and not write -- totally done that!

So you can imagine my insane glee when I found out that Jen would be signing in Charlotte!  My hometown!  We rarely get authors and I've always wanted to go see how other authors do presentations on tour and so I *had* to go.  Luckily, my mom (also a fan) was in town and so we hopped in the car and off we went.

Everyone packed in to see Jen!
Of course, we forgot it was Race Weekend so a 20 minute drive turned into almost an hour and ended with me going way too fast down country roads to avoid the interstate.  But luckily, Jen was also a little late (due to said race weekend traffic) so I didn't miss anything!  Also, granted, the store perhaps wasn't expecting such a huge crowd and the set-up was a little awkward (probably over half the people there couldn't get into the area where Jen was because of people clogging the narrow entrance so we were spread out through the store with some people literally climbing the shelves trying to see her).

this was my view, you can see Jen's
head under the D in Video
But OMG it was so so worth it!  Jen is HILARIOUS in person!  She's the type of person you want to claim as your best friend (and I know everyone else there felt the same way I did).  She's just awesome.  She read a bit from her book, answered questions (lots of questions about reality TV that had my mom asking "who?" because clearly she doesn't watch as much as I do :)

While waiting for our time to stand in line (people stood in line according to what color ticket they got when they came through the doors), my mom and I headed over to the YA section where I ran into a display for The Dead-Tossed Waves which made me all squealy and happy!

Yes, I pet it a bit.
And then.... it was my time to stand in line to meet Jen.  I'm not going to lie, I got pretty nervous.  I mean, she's just a huge idol of mine because I love her writing and her wit and the way she's so honest about so much of this industry.  I'd been thinking about meeting her for WEEKS and I was afraid that I'd sound like an idiot or forget to tell her how wonderful I think she is.  And what's funny is that I *know* authors are people too but still!  And Jen was being wonderful because she was taking her time with each person or groups of people and you could tell that each conversation meant something to her.

It was time for Mom and I to meet her and I honestly can't remember much of what I said.  I'm pretty sure I told her how big a fans my entire family is of hers (I'd bought a copy of her book for her to sign to my sister) and then how I'm a YA author with Random House and how much Such a Pretty Fat meant to me cause I'd read it right when I found out that I was going on tour so it just really cracked me up on such a personal level.

Her eyes got bright when I said I wrote and she said "Who are you?" at which point I told her I wrote post-zombie apocalypse books and she started laughing and telling me about a project she was working on.  And then she asked if I had a card because she reads a lot of YA and thankfully I did have a card and then she said she'd read my books!  *faints*  She even tweeted about meeting me the next day!

Seriously, meeting Jen Lancaster was just pure amazing.
Mom, Jen and I.  I <3 Jen Lancaster!

Friday, May 21, 2010

What I learned about creating characters from Reality TV: it's about the motivation

Okay, I confess, I watch Reality TV.  One of the shows I started watching recently is Tough Love on  VH1.  The basic premise is that Steve is a matchmaker and he's brought all these woman to a mansion to set them up on dates.  There's no elimination and each week he works with the women to overcome some of their "issues" such as self-esteem, emotional barriers, etc.

The first season there was a woman named Taylor and she was a bona fide 100% gold-digger.  She proclaimed that money didn't really matter to her that much but she decked herself out in expensive clothes from sunglasses to shoes.  In one of the episodes, Steve set her up with a nice guy who had all the qualities Taylor claimed she was looking for in a man except for the money.  They (and all the other girls with their setups) had the date at a gorgeous mansion with an amazing view and the twist was that the single and handsome "owner" of the house, someone clearly exceptionally wealthy, was an actor hired by Steve.

Unsurprisingly, within moments Taylor's ditched the guy she was set up with and is ALL OVER the "owner" of the house.  She flirts, she says yes when he asks if she'd want to go away with him, blah blah blah.  And at this point in the season as a viewer, we've seen her protest that it's not about the money and then pull this over and over again that we're done with her.  As viewers, we've lost ALL sympathy for her and relegated her to gold-digging-reality-TV-fame-wanna-be-witch.

So Steve calls her up on the hot seat to lecture her about the way she behaved and she starts crying and says that he just can't understand.  "Right," I'm thinking to myself, "no one can ever understand, blah blah blah."  But then she starts talking about how she had a baby and she loved that child fiercely and she ran out of money and ultimately ended up having to give up her child for adoption because she couldn't afford to care for her.  She started talking so passionately about how she would never in her life allow herself to be in that position again.

I was shocked.  And suddenly, this character who was so flat and one-toned and who I hated... I started to understand.  I totally understood her motivation and she made sense to me.  This really hit home to me as a writer too because it didn't even take much for me to utterly change the way I approached her character -- just a little explanation about motivation.

It really made me think about how I approach characters (written and read).  Sometimes, that little glimpse of each character's story can go a long way to making you understand decisions that might otherwise be hard to swallow.  Understanding other people's motivations can be a very powerful thing!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

But when are you going to write something happy? Also, what's up with the love triangles?

note: this post has some specifics about my books. I tried to mark them as spoilers, but just be aware.

I was just reading Beth Revis's blog about writing dystopias and I think she does a great job of explaining why dystopian literature isn't always depressing and I thought I might piggy-back off of her discussion here.

This is a question I got asked at almost every tour stop: when are you going to write something happy -- your books are SO DEPRESSING!  And here's my answer: my characters live in a pretty brutal world, there's just no way around that so yeah, some bad things happen in my books.

But here's the thing (and I hope this isn't a spoiler but just in case you're extremely spoiler averse, stop reading now): when all is said and done, at the end of my books my characters know who they are.  They know the core of their strength and they survive.  They go up against some pretty difficult odds where daily existence isn't a given and they make it through -- they push themselves farther than I think many people could.

To me, that's a happy ending: knowing who you are, knowing you can survive, knowing what you want in life and how to go after it and not settling.  These are good things.

**and here's where I do actually get spoilery and explainery**

If a happy ending for Mary were just about ending up with a man and a dog, she'd have stayed in the village and married Harry.  That's what her mom did and though it didn't work out terribly well in the very end, she seemed to live a fine life up until her husband got infected.

I meant for Harry to be a viable choice for Mary.  And I meant for Travis to be a viable choice for Mary.  To me, that's the essence of a love triangle -- each man is a viable choice for the heroine but each speaks to a different part of who she is.  The heroine isn't choosing between two men, she's choosing who SHE wants to be and that will dictate who the right match is.

If Mary chose to be content and not seek answers to her questions -- to let the status stay quo -- then Harry was the right match.  If she chose to ask questions and seek out answers and push past the fence, then Travis was the right match.  Mary wasn't choosing between them -- she was figuring out who *she* wanted to be.

**and here's where I get general again**

To me, a love triangle done right isn't about a female* character's affections bouncing back and forth between two men, it's about her internal struggle within herself as she figures out who *she* wants to be and what's important to her.  This internal struggle then gets reflected externally as she wars within herself and grows.  And that's the heart of any book -- a character's growth from first page to the last.  Generally, even as a character grows and changes she backslides (what sometimes looks like a flip-flop in affections) and sometimes a character will cling to their old way of being even as the struggle to adopt a new way.

Growth isn't easy.  Figuring out who you are isn't easy.  That's why I think that a book that ends with a character who knows who they are and what they want is a good thing.

I think Beth makes an excellent point when she says:  "That's why dystopic literature isn't really depressing. Because it's about the strength of humanity beyond the cruelty of the world."  Someone once said that happy people make for short books.  I tend to agree with that.

* I'm talking about a love triangle between one woman and two men, I'm sure the same applies to one man and two women or three women or three men or what have you.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Anyone have any questions? Time to update my FAQ

I've realized that my FAQ page on my website is woefully out of date.  I decided to toss it out to y'all to see if you have any questions you'd like me to answer -- feel free to ask anything and I'll answer all that I can and upload to my website (you can ask about me, my books, the world in The Forest of Hands and Teeth, writing, etc).  Come on... I know y'all have questions :)  Post away!


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Charlaine Harris liked FHT and other things I learned at RT Convention

So I'm standing in line with Holly Black to buy books for one of the autograph sessions at the RT Convention (I was finally going to meet John Scalzi in person and was pretty stoked about this) when I get a tweet pointing me to Charlaine Harris's blog.  I follow the link and lo and behold, she's not only read The Forest of Hands and Teeth, but also liked it!  As I'm sure you can imagine, this excites me to no end and I blurt out to Holly something along the lines of, "OMG! Charlaine Harris read Forest!!  And she liked it!!  OMG!! She called it remarkable!!" and there might have been some jumping up and down as well.

Next thing I know, the woman in front of us in line turns around.  Not in that "you're acting crazy what's wrong with you" kind of way but in that "did I just hear someone say my name?" kind of way.  Holly breaks into a huge grin and I glance at the woman's name tag.

Yep, I was standing right behind Charlaine Harris in line and she heard it all.  I'm pretty sure I blacked out everything that came next: Holly assures me that I said thank you and yes, I did turn bright red and stammery.  I remember thanking her for taking the time to read and post and she said that she hadn't have said it if it weren't true.  I pretty much beamed the rest of the day.

Seriously, that kind of coincidence is the type of thing I'd read in a book and roll my eyes at -- how crazy!  Crazy awesome, that is :)

In a nutshell, the RT Convention pretty much rocked.  I'd never been to RT before (I'd only gone to RWA Nationals) and I had no idea what to expect.  Pretty much, the convention had everything: craft panels where I was struck with inspiration and furiously took notes, events like the Mr. Romance contest that had everyone hooting and hollering and laughing, and in between lots and lots of hanging out with pretty awesome people.  Ally Carter has a great recap with lots of photos here and Jen has a list of ten things she learned here (yes, the evil hair is important!).

Pictured (clockwise from back left): Holly Black, Jeaniene Frost, me, Vicki Pettersson, Ally Carter, Patrice Michelle, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, and Melissa Marr. Photo taken from Ally and Jen's blog
I'm sitting here trying to put into words what the whole experience was like and feeling like it's an impossible task (even though it's kind of my job to figure out how to put things in words, d'oh!).  I think this is the best I can do for the moment: one night we were talking about going to our first writing conference and Holly mentioned going to World Fantasy when she knew no one and what that felt like.  It reminded me of going to RWA Nationals in July 2006.  I knew of a few people online but not that many and I went to the conference by myself.

Here's the part that I'd forgotten: standing in my room, wanting to cry because there were hundreds of people downstairs and I was going to have to push myself to go down there even though I knew no one. I remember standing outside the entrance to a ballroom where one of my chapters, the ChickLit chapter, was having a mixer and having to take a deep breath and tell myself over and over again, "You can do this" when all I wanted to do was go run and hide in my room.  I remember forcing myself to go into the room, to introduce myself to people, to smile and not let anyone see how terrified I was.

For a moment, at the start of RT before Ally (my room-mate) arrived I had to tell myself the same thing: rather than stay safe in my room I had to tell myself "you can do this," and force myself to go downstairs.  The elevator doors opened, I took a deep breath and stepped out onto the convention floor.  The first people I saw were Holly and Jen and Melissa and that was that: I wasn't alone anymore.  It made me feel like I'd found a home.

I've always thought that one of the best things about this industry is the people in it, and the RT Convention was no different.  I feel so lucky to have had the chance to hang out with such amazing people and soak in their wisdom.  And now that my well is refilled... time to get writing :)