Wednesday, April 17, 2013

From Brain to Bookshelf: An Author’s Timeline

By Tiffany Reisz, @TiffanyReisz

Two years ago at RWA 11, author Tess Gerritsen said that the reason people like reading procedurals and medical thrillers is because “readers like secrets and insider knowledge.” Someone on Twitter recently asked me about my writing process with my publisher, and I remembered Gerritsen’s comment. For those who aren’t published authors, the process of writing, editing, and publishing a book may seem like some kind of mystical voodoo. I know it did for me before my publishing career began. I thought I’d throw back the curtain and give the curious an insider look at the timeline and process of how a novel goes from brain to bookshelf.

July 24th, 2012 – My debut novel The Siren, is officially released. On that very day, my publisher and my agent strike a deal for four more books and ten short stories in my Gothic erotic thriller series THE ORIGINAL SINNERS. Book four, which I’ve tentatively titled The Mistress, needs turned in by December 15th. I have five months to write 110,00 words.

Let the games begin.

August 1, 2012 - THE FIRST DRAFT

This first draft lives in my head and on tiny scraps of paper. It’s the idea of the book, and before I start writing these ideas down, I will know how the book begins, how it ends, and the main conflict that will drive the middle. In The Mistress, I have to wrap up the first quartet in my Sinners series. This book will mark the last of the present-day adventures of my feisty Dominatrix leading lady Mistress Nora and set up the prequel books that will constitute the next part of the series. Ending a series is a huge challenge. Every fan and reader has different hopes and dreams for all the characters. I’ve known for three years how to end the book, how to make it perfect so that readers will feel joyful, satisfied, and excited to imagine what the next move is for all the Sinners. I even know the last line of this book, which consists of only two words. Now I just have to put the 109,998 words of the rest of the book in front of them.

September 1, 2012 - THE SECOND DRAFT

I started writing The Mistress at the beginning of September. I give myself a 3K a day writing goat (yes, I mean “goat,” not goal—goals are intimidating and goats are fuzzy). For two weeks I write my little heart out until I hit a wall at about 25,000 words. I can’t go any further. Something’s not working. I send it to my trusty beta reader—author Miranda “First Eyes” Baker. I always run the first few chapters of my books by her, because she’s not afraid to tell me I’m doing it wrong. Guess what? Miranda says. You’re doing it wrong. I have an extra character I have to get rid of and the story starts in the wrong place. I hit delete and start over on page one without the extra character and in an entirely different place in the story. Every book I’ve ever written has had a similar false start. Deleting thousands of words is simply part of the process.

Bad chapters are in the trash and now we’re cooking with gas! Once I’ve got the initial problems settled and the book rearranged in my head, I take off writing again and with my 3000 word a day goat, I’m finished with the first complete draft by mid-November.

It is, to say the least, a jacked-up piece of shit. But at least I have something to work with.

December 1st-December 7th - THE THIRD DRAFT

For two weeks, I let the book set untouched. It’s almost Thanksgiving and Christmas so I had a lot to do. I still had my day job then and was working full-time and traveling a great deal for work. During this two weeks I tried not to think about the book. I want to read it dispassionately as if a stranger wrote it. I reread the book and made some major changes.

The third draft is where the magic happens, when the straw gets spun into gold. This draft is when I take boring scenes and make them not boring. Example: In one scene a character sits and thinks about something important. I need this scene so my readers will know what this character is planning. In the third draft, instead of sitting and thinking, he gets a phone call from his lover and the same information is revealed through the conversation instead of boring internal monologue. The third draft is also when I amp up the sex scenes in my book. A scene without sexual tension will now have sexual tension. A scene without conflict will now have conflict. I do a punch-up on my own book as I add jokes wherever I can. I delete unnecessary scenes. No need to show the action if you can get away with showing the aftermath. In other words, don’t show the drinking; show the hangover. And most importantly, I weave all the loose threads together. In the beginning of The Mistress, a character confesses to eavesdropping on my leading lady Nora while she’s having sex. Later in the book, I show Nora eavesdropping on the eavesdropper during an intimate moment. It’s the third draft where I create the moments of symmetry like this one that makes my careful readers go A-HA!

After cleaning up the mess of the book, I send it to four trusted beta readers and start chewing on my hands as I await the verdict from the first four readers of my newest book.


In about one week, I have the book back from the betas. Two of the four beta readers have declared The Mistress the best in the series so far. Relief! But it still needs work. I read through my betas’ notes and make suggested changes creating a new draft with each new set of notes. My beta readers are all published writers—three women, one man, four different perspectives. If two betas disagree over a scene, I trust my own gut to decide what to do. If two or more beta readers agree on something, I do what they say even if it goes against my gut as my gut is not always right. After creating a new version based on my four beta readers’ suggestions, I email the finished draft to my editor on December 14th, one day before it’s due.

And then I wait. And while I wait, I write.

February 5, 2013 - THE EIGHTH DRAFT

My editor returns The Mistress to me with her suggestions. This is a bullet-point list of about ten comments, questions, and concerns. My editor does not line edit and unpublished writers should take note of this. Very few editors do line edits. You have to make your sentences perfect. No one else will do that for you. What my amazing editor, Susan Swinwood, does is point out weak areas in my draft and asks me to shore them up. I turn The Mistress back in with all my editor’s changes. My editor has never asked me to change the content of my books. All the sex, sin, incest, and BDSM content remains unaltered and uncensored. My editor is a dream come true. She likes dark books and doesn’t mess with my sentences. I’d give her a kidney if she needed one.


The final of The Mistress hits my inbox. My publisher, Harlequin, uses a process called Author Alterations for final edits—AAs for short (also because you need AA after going through your AA edits). This is the final time I can make any changes to the book at all. I have two weeks to get final changes back to my editor.

The AA edit version has line numbers on every single page. The way I make changes is by writing in an Excel Spreadsheet something like “Page 21, Line 17 - change “Jaguar” to “Ferrari.” The AA edits are where we catch continuity errors between all the drafts. It’s also where we catch wrong words and other minor errors. No substantial revisions can be made at this point, no scenes deleted, no chapters moved. After this round, the book is set in wet clay with only proofreading remaining.

Once again, I send the book to beta readers. Three of them this time plus me makes for four more drafts. These fresh sets of eyes read through the book and each one of them finds at least one huge error that was missed by me, my editor, the first copyeditor, and my four original beta readers. When I turn the AA edits into my editor, there are over 400 lines of changes.

While waiting for my editor’s notes on The Mistress, I’ve already written the first draft of book five in my series, The Priest. I try to write at least a partial draft of the next book in the series while waiting for the edits on the previous book. Not only does it keep me sane to stay busy writing, it allows me to weave the current book and the next book in the series together. In book five, The Priest, a new character showed up out of nowhere, an old suitor from my leading lady Nora’s college days. I decide to put a reference to this new character into book four, The Mistress, to strengthen the continuity and connection between the books four and five. On April 10th, I email the editor who is inputting my changes on The Mistress and ask her to change a final passage of dialogue to reference this new character.

And that’s it. It’s in the can. I, the author, cannot make a single solitary change to my manuscript again. It’ll go through many rounds of proofreading and typesetting at my publisher, but I won’t see the book again until it’s printed and shows up in a box on my doorstep.

On July 24th, 2012 we sold the book.
On April 10th, 2013, I finished the final draft of the book.
On July 30th, 2013, The Mistress will hit bookshelves.

From brain to bookshelf in twelve months and twelve drafts.

And since I’m under contract for four more books, it’s lather, rinse, repeat. Again and again and again...

Tiffany Reisz is the author of THE ORIGINAL SINNERS series from Mira Books. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky with her boyfriend, author Andrew Shaffer, and two cats who should probably get therapy (the cats, not the boyfriend). Her debut novel THE SIREN was named the RT Book Reviews Magazine Editor’s Choice for Best Erotic Romance of 2012. You can find her on Twitter @tiffanyreisz or in her office writing drafts one through twelve of her latest book.


  1. Wow! Sounds intense. Thanks for letting us in on the fascinating process. I am now trying to guess what the last two words will be ;)

  2. Can you elaborate on the financial or reciprocal relationships you have with your beta readers?

  3. I think the process is amazing in the intensity. I would note that each house does do edits differently for new authors. Some editors, like yours don't do line edits. But some do. That's one key piece in signing a contracting, asking beforehand what type of edits can be expected. I speak from experience. You’re a riveting writer, nothing new there. You're fortunate to have found an editor who lets you create unimpeded providing guideposts to consider. Whatever the chemistry, it works. We, your fans, approve wholeheartedly.

  4. It's always fascinating to read what goes on behind the scenes, but ESPECIALLY behind the scenes of a Tiffany Reisz masterpiece. Thanks for allowing us a peek.

  5. Thanks for the insight, Tiffany. It's interesting to see what happens. Although other writers have tried to explain it, none were as clear or successful as this post!

  6. Thanks, Readers!

    To answer Eevaluation's question, there is no quid pro quo relationship with me and my betas. I don't pay them. We're friends so if they want me to beta read them, I do so happily.

    Thanks Susan. Yes, some editors will do line edits which I'm no fan of. But no writer should ever expect that an editor will or can clean up sloppy writing for the author. It's up to the writer to make the book sing or sink.

    Tiffany Reisz!

  7. Sheesh Tiffani...that is amazing!!

  8. I'm impressed. It's rare to find such a practical description of a writing process.

  9. Thanks for sharing Tiffany.

  10. Could I write like this? "Oh no!"- I didn't checked carefully. The hair I took was curly but Natalia has straight hair and I used the comb.