I should imagine every author who’s done a pa has been asked, ‘how long does it take you to write a book?’ It’s one of those questions that has no satisfactory answer, although I usually say, ‘a picture book takes a week, a short novel takes me about a month.’
My friend Mary Hoffman puts it better on her official website. How long is a piece of string? Can’t say that to my audience, natch, as they’re usually too young to get the irony. But she’s spot on, of course. Writing a book is a long and often tortuous process. Anything can, and usually does, hold it up: real life, writers’ block, facebook and twitter. You name it, it’s another thorn in the hedge around the palace of slumbering stories.
And clicking the ‘send’ icon in googlemail isn’t the end of the story, either. Far from it. Sometimes it feels like the first chapter in a waiting saga over which you have only partial and often very limited control. First comes the editing. Then the first pencil sketches from the illustrator. Opening the pdf containing the first roughs is always a tense moment for me. Will my babies look anything like I imagined them? Usually I’m pleasantly surprised. I’ve been very lucky to work with some of the most gifted illustrators around and only once or twice in my career have I had cause to grumble.
Everything goes quiet for what feels like a century after that, while the illustrator gets to work on the illustrations proper. This is what I call the chrysalis period. Your caterpillar seems to be dead but, in fact, marvellous things are happening out of sight at the publisher’s. Eventually, signs of emerging life start to manifest themselves. ISBN numbers appear on amazon, usually accompanied by an empty horrid box where the cover image will at some point be dropped. You get first b&w proofs of the cover, followed by colour copies. You used to get a big glossy catalogue too, with your book on the front or back cover if it was deemed an important enough project, but a lot of publishers only have on-line catalogues now. Again, I’m very lucky with Orchard as they produce a sumptous catalogue every year.
As publication day nears, things hot up. There’s publicity to do, readings in schools and shops, perhaps a blog tour and guest posts on other people’s blogs. But the waiting game is still not over yet. Oh no! Not by a long chalk! Especially if you like me, you suffer from ocd. Once the elation of having another book out there is gone, you start waiting for the first royalty statement and, hopefully, a cheque.
And then there’s the paperback edition to nurture into existence as well, which might not be launched till a year after the hardback. I’ve just had a peek at the data page in one of my Grimm’s Fairy Tales book, and the paperbacks are due in 2013. 2013! I’ll be decrepit by then! Guess I’d better stop blogging and start writing if I want to be still alive when my first YA novel is published. Or maybe I should chill out and go see a specialist about my ocd?