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March 27, 2012

Beginning writers dream of getting “the call” and tend to think of it as the pot at the end of the rainbow. In reality, it’s only the beginning of a long process – not an unpleasant process (after all, your manuscript has been accepted and is on its way to becoming a real book). However, if you’re going to enjoy the journey, it’s probably a good idea to know something about the road you’ll be taking. With that thought in mind, I invited multi-published (28 books!) author, Jane McBride Choate, to share her experience with us. Here’s what she has to say:

                                         WHAT COMES AFTER YOU SELL

             When I sold my first book, I thought my work was done.  Obviously the editor loved it and would not change a single word.  Then came the revision letter.  The editor wanted me to cut ten pages, change some matters regarding character motivation, and a host of other things.

           I was crushed.  More, I was at a loss as to how to go about making the changes.  With the editor’s help, however, I muddled my way through and turned in a manuscript that pleased both of us.

            After that experience, I made a point of learning what happens AFTER a book is sold.


           As happened to me, the acquisitions editor (this is the editor who bought your book) will send you a revision letter.

           Below is a partial list of things she may address: 

         Cuts.  Have you exceeded the word length?  If so, she will want you to cut out pages, perhaps even chapters.

         Combining two characters into one.  (In my second book, the editor suggested combining two secondary characters into one.  After reflecting upon it, I realized she had a valid point.  It made the book read more smoothly and kept the focus on the main character.  

                   Building suspense.  Even a picture book should build in suspense. 

                   Pacing.  Does your book have long pages of narrative with paragraph after paragraph of introspection?  Or is it non-stop action, failing to give the reader a chance to catch her breath?  If so, you may have pacing problems.

                   Dynamite beginning.  Does you book begin in the right place or have you dumped in pages of backstory?  A good rule-of-thumb is to “begin on the day that is different.”

                   A satisfying ending.  Editors know that the ending of your first book can well predict whether readers will want to buy a second and a third book from you.

Don’t take these comments personally.  Your editor has gone to bat for you in buying this book.  She wants to make it as good as possible.  Never forget:  publishing is a business with the purpose of making money.

Occasionally editors are better at determining what is wrong with a book than they are at seeing how to fix it.  Take a good look at the problems she has identified.  If you don’t like her solutions, come up with your own.  Discuss these issues with your editor (or have your agent do it), but don’t obsess over every detail. 

 Author queries

 Once you’ve finished the content revisions and they have been approved by the editor, your manuscript is sent to the production editor.  She will review it and choose a copy editor based upon that review.  (This may vary somewhat from publisher to publisher, depending upon the size of the editorial staff.  A publishing house with a small staff may have one person wearing several different hats.)

            The copy editor will make her edits.  These frequently lead to author queries.  Author queries are questions the copy editor needs the author (that’s you) to answer before the process goes to the layout stage.  These questions can relate to research, accuracy, timelines, meaning, etc.

            Answer these questions as clearly and quickly as possible.   The sooner you address the queries, the sooner your book will go into production.  An added plus:  you will appear professional and cooperative. 

            If you feel the copy editor has gone too far with changes, take a few days to think it over before responding.   If, after reviewing the proposed changes, you still believe the copy editor has substantially altered your book without improving it, talk with her.  Explain your reasons for wanting to keep the original wording.  At the same time, be prepared to listen to her reasons for wanting to change it. 

 Page proofs.

 As the writer, you’ll review what’s commonly known as the first pass, the first set of page proofs from the person in charge of layout.  This stage is to catch computer errors and typos.

Depending upon your publisher, there may be one or two more passes of page proofs.  You will probably not see these.  The first ensures that the first-pass changes have been addressed.   A final pass takes place just before the book is shipped to the printer.

This is not the time to make major changes.  Changes at this stage are expensive.  Depending upon your contract, you may be required to pay for changes if you make too many.

 The more you understand about what happens after your book is accepted, the more knowledgeable and professional you appear.  Editors remember which author is easy to work with … and which author is quarrelsome, tardy, or uncooperative.  Make sure you end up on her first list.

 Jane blogs at “The Gratitude Project. This year the theme is “This I know for sure.”

 Here’s a link to her books on Amazon –

Thanks, Jane, for taking time to visit Birth of a Novel and share your expertise.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott J. Clemons permalink
    March 27, 2012 9:24 PM

    As one of the gazillions of would-be writers out there I fantasize quite a bit about publishing my book. I do the work–of course, right?–but posts like this get me all pumped. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’m learning one more thing about the publishing industry that I didn’t know before? Who knows. Either way, thanks for posting this.

  2. Marielena Zuniga permalink
    March 28, 2012 7:39 AM

    This post offers practical and realistic advice about “what happens next” after a book has been accepted. After reading this, I thought, “The writing process seems never ending” and yet, when that book is in hand, I’m sure it’s more than worth it! Thanks, Jane, for sharing your insights and expertise.

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