When the first draft is complete, I show it once again to my editors, my agent and anybody else who will take an interest. I get them all to make notes.
At this point, they are not quarrelling with me about the general nature of the story. They are telling me, “when she made that decision I didn’t believe it. She wouldn’t make that decision.” Or they are saying, “I want to like this character more and I don’t like him as much as I should.” Or, ‘I want to know more about this topic you have skipped over.”
For instance, in The Man from St Petersburg, the anarchist is making a bomb from various assets. But how much did he have to pay for these assets? That is something that a good reader will be intrigued by and they will make a note and mention it.
Corrections to the first draft of World Without End, with Al Zuckerman’s suggested corrections. A red tick in the margin means I like his suggestion; a cross means I don’t.
I type up all these notes by page numbers and collate them using large ring binders. For example, I might have four comments for page 80 of my typescript, one from an editor, one from my agent, one from a family member and perhaps one from an expert I’m consulting, (like an FBI agent or a scientist or an historian). I put the two pages opposite one another in the ring binder so that when I come to rewrite I’ve got my first draft on one side and people’s comments on the other side.
For the final six months, I go through the file page by page, rewriting.
I don’t edit my first draft. I don’t put the first draft on the screen at all because I find that makes me lazy. I key every word in again because that forces me to reconsider every sentence. You can almost always find a way to improve just about every sentence that you’ve written. I can, anyway.
Generally speaking there are only two major drafts. After first draft, the book is almost there. There may be a few little changes to the second draft but in many cases there are almost none. On The Hammer of Eden, for example, I made a few written alterations on the typescript and that was all. Other times, I may have to rewrite a couple of scenes.
After this, there are still a few things to do. Firstly, the copy editor goes through the typescript. A good copy editor is gold dust because they find mistakes that you’ve not noticed. These mistakes are not just grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes; they find little plot mistakes or contradictions.
In fact, you can sometimes make a big error which neither you nor your editors notice because they are trained to read with a very careful eye.
Secondly, you read the proofs. After that, your job is done except for the publicity. I generally spend about two months of every year doing publicity. I spend a couple of weeks in the States with the American edition and again with the paperback the following year. I always do some British and German publicity and generally also go to France and Italy. When you add it all up, it’s about two months out of every year.