A few weeks ago I finished the initial draft of the third and final book in my Blood of the Southlands trilogy. Today I begin the final read-through of the draft before I submit the book to my editor at the end of the week. So I thought that this would be a good time to describe the purpose of this final read-through, and how I go about readying the manuscript for submission.
Whenever I finish a story or a book, I put it away for a while — at least a week, usually two weeks or more. I’ve found that four weeks is ideal, but with deadlines that’s not always a luxury I have. The point of doing this is to give myself a bit of distance from the story, the characters, and the prose. When I’m in the middle of writing a book, I pretty much live and breathe it. I immerse myself in the book for seven or eight hours every day of the work week. This is a good thing; it allows me to focus, to get inside the heads of my characters, to see the plot from every conceivable angle.
But there’s also a down side to this immersion. I become so consumed by what I’m writing that I begin to miss things that might diminish the effectiveness of my work. For instance, like many writers I sometimes develop bad writing habits, verbal tics of a sort. I’ll find a certain word or phrase that feels comfortable, that I can fall back on when stuck, and I’ll use it again and again without really being aware of it. Or one or more of my characters will begin to drift away from himself or herself. He/she will begin to act like someone else, or (God forbid) like me instead of like him/herself. Or I’ll just lose track of my worldbuilding and do something that breaks a rule or deviates from something I’ve been trying to do with my world.
Chances are I won’t notice any of this stuff while I’m in the middle of writing the book, particularly as I’m nearing the end, when my writing speeds up and the conclusions of the various plot threads come in a frenzy of creative output. But if I then put the book away for a while and read it fresh a few weeks later, I begin to see those errors. The verbal tics are more glaring, the character drift stands out more, the worldbuilding mistakes bring me up short.
I also find that when I finish a book I have precious little sense of whether it’s any good. Sometimes I’ll finish a book thinking it’s pretty good, only to find a few weeks later that it still needs a great deal of work. More often (fortunately), I’ll finish a book thinking that it pretty much sucks, and then discover a few weeks later that it’s really much better than I thought. Either way, the distance provided by taking this time, even if it’s only a short while, gives me some perspective on the book that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
So I’ll read through the entire book this week. Sometimes I’ll read passages out loud. I do a lot of this on the screen, but if a section really doesn’t seem to be working I’ll print it out and attack it with a red pen. I know I won’t catch everything. This is just the beginning of the editorial process. I’ll send it to my editor and we’ll go through revisions. It’ll go to my copyeditor, who will find prose problems and inconsistencies in plot or character that I’ve missed. And at the end I’ll proof the entire book, as will readers who work for my publisher. But if I can anticipate a few of the problems with this first read-through, then my editor and I can concentrate on more subtle issues later in the process.
To those of you who are starting out and perhaps finding yourselves stymied somewhere in the middle of the book, I highly recommend this approach. Even if you’re still in the middle of the book, it can be enormously helpful to distance yourself from the project for a little while. You’ll come back to it feeling fresh, and not only will you see things that need fixing, you might also be surprised by how often you read something you’ve written and go, “Wow! That’s pretty good!”
And now, a request for input. This last book of the series is still untitled. The first two volumes are The Sorcerers’ Plague and The Horsemen’s Gambit. I’ve narrowed the choice for this final title to The Blood Curse or The Dark-Eyes’ March. Which do you prefer?