Behind the Scenes: The Making of a Book
As an author, the day that my latest novel is published is always exciting for me. As a reader, you may be surprised to learn that the book you see in stores and libraries is the result of many months (and in some cases, many years) of work. It's an interesting process, and while it's different for each author, I'd like to share with you the journey a novel takes from a simple idea to the book that you pull off a shelf.
Usually, I come up with the initial idea, but sometimes my editor suggests a topic or a theme. When I collaborate with an author, the two of us settle on an idea together. A Dog's Life, which actually began as a short story, came about when I began to wonder what life might have been like for my dog if her mother, a stray, had not been rescued. The Baby-sitters Club books were the result of an idea my editor at Scholastic had for a four-book series about friendship and baby-sitting. The Doll People books are collaborations with author Laura Godwin, and together we invented two doll families, one old and one new, who live in the same house and come to life when humans aren't present.
After my editor and I agree on the general idea, my first task is to write a synopsis of the story, which is usually five to ten pages long. I like to get comments and suggestions on the synopsis from my editor before I begin work on a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline. I've written outlines for every one of my books. Some authors never use outlines and prefer to let the story unfold for them, but for me, an outline is an essential part of the writing process. I may not stick to it word for word, but it's a great road map and helps prevent writer's block.
Once I get comments on the outline from my editor, it's time to start writing. Writing the rough draft of a book generally takes eight to ten months. When the draft is done, I send it to my editor, who usually returns it to me within two months. The draft comes back with a letter summarizing the editor's feedback, as well as with comments written directly on the pages. I love hearing from my editor and I love the editing process. At this point, I go through the book, line by line, and address all of the comments and questions. This can be as minor as making sure everything is consistent (did I first say the character was lying on her bed, but then write that she was sitting at her desk?), or something major such as changing the age of a character. In this case, the character's speech, clothing, grade, etc., would need to be changed throughout the story.
Once I've made my revisions, the manuscript goes back to the editor and then to a copy editor. A copy editor checks for consistency, grammar, and punctuation, and fact-checks such things as dates, song titles, or historical events to make sure everything is accurate. While this is going on, an art director is working with an artist and a designer on the cover and, if the book is to have any illustrations, on the inside art.
Before the book goes to the printer, I get to see it in galleys - with the pages set in type as they'll appear in the finished book. At this point, my editor, the copy editor, and I all read the book through one more time because we want to be very careful not to miss any mistakes before the final printing. Once the galleys have been approved, it won't be too many months before the book is on its way to stores and libraries.
It's exciting to hold a new book in my hands and see the end result of what was once just an idea. And I am very happy to say that even after all these years, I can't wait to start the writing process all over again!