When I finish a novel, I always need a break from writing for a while to recharge. Sometimes I take a break from long-form writing and do a series of short blog posts, or sometimes I bury myself in programming for a while.

This time around, it’s been a little of everything: My day job has been busy. I’ve done a few small programming projects on the side. I’m networking with film and TV folks in the hopes of getting a screen adaptation for one of my books. And I’m researching topics for my next book.

In the last couple of months, I’ve experimented with different ideas for my next book. I have about 10,000 words written — that’s about 10% of the average length of one of my books. I don’t want to say too much more, because it’s so early in the process that it could go in almost any possible direction. But I have general ideas I want to explore, and a tentative story arc.

That’s usually enough for me to get going. I’m not a big outliner, even though plenty of writers swear by the process. I tried outlining a novel once and learned that once I had finished the outline and knew how the story ended, I had no interest in actually writing it. Now I stick to a loose story arc, and let my characters take me where they want to go.

I will find out more about their destination in the coming month. November is NaNoWriMo. If you are not familiar with it, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, in which people aim to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. I’ve never written a whole novel in November, but I often like to use the month to build momentum, so I’ve set myself a modest word count goal for this November. It should be enough to prove out many of the concepts I’m planning for the book.

When I wrote Kill Process, I had no idea how it would be received. It was a departure from my existing series and my focus on AI. Would existing fans enjoy the new work, or be disappointed that I had changed subject matter? Would my focus on issues such as domestic violence and corporate ownership of data make for an interesting story, or detract from people’s interest? Just how much technology could I put in a book, anyway? Is JSON and XML a step too far?

I’m happy to be able to say that people seem to be enjoying it very much. A numerical rating can never completely represent the complexity of a book, but Kill Process is averaging 4.8 stars across 98 reviews on Amazon, a big leap up compared to my earlier books.

I’m also delighted that a lot of the reviews specifically call out that Kill Process is an improvement over my previous writing. As much as I enjoyed the stories in Avogadro Corp and AI Apocalypse, I readily admit the writing is not as good as I wanted it to be. I’m glad the hard work makes a difference people can see. Here are a few quotes from Amazon reviews that made me smile:

  • “I think this is some of his best writing, with good character development, great plot line with twists and turns and an excellent weaving in of technology. Hertling clearly knows his stuff when it comes to the tech, but it doesn’t overwhelm the plot line.” — Greg-C
  • “This was an outstanding read. I thought I was going to get a quick high tech thriller. What I got was an education in state of the art along with some great thinking about technology, a business startup book, and a cool story to boot. I came away really impressed. William Hertling is a thoughtful writer and clearly researches the heck out of his books. While reading three of the supposedly scifi future aspects of the book showed up as stories in the NY Times. He couldn’t be more topical. This was a real pleasure.” — Stu the Honest Review Guy
  • “A modern day Neuromancer about cutting edge technological manipulation, privacy, and our dependence on it.” — AltaEgoNerd
  • “Every William Hertling book is excellent–mind-blowing and -building, about coding, hacking, AI and how humans create, interact and are inevitably changed by software. They are science fiction insofar as not every hack has been fully executed…yet. His latest, Kill Process, is a spread-spectrum of hacking, psychology and the start-up of a desperately needed, world-changing technology created by a young team of coders gathered together by a broken but brilliant leader, Angie, whose secrets and exploits will dominate your attention until the final period.” — John Kirk

You get the idea. I’m glad that accurate, tech-heavy science fiction has an audience. As long as people keep enjoying it, I’ll keep writing it.

Anonymous emblemWith each book I write, I usually create an accompanying blog post about the technology in the story: what’s real, what’s on the horizon, and what’s totally made up.

My previous Singularity series extrapolated out from current day technology by ten year intervals, which turned the books into a series of predictions about the future. Kill Process is different because it’s a current day novel. A few of the ideas are a handful of years out, but not by much.

Haven’t read Kill Process yet? Then stop here, go buy the book, and come back after you’ve read it. 🙂

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

The technology of Kill Process can be divided into three categories:

  1. General hacking: profiling people, getting into computers and online accounts, and accessing data feeds, such as video cameras.
  2. Remotely controlling hardware to kill people.
  3. The distributed social network Tapestry.

General Hacking and Profiling

JENOPTIK DIGITAL CAMERA

The inside of an Apple IIe. To host a Diversi-Dial, one would install a modem in every slot. Because one slot was needed to connect the disk drives, it was necessary to load the software from a *cassette tape* to support 7 phone lines simultaneously!

In the mid-1980s, Angie is running a multiline dial-up chat system called a Diversi-Dial (real). An enemy hacker shuts off her phone service. Angie calls the phone company on an internal number, and talks to an employee, and tricks them into reconnecting her phone service in such a way that she doesn’t get billed for it. All aspects of this are real, including the chat system and the disconnect/reconnect.

As an older teenager, Angie wins a Corvette ZR1 by rerouting phone calls into a radio station. Real. This is the exact hack that Kevin Poulsen used to win a Porsche.

In the current day, Angie regularly determines where people are. They’re running a smartphone application (Tomo) that regularly checks in with Tomo servers to see if there are any new notifications. Each time they check in, their smartphone determines their current geolocation, and uploads their coordinates. Angie gets access to this information not through hacking, but by exploiting her employee access at Tomo. All of this is completely feasible, and it’s how virtually all social media applications work. The granularity of geocoordinates can vary, depending on whether the GPS is currently turned on, but even without GPS, the location can be determined via cell phone tower triangulation to within a few thousand feet. If you want to mask your location from social media apps, you can use the two smartphone approach: One smartphone has no identifying applications or accounts on it, and is used to act as a wireless hotspot. A second smartphone has no SIM card and/or is placed in airplane mode so that it has no cellular connection, and GPS functionality is turned off. It connects to the Internet via the wireless hotspot functionality of the first phone. This doesn’t hide you completely (because the IP address of the first phone can be tracked), but it will mask your location from typical social media applications. While Angie can see everyone, because of her employee access, even regular folks can stalk their “friends”: stalking people via Facebook location data.

Angie determines if people are happy, depressed, or isolated based on patterns of social media usage as well as the specific words they use. Feasible. Studies have been done using sentiment analysis to determine depression.

Computer hackers and lock picking. One handed lock picking (video). Teflon-coated lock picks to avoid evidenceReal.

Angie profiles domestic abusers through their social media activity. Quasi-feasible. Most abusers seek to isolate their victims, and that will include keeping their victims off social media. That would make it hard for Angie to profile them, because it’s difficult to profile what’s not there. On the other hand, many abusers stalk their victims through their smartphones, which actually opens up more opportunities to detect when such abuse happens.

Angie builds a private onion routing network using solar-powered Raspberry Pi computers. This is very feasible, and multiple crowd sourced projects for onion routers have launched.

Angie seamlessly navigates between user’s payment data (the Tomo app handles NFC payments), social media profiles, search data, and web history. This is real. Data from multiple sources is routinely combined, even across accounts that you think are not connected, because you used different email addresses to sign up. There are many ways information can leak to connect accounts: a website has both email addresses, a friend has both email addresses listed under one contact, attempting to log in under one email address and then logging under a different across. But the most common is web browser cookies from advertisers that tracking you across multiple websites and multiple experiences. They know all of your browser activity is “you”. Even if you never sign up for Facebook or other social media accounts, they are aggregating information about who you are, who your connections are. Future Crimes by Marc Goodman has one of the best descriptions of this. But I’ll warn you that this book is so terrifying that I had to consume it in small bits, because I couldn’t stomach reading it all at once.

Compromising a computer via a USB drive. Real.

Angie hacks a database that she can’t access by provisioning an extra database server into a cluster, making modifications to that server (which she has compromised), and waiting for the changes to synchronize. Likely feasible, but I don’t have a ton of experience here. The implication is that she has access to change the configuration of the cluster, even though she doesn’t have access to modify the database. This is plausible. An IT organization could give an ops engineers rights to do things related to provisioning without giving them access to change the data itself.

Angie did a stint in Ops to give herself backdoors into the provisioning layer. Feasible. It’s implausible that Angie could do everything she does by herself unless I gave her some advantages, simply because it’s too time consuming to do everything via brute force attacks. By giving Angie employee access, and letting her install backdoors into the software, it makes her much more powerful, and enables her to do things that might otherwise take a large group of hackers much longer periods of time to achieve.

Angie manipulates the bitcoin market by forcing Tomo to buy exponentially larger and larger amounts of bitcoin. This is somewhat feasible, although bitcoin probably has too much money invested in it now to be manipulated by one company’s purchases. Such manipulation would be more plausible with one of the smaller, less popular alternative currencies, but I was afraid that general readers wouldn’t be familiar with the other currencies. The way she does this is somewhat clever, I think. Rather than change the source code, which would get the closest level of inspection, she does it by changing the behavior of the database so that it returns different data than expected: in one case returning the reverse of a number, and in another case, returning a list of accounts from which to draw funds. Since access to application code and application servers is often managed separately from access to database servers, attacking the database server fits with Angie’s skills and previous role as database architect.

Angie is in her office when Igloo detects ultrasonic sounds. Ultrasonic communication between a computer and smartphone to get around airgaps is real. Basics of ultrasonic communication. Malware using ultrasonic to get around air gaps of up to 60 feet.

Remotely Controlling Hardware

In the recent past, most devices with embedded electronics ran custom firmware that implemented a very limited set of functionality: exactly what was needed for the function of the device, no more and no less. It ran on very limited hardware, with just exactly the functionality that was needed.

But the trend of decreasing electronics cost, increasing functionality, and connectivity has driven many devices towards using general-purpose operating systems running on general purpose computers. By doing so, they get benefits such as a complete network stack for doing TCP/IP communication, APIs for commodity storage devices, and libraries that implement higher levels functions. Unfortunately, all of this standard software may have bugs in it. If your furnace moves to a Raspberry Pi controller, for example, you now have a furnace vulnerable to any bug or security exploit in any aspect of the Linux variant that’s running, as well as any bugs or exploits in the application written by the furnace manufacturer.

Angie has a car execute a pre-determined set of maneuvers based on an incoming signal. Feasible in the near future. This particular scenario hasn’t happened, but hackers are making many inroads: Hackers remote take control of a Jeep. Remotely disable brakes. Unlock VW cars.

Killing someone via their pacemaker. Feasible: Hackers Kill a Mannequin.

Controlling an elevator. Not feasible yet, but will be feasible in the future when building elevators implement general internet or wireless connectivity for diagnostics and/or elevator coordination.

Software defined radios can communicate at a wide range of frequencies and be programmed to use any wireless protocol. Real.

handgun-drone

Yes, that is a handgun mounted on a quadcopter.

Angie hacks smoke and carbon monoxide alarms to disable the alarm prior to killing someone. Unfortunately, hacking smoke alarms is real, as is hacking connected appliances. Appliances typically have very weak security. It’s feasible in the near future that Angie could adjust combustion settings and reroute airflow for a home furnace. Setting a house on fire is very possible.

There’s a scene involving a robot and a gun. I won’t say much more about the scene, but people have put guns on drones. Real.

Tapestry / Distributed Social Networks

Angie defined a function to predict the adoption of a social network. This was my own creation, modeled on the Drake Equation. It received some input from others, and while I’m not aware of anyone using it, it probably can be used as a thought exercise for evaluating social network ideas.

IndieWeb is completely real and totally awesome. If you’re a programmer, get involved.

The protocols for how Tapestry works are all feasible. I architected everything that was in the book to make sure it could be done, to the point of creating interaction diagrams and figuring out message payloads. Some of this stuff I kept, but most was just a series of whiteboard drawings.

Igloo designs chatbots to alleviate social isolation. Plausible. This is an active area of development: With Bots Like These, Who Needs Friends? Is there an app for loneliness?

Conclusion

I haven’t exhaustively covered everything in the book, but what I have listed should help demonstrate that essentially all the technology in Kill Process is known to be real, or is plausible today, or will be feasible within the next few years.

For more reading, I recommend:

 

Kill Process Cover

I’m excited to announce that my new novel, Kill Process, is now available!

Here’s where you can get it right now:

More storefronts, such as iBooks and Barnes & Noble, will be available in the coming days. I’m also very happy to announce that, thanks to in part to fast work from Brick Shop Audio, the audio book edition is already available!

The concept:

By day, Angie, a twenty-year veteran of the tech industry, is a data analyst at Tomo, the world’s largest social networking company; by night, she exploits her database access to profile domestic abusers and kill the worst of them. She can’t change her own traumatic past, but she can save other women.

When Tomo introduces a deceptive new product that preys on users’ fears to drive up its own revenue, Angie sees Tomo for what it really is—another evil abuser. Using her coding and hacking expertise, she decides to destroy Tomo by building a new social network that is completely distributed, compartmentalized, and unstoppable. If she succeeds, it will be the end of all centralized power in the Internet.

But how can an anti-social, one-armed programmer with too many dark secrets succeed when the world’s largest tech company is out to crush her and a no-name government black ops agency sets a psychopath to look into her growing digital footprint?

A few of the early endorsements:

“Awesome, thrilling, and creepy: a fast-paced portrayal of the startup world, and the perils of our personal data and technical infrastructure in the wrong hands.”
Brad Feld, managing director of Foundry Group

“His most ambitious work yet. A murder thriller about high tech surveillance and espionage in the startup world. Like the best of Tom Clancy and Barry Eisner.”
Gene Kim, author of The Phoenix Project

“Explores the creation and effects of the templated self, the rise of structured identity and one-size-fits-all media culture, and feasible alternatives.”
Amber Case, author of Calm Technology

I hope you have a blast reading Kill Process. I certainly enjoyed writing it.
— Will

My editor is working on Kill Process right now. I’ll receive the marked up manuscript next week and will process all the changes and comments before turning it over to my proofreader. They’ll work on it for about a week, then return it to me, and I’ll process all those corrections. Then the book goes out for formatting to two different people: one for ebook and one for print. When they’re done, everything gets proofed one last time, and if it all looks good, I’ll fulfill Patreon awards to backers.

After that, I’ll upload files to the various vendors, and a week or so after that, the books are live and available for sale. While all that’s happening, there will also be final tweaks to the covers, coordination with the audiobook narrators, and more.

Even as close to the end as this, it’s still hard to predict whenever Kill Process will be available. Do I get a file back right at the start of a long weekend when I can be completely focused on it? Or do I receive it as I’m entering a long stretch with my kids and my day job? It’s hard to say.

If things go well and there are no major issues, I hope to fulfill Patreon rewards by late May, and have the book for sale by mid-June. I’d like the audiobook to be available by July. If I can get anything out earlier, I will.

Here’s a look at the covers for Kill Process. The black and red cover will be the regular edition, available for sale through all the usual outlets. The hooded-hacker cover will be a signed, limited edition available to Patreon backers.

KillProcessSaleCover

Trade paperback and ebook cover

KillProcessLimitedEditionCover

Signed, limited-edition cover

 

Here’s the working description for Kill Process:

By day, Angie, a twenty-year veteran of the tech industry, is a data analyst at Tomo, the world’s largest social networking company; by night, she exploits her database access to profile domestic abusers and kill the worst of them. She can’t change her own traumatic past, but she can save other women.

But when Tomo introduces a deceptive new product that preys on users’ fears to drive up its own revenue, Angie sees Tomo for what it really is–another evil abuser. Using her coding and hacking expertise, she decides to destroy Tomo by building a new social network that is completely distributed, compartmentalized, and unstoppable. If she succeeds, it will be the end of all centralized power in the Internet.

But how can an anti-social, one-armed programmer with too many dark secrets succeed when the world’s largest tech company is out to crush her and a no-name government black ops agency sets a psychopath to look into her growing digital footprint?

The Turing Exception, book four in the Singularity series, is now available from Audible and iTunes. Narrated by Jane Cramer, this unabridged audio version of The Turing Exception completes the Singularity series.

In the year 2043, humans and AI coexist in a precarious balance of power enforced by a rigid caste reputation system designed to ensure that only those AI who are trustworthy and contribute to human society increase in power.

Everything changes when a runaway nanotech event leads to the destruction of Miami. In the grim aftermath, a powerful underground collective known as XOR concludes that AI can no longer coexist with humanity.

AI pioneers Catherine Matthews, Leon Tsarev, and Mike Williams believe that mere months are left before XOR starts an extermination war. Can they find a solution before time runs out?

I hope you enjoy it!

Many people have been asked about The Turing Exception audiobook, which I thought would be available in the fall. Production is underway now and most of the book has been recorded by the narrator. There’s just a bit left to do, part of which is waiting on me to rewrite some sections that weren’t working well in audio. Note to self: don’t use tables of data in a novel in the future. 🙂

I don’t have an exact date, but I think the audiobook is likely to be available in November.

This summer has been busy and chaotic, including moving. (I’m still in Portland.) That’s made it difficult to write, and I’ve gotten almost nothing done since the beginning of summer. But in the last two weeks, in part due to my writing group resuming our biweekly meetings, I’ve started to make progress again. I’m still working on the data analyst novel, and I’ll have more to share about the story as I get closer to finishing it. My original plan was to have finished by winter, but it’s looking more like springtime now.

If you’re in Portland, I’ll be at the Poets and Writers Live event on Saturday, October 17th. I’ll also be at OryCon, November 20th-22nd.

The Future of Government

future-of-government

Karl Schroeder (Moderator)
Charles Stross
Joe Haldeman
Bradford Lyau
Ada Palmer
  • Joe:
    • sort of wish-washy person, go along with whatever seems to work, as long as people don’t screw up.
    • extremely suspicious about easy solutions and sympathetic to leaders
  • Bradford:
    • studied in school, political consultant, and have done several startups
  • Ada Palmer
    • Upcoming novel dealing with future politics comes out in May.
    • Teaches history at University of Chicago.
    • Do a lot of research into weird, semi-forgotten modes of government.
  • Charlie Stross
    • “occasionally” touched on politics in writing.
    • new trilogy coming out next year: starts with dark state, comparing political systems in different timelines where history has diverged.
  • Karl: Two topics for Today.
    • We’re still coasting on government technologies developed in the late 1700s: voting, representative government. And yet, we’re rapidly outpacing it.
    • What is the future of legitimacy and authority of government?
  • Are we running on totally outdated systems? Will they last for all time?
    • Joe: There are two groups of people push/pull tension: the governors and the governed.
    • Charlie: I have sympathy for Joe’s point of view, but it’s totally wrong. It’s the POV of someone from the US, the dominant global power of the day. But let us look at Greece… a greek state in crisis. externally imposed austerity, that are very cruel. people dying of agony in hospitals because the hospitals can’t afford medicines. They’re forced into this essentially by the German banks and ultimately the German government. The German government has to come up with a rhetoric to support austerity when it is in fact due to internal politics of the German government, because they can’t afford to have people defect to the democratic socialist party. Which is tied into the corporate influence on the government.
    • Bradford: the genius of the american constitution didn’t want to answer any questions, they just wanted to create the form of the argument that could be used to answer questions later. the movement today about what the original intent of the founder was…it doesn’t make sense, but they didn’t intend anything, other than to give a framework for conversation, not to dictate the answers.
    • Ada: Lots of examples of government structures remaining the same but changing purpose: the Roman Senate first governs a city, then a state, then an empire, then functioning as an appendage of the emperor. and when the empire falls, Rome still has a senate for another 500 years. The Roman Senate function keeps changing, but the same structure is repurposed for the needs of each new geopolitical entity. Rather than having a revolution that replaces existing structures, we may have non-revolutions that change the purpose without changing the structure at all.
  • Are new mechanisms for governing going to evolve?
    • Ada: A new interesting one is the European Union that was originally proposed (not the one we got). The original proposal was a dynamic, self-destroying, self-replacing system that would evolve as the decades passed, and as new member countries joined. It was one of the first government systems intended from the start to be temporary and self-replacing.
    • Charlie: We’re mostly talking about the post-enlightenment governments so far. What about the dark enlightenment? It’s what happens when libertarians discover monarchism. We may be going through a constrained period of rapid development, a curve leveling off. Like what has happened with airlines: no new innovations since 1970.
      • proponents of dark enlightenment think we’re going to go backwards to a monarchy. our 300 year history of democratic experiment is really brief in our total history.
    • Karl: The system we’re under, started by the greeks, is that you can fight and win, but you can’t win for all time. What we’re starting to see if the erosion of those principles: groups that do want to win for all time.
  • Q: Governments are just about economic systems or political systems. They do a lot of stuff, boring, but essential stuff. Can you comment on how the role of government is changing?

PG-13: Violence, Sex, and Teen Readers
Darlene Marshall (moderator)
Wesley Chu
Fonda Lee (Buy Zeroboxer!)
Jenn Reese
Alaina Ewing
  • Young Adult. What is it?
    • FL: YA has burgeoned in the last decade. Books that have had younger protagonists and appealed to younger readers have always existed. The book was not different in the content or subject matter, but in the viewpoint of the character, and whether you are talking about something that is related at that time in life.
    • AE: I start by thinking: YA is about a teenager going through teen experiences. But then I think that my protagonist is really advanced, and dealing with stuff that teens don’t normally deal with. If a book merely has a teen protagonist, that doesn’t make it YA.
    • JR: middle-grade is targeted towards 8-12, and it’s a subject of children. YA is targeted for 13 and above, and it is really a subset of adult. The majority of YA readers are adults.
    • WC: A 1e-year old experience is vastly different than just a 19-year-old’s experience. You can’t just say “teen” and group it all together.
    • DM: it spans pre-pubescant to mature, sexually active adults.
  • What is the purpose of the marketing? Is it for the parent? For the teen?
    • WC: Kids at 10 know all about sex.
    • FL: all sorts of violence are acceptable, but sex is not in a YA novel.
      • Got pushback from editor: couldn’t do YA because the male’s love interest was an older woman.
      • There is a line, but it’s really fuzzy.
      • With respect to sex: that lines is drawn in a more conservative way.
      • If the sexual experience is by two teenagers, then it can be a YA book.
    • JR: We’ve had all sorts of sexually things in a YA book, but they can’t just be a backdrop…the way sexual violence is in Game of Thrones. They have to be in the foreground and dealt with.
    • AE: My publisher pushed back more on my handling of violence. I had more explicit torture scenes, and then publisher wanted me to pull back and have those things off screen.
    • If there’s sex or violence in YA, it can’t be gratuitous, it has to advance the characters and the story.
      • WC: That should be true of all writing, not just YA.
  • Do you approach YA differently then adult fiction?
    • FL: No, I just write it. And if there is pushback later, I’ll deal with it.
    • “Okay, give me the list: how many fucks and shits do I get to use?”
    • FL: Kids reach up. An advanced MG reader is reading into YA. They aren’t going to get and/or be ready for everything in YA.
  • More women writing YA, more women reading YA. But men winning more awards in YA, even though they are minority of writers and readers.
  • School librarians
    • Can be awesome, because they can get books into the hands of kids that wouldn’t otherwise get there.
    • But sometimes strange rules:
      • One library system: sex and torture is okay, but cussing of any kind is not allowed.
      • Another system: any amount of violence is okay, but no swearing or sex.
    • WC: I think you can tell any story without any fights, any sex, or any swearing, and still tell the same story. (I love fights scenes, but they aren’t necessary.)
    • JR: A good fight scene should still illuminate character.
    • FL: If you’re going to have violence, or sex, or swearing, it better serve the story, and you should put in just enough to do that.
  • People who do teenage sex handled well in YA: Carrie Misrobian, Christina Ireland, Rae Carson.
  • Q: How do you handle different reading levels? You can have a teenager who is mature and ready to deal with advanced topics, but not with adult reading level.
    • FL: I don’t. I just write what I write. But there is an organization out there who helps filter YA books by all of these criteria.
    • DM: Lexile rating helps categorize books for readers of certain abilities.

I glanced at my blog today and realized I’ve written very few posts lately. I’ve been working pretty hard on The Turing Exception. Between that work, my day job, and kids, I haven’t had a lot of time for blogging.

Most of January was spent working with my copyeditor. This is a bigger, more complex task that it might sound like. You might imagine that I turn my manuscript over to the copyeditor, and then get it back with a bunch of corrections, and it’s done.

In fact, what happens is closer to this:

  • I send the manuscript.
  • I get a bunch of questions in the beginning as my copyeditor goes to work.
  • Then he goes radio-silent for two weeks as he gets deep into it.
  • Then I get the manuscript back. This one contained about 4,000 changes.
  • Some changes are easy to process: commas moved, spelling corrected, words replaced. I use Word’s change review, and it’s lots of clicking on “accept”. Still, it’s 4,000 changes, and it takes me several days of full-time work to review each change and accept it.
  • Some changes are more difficult to handle. They might be a comment, like “you need more interior character dialogue here.” Then I need to go think about what the character is thinking about in that scene, and write a few paragraphs, keeping it consistent with everything going on around it.
  • Some changes are widespread, like when I’ve described a single event several different ways over the course of a novel. Or used several different names to refer to one organization. I have to pick something, and then make sure it is consistent throughout.
  • Some changes and comments I don’t understand, so I have to email back and forth with my copyeditor until I do, and then make the changes.
  • When I’m done, I send the file back to the copyeditor, and now he can review my changes. There were about 300 on this last exchange.
  • He accepts the ones that look good, but might have to make more corrections, which I then accept, and so on.

Eventually it’s done. The copyeditor and I are in agreement.

Then I get the manuscript to the proofreader. This is a second person who is focused on line-level items, like punctuation and spelling, although he’ll also catch some bigger issues. The manuscript came back from the proofreader with 800 changes. I basically go through all the same stuff as with the copyeditor. Some changes are straightforward, some are not.

If I make big changes, then it has to go back to the proofreader again for a second pass.

Along the way, I usually get feedback from beta readers who are getting back to me late. I hate to ignore feedback, so I do the best I can to address any issues they spotted, without breaking the copyediting / proofreading process.

Sometimes I’m trying to address beta reader feedback by changing only one or two words, to avoid having to do another round of proofreading. I remember this happening with The Last Firewall, where I think Brad Feld or Harper Reed said “I’m confused about what kind of vehicles exist in this world”. And so there’s a scene in the beginning of the book where Cat is crossing the street, and I had to get her to establish all the types of vehicles (ground cars, hover cars, and flying cars) in a single sentence, so that I didn’t make changes in multiple places.

I’m now one to three days away from finishing the proofreading cycle. When this is done, it will go to two different people for formatting: one person will generate the ebooks, and another will generate the PDF interior for the print book. Then I’ll need to carefully proofread both of those, to make sure nothing gets dropped, and no formatting errors or other mistakes are introduced.

It’s fairly intense work when the ball is in my court. But when it’s handed off to someone else, that’s my chance to do a little creative work. I’ve written about 15,000 words in Tomo, a new novel about privacy, social networks, and data profiling. No AI or robots…yet.