When I was pitching my novel to agents, I didn’t think of what would happen after you signed a contract with a publisher. To me, the process after the contract was like a grand party locked behind a door – I didn’t have an invitation, so I would not get to see what the fun of the party was. But after ten years of writing and eighty two rejection letters, to my uttermost joy, I received the invitation – I signed the contract with Sourcebooks, and my two novels about Empress Wu, The Moon in the Palace and The Empress of Bright Moon, were finally published in March and April this year. I would love to share my experience of the process with you.
After the signing, I received a heart-warming welcome letter from my editor, with whom I would work for the next two years. The letter was thrilling to read, and it contained all the important dates: such as the due date for the developmental edits, the due date for the copyedits, the date when it was likely I would receive the book cover design, the date when I would receive the back cover copy, and finally the date when I absolutely couldn’t make any changes to the manuscript, when it was closed for ARC.
I read the letter at least five times to get familiarized with the terms such as ARC, advance reader copy, and the back cover copy, the paragraphs printed at the back of a book – I didn’t know my editor would write that, not me. The letter, I believe, was very important for a new writer to understand the steps of the process.
The real work began when I received the edits, which contained a list of bigger-picture problems – the opening chapters of the book, for example. Yes, the most important chapters I spent years writing. My editor thought they were too long and asked to get into the main character’s journey faster. I considered the comments, clarified some questions, and dove into revision. I cut some scenes, adding more clues and descriptions to a few important characters, and revised them on Track Changes, as my editor had requested. Then I submitted the revision before the deadline. And I thought, now what?
More revisions. The editor was pleased and sent me another list with more edits. There were about ten questions again, more detailed, such as concerns to a specific scene. For example, in the chaos scene where the horse bolted into a hall, did the lady committed suicide or was it only an accident? These edits were easier to fix as I only needed to work on the descriptive language. I was sure after two rounds of editing and many hours of perusing and corrections, the manuscript was ready.
I was proven wrong again, of course, when I received the copyedits.
If you think the developmental edits question your storytelling skill, then copyedits take out the thrill and challenge your writing mechanism. All of a sudden, I found myself staring at sentences replete with errors typed by my own fingers. There were some blatantly wrong usages of words, awkward sentences the editor caught, and many “nows”, “thens”, and “ands.” By the time I finished going over the manuscript, I was so embarrassed I felt like covering my head with a trash bag.
But the beautiful part of the copyedits was to see the manuscript set in the book format. I got a peek of important book data that appeared in the front of a book, and soon enough, I received the design from the format setter. There were discussions as to what font to use, where to place the time maker, etc., all very exciting topics. Around this time, I also received the book cover design, which made everything real.
Holding the ARC of The Moon In The Palace was most thrilling, but to my horror, I found more typos the copyeditors overlooked. My editor calmed me down, saying a proofreader will review the ARC before it goes to printer.
So followed the 2nd edits – another game of catch and correct, just before the book went to printing! Next came another deadline, another review, until my edits were accepted.
Were there 3rd edits or 4th edits? Yes. Indeed there was. I didn’t need to do that for The Moon in the Palace, but I went into the 3rd edits with The Empress of Bright Moon.
So I suppose the process, in a way, is truly like a party – it’s exciting, exhausting, but once you went, you’ll want to go there again.
So what do you think? If you’ve reached this point in your career, are these the steps you took?
If not, do any of these surprise you?
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Weina Dai Randel was born and raised in China. She came to the U.S. when she was 24, and English is her second language. She has worked as a journalist, a magazine editor, and an adjunct professor. She received an M.A. in English from Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas. THE MOON IN THE PALACE is her debut novel. Interviews of Weina have appeared on The Wall Street Journal China Real Time, Library Journal, The Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Review of Books, New Books Network, and Tall Poppies.org.