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At last

By: Mary Jane Smith

Preview and purchase Mary Jane's excellent romance novel At Last. Thank you for supporting the authors of WordShack Publishing.

It is fair to say that we take for granted many of the conveniences and comforts we enjoy everyday. For instance, how could we function on a daily basis without the use of electricity? Without bright lighting, curling irons, microwaves, and garage door openers, we'd be hard-pressed to make it to work or school presentable and on time. Although we are desperately dependent on a basic utility such as electricity, most of us are totally in the dark, so to speak, when it comes to how it works. We hear the terms voltage, watts, and current, and have seen the huge power plants, but most of us only vaguely understand the workings behind the switches we flick dozens of times each day.

The same presumption holds true for the books we've studied, have shelved in our homes, and read for knowledge and entertainment. They're at our fingertips, but we haven't a clue as to how they came to be. Sure, we're aware that there are writers, publishers, and printers involved, but the process required to change an intangible idea into bound pages completely eludes us.

As a new author, I no longer take books and the arduous process of making them for granted. Believe me when I say it takes a village to create a book.

It all begins, of course, with the writing. There are as many techniques for transferring thoughts to paper as there are writers. Some authors begin by writing the last chapter first. Others more or less wing it and let their imaginations lead the way. Still others begin with detailed outlines that lay out plot as well as describe characters.

For me, the process starts with an idea. I mull it over, allowing it to ferment in the corners of my mind until it develops a format and gradually matures into a story line. At this point, nothing is on paper. It's still just in the idea stage. If and when I feel that it has potential, I begin with a sketchy outline. I keep it simple, making sure the outline follows through to the story's end. As I type it out, I usually find that parts and pieces don't fit or need expansion. I develop the story rationally while committing it to paper. Once I feel I have a valid story line, I begin adding to the outline and filling it in with as many details as possible. I divide the outline into viable chapters, again creating and refining scenes and characters with detail and dimension. Only after I have fully expanded the outline do I begin the actual writing.

I usually find the first few chapters to be the most difficult. Engaging the reader while exposing the story line and introducing main characters is a lot to accomplish in a couple of chapters. I force my way through the beginning chapters knowing that I may rewrite a good portion of them. I refer to my outline as I continue, but am flexible about making changes whenever necessary. The outline is merely a tool to help guide the writer and can be changed at will. It makes the blank screen staring back at you less formidable by providing a point of reference.

When you've finished writing your manuscript, the next step is to proofread and edit your work. It's always best to read your story from a hard copy rather than from the computer screen. For some unknown reason, errors are much more obvious on paper. This is the time to check spelling, punctuation, and grammar. You may decide to cut passages here and there, or add paragraphs or even scenes.

Be sure to check for consistency. For instance, if a character is thirty-five in chapter two, make sure when you refer to his age in the tenth chapter that, if it's two years later, he's thirty-seven. Read your manuscript as many times as necessary until you to feel that it's as good as you can possibly make it.

Next, you must begin your search for a publisher. Unless you're Nora Roberts or John Grisham, this is a daunting task. The odds are undoubtedly against you, but nothing is going to stop you from getting your work published. This is the only attitude to have if you hope to succeed. Most publishers prefer that you prepare a query letter presenting your novel. This is a one-page letter that presents the essence of your book and any writing credits you may have. Yes, believe it or not, publishers will decide whether they are interested in your work based this brief letter. If something in it catches their eye, they will respond with a letter requesting more information—perhaps an outline, summary, the first three chapters, or even possibly the entire manuscript. Each publisher has his own policy. If you reach second base, rejoice, but don't hold your breath. Their response can take months and varies with every publisher.

I was more fortunate than most. I met my publisher, Lynda Blankenship, of Workshack Publishing, when I attended one of her writers' seminars. After reading one of my short stories, she was willing to read my novel. And the rest, as they say, is history.

After contracts are signed, the publishing process begins. I cannot emphasize enough that the actual process of getting a book in print is lengthy and requires endless patience. As a new author, you're feet aren't touching the ground and your adrenaline is flowing fast. The process, which moves at its own pace, seems to be in slow motion compared to your rapid heartbeat. After a number of consults and revisions, your publisher sends your manuscript to print. Weeks, months, and, in some cases, even years go by until finally a copy called a galley is created for proofing. This is painstakingly reviewed for errors. Corrections are made and the copy is returned as quickly as possible to the printers. Again you wait until the printer makes the requested adjustments. The process is repeated every time changes or errors are found. The slightest error or omission can set your book's completion date back months.

During this time, there are also book cover issues to deal with, cover copy to write, and the author bio to compose. You may want to prepare a speech to have ready for marketing events, and a story for the local news media.

Then suddenly the endless delays are over and your book is a reality. The first time you hold your book in your hands can only be compared to cradling your baby for the first time. The long months of irritability and discomfort are immediately forgotten. Pride pulses through your veins and a sense of wonder that is larger than everyday life encompasses you. It was all worth it—the long hours, the tedious rewrites, the loneliness, the frustration, the emotional roller coaster, the disappointments along the way—all worth that moment when your dream becomes a reality—your words are in print for all to read and enjoy. At Last.

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