The Long Way Around to a Book in Your Hands

I know you guys are sitting there looking at Transcendence’s full word meter and wondering why the heck the book isn't out yet—a perfectly valid and understandable question.*

So I thought it would be fun (for me, hopefully for you-I promise there is humor) to walk through how my books get from idea to publication. Every person’s process is different and intensely personal to them, but this one is my own.


1.  Outline the outlines (aka, make pretty graphs)

I spend a lot of time outlining, and in different ways:

  • What happens in what order?

  • What happens where in what order?

  • What happens to whom in what order?

In this way the same events get grouped and arranged into different configurations, each one hopefully exposing gaps and conflicts (it takes time to get places, and Event 4 can’t happen until Character X gets from Location Y to Location Z). Pacing starts to come into play even at this early stage, which is why visualizing the flow of events helps so much.

I have no problem leaving unanswered questions at this point in the process (i.e., “Character C needs something to do between Event 3 and Event 8”) Here are a couple of (painfully blurred) examples for Transcendence:


2.  Write the words

You probably think this is the nitty-gritty of the work. It’s not. Okay, it’s some of the nitty-gritty.

I have converted to Scrivener for the substantive writing, for two reasons: its gorgeous full-screen writing environment and it’s storyboard. All the positive things I said about yWriter still hold true (and it’s always sitting there, taunting me to come back), but its poor storyboard ultimately did it in. The more complicated the story became, with people and planets and ships scattered everywhere, the more I needed to be able to drag-and-drop scenes around willy-nilly. And did I mention the full-screen writing environment?



Note: I back up to Word (then Dropbox) religiously. The easiest way is to compile the project at the end of the day into a single Word doc of all the scenes written.

Oh, about the writing! Outline in hand, I dive in. I bracket anything that would take me out of the writing flow to deal with later – technical research, word choice, continuity checks, etc. I don’t worry about adding context or detailed descriptions. I don’t worry about using ‘problem’ words or overusing words or using flowery words. I just write.


3.  Edit

Once I’ve written the 1st draft of the 1st half of the novel, I split my time between writing the 2nd half and starting from the beginning with initial revisions. Warning: this is a somewhat unusual practice. Most advice columns will tell you to write your entire 1st draft before editing—and who knows, they may be correct.

I do it to keep me substantively writing longer into the process. Also, by the time I’ve written the 1st half I usually have a better grasp of many of the details, so I can start working all the things I’ve decided into what I wrote when I hadn’t decided them.

These revisions start filling out the text: flavor, context, details, wording improvements. It’s very much an iterative process.


4.  Edit Again

The rolling edits continue, and once I finish the 1st draft the time which was spent writing the 2nd half is devoted to returning to the beginning for a 3rd draft.

This is where the serious editing takes place. Each scene needs to come alive, with a real sense of place and mood.

  • What is the character thinking but not saying (as dialogue is usually the first thing written)? Why?

  • How are the other characters giving away their own thoughts?

  • How is the environment/setting impacting the characters? What is happening around what’s happening?

In other words, this is where ‘the feels’ get added in spades ;).


5.  Bracket Elimination

No, not March Madness. It’s time for all those brackets I procrastinated about to die an ugly death. Prepare for hours of research on everything from lasers to timber to programming to flowers to military formations to [fill in the blank]. Also innumerable visits to the prior books for every kind of consistency check. And

As a point of reference, Transcendence arrived at this stage with 1,077 bracket sets. They took me 6 days working at least 10 hours a day to eliminate. But I guarantee trying to fix those brackets while I was doing the writing would have added up to a whole lot longer.


6.  Edit Again

Kidding. Not really. Each scene is exported to Word. I then spend some quality time with that scene. At a zoom level of 150%. On a 27-inch monitor. Why?

Because at that perspective I’m forced to pay attention to every line. When you’re staring at a page of text, it’s difficult to get invested in each word. But when you can only focus your eyes on a few words at a time, it’s another matter. Flourishes can be added, poor turns of phrase spotted and the perfect turns of phrase substituted.

Then the scene gets run through the 'grammar gauntlet.’ First up is a semicolon and comma sweep. Next is my personal list of ‘problem’ words. There’s nothing inherently problematic about most of the words on the list; rather, it includes words I know I tend to use too much, words which everyone uses too much, etc.

It’s 72 words long. I’m not going to tell you what’s on it.

Okay, I’ll tell you a few words on it:

  • Grin. Evidently I like to use the word ‘grin.’ Which is perplexing, because to my knowledge I have never actually grinned. But I’m told it’s fun.

  • Glare. Now that, I do.

  • That. I don’t really understand why ‘that’ is that big of a problem. It’s not that ‘that’ doesn’t serve a necessary grammatical function, or that ‘that’ conveys the wrong impression, or that ‘that’ is used when other words or punctuation would suffice. I guess it’s just that English majors don’t like sentence that include ‘that.’

  • Lips. Oh, come on! Wouldn’t you overuse it, too?

Next is a visit to 3 grammar-and-style-checking websites: EditMinion, ProWritingAid and SlickWrite. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, but together they serve to flag adverbs, passive voice, repeated phrases, more word overuse, long sentences and much more.

All dressed up and almost ready for the ball, the scene gets dropped back in Scrivener in case I need to move things around some more.


7.  Edit Again

You probably thought I really was kidding this time. Nope. This is where Scrivener’s role ends, though. After the aforesaid rearranging is complete, the draft is compiled into one Word document. I do a quick formatting pass to make it look roughly like it will in the paperback version.

Then the book as a whole gets a check for a host of issues. Ellipses and dashes are scrutinized and reduced. I run through a list of words which for various reasons may be problematic for this specific book, and balance/vary/reduce them. There’s also a list of words (and especially phrases) that don’t creep into every scene, but over the course of the book may still be used too often. Like curse words….

Yep, curse words have their very own list!

Then it gets your standard grammar check: its/it’s, they’re/their/there, lie/lay/laid/lain, etc. Capitalization for titles/ranks. Consistent presentation of numerals. The list goes on for a while.


8.  ...Edit Again

Now you’re just laughing, which is totally fair. But this editing isn’t done by me. Mostly.

The book is read by a content editor, who provides specific edits and general suggestions. This may seem like it's a bit late in the process, but a person only gets one chance to read a book for the first time. First impression thoughts are VITAL, and responding to them with, “Yeah, I know I need to fix that” defeats the purpose. From my perspective, the book needs to be all but ready to go when the content editor gets it…even if that means the subsequent edits hurt more.

This is also when I give the book to my husband, because by this point he is going insane wanting to read it, yet insisting on not reading it until it’s ‘ready.’ He provides equally substantive edits and suggestions, with one additional value-add: if the sex scene isn’t hot enough to get me laid, I need to rewrite it :p.

The result of these reviews could be a day’s worth or two weeks’ worth of revisions. If it means writing new scenes (or anything more than a few paragraphs), see Stages 2-7. Heck, just go ahead and see Stages 2-7….


9.  Beta Reading

The draft is sent to 4-7 beta readers, who are all awesome and amazing and my favorite people after my husband. *nods*

While the book is with the beta readers, I print out a hard copy and start proofreading…which inevitably leads to a bit of light editing, too. Just a phrase or word here and there….

Hopefully by the time I have all the beta reader comments back, I’ve proofread the whole book. And like the content editing, the result could be a day or weeks of work for me.


10.  Formatting

No more editing!! Except for the things I spot while formatting. The paperback version comes first, because there will be lag time in receiving a physical proof for review, as well as for any changes in the proofs thereafter. I won’t bore you with what all paperback formatting involves, because…wow. Boring. It’s my own fault for being a visual perfectionist, but…wow.

Next the ebook is formatted. This involves stripping most of the lovely formatting flourishes from the paperback version and converting it to an .html file, then doing a bunch of HTML coding so it will look decent. Then it’s imported into Calibre and converted into a .mobi file, which I send to my tablet and review. Then I go back to the .html file and fix all the things that are messed up, then re-import it into Calibre. Rinse, repeat. A lot.


11.  Publishing

But then it’s ready!

Of course, I haven’t talked about agonizing over the description/blurb or filling out the ISBN forms or Goodreads pages or a dozen other things I’m forgetting right now. Or getting the front cover/spine/back cover art file to the exact specification dimensions required for the paperback—now THAT is the stuff of nightmares.

And, interestingly, a great deal of math.

The spine and the accompanying math aren't yet done, but check it out:



* As I mentioned in the News post today, it will be published March 23rd :).