“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.” Oscar Wilde
How can I have gone over the manuscript of “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter” so many times and still find so many little glitches? It’s just a reminder that, no matter how good your computer is, no matter how sharp your screen or how marvelous your software, at the end of the day it comes down to a piece of paper and a pen.
I don’t know how many rewrites and spell checks and editing passes I’ve done. And I’m not the only one. Tori has gone over it. Eddie the Agent and one of the readers in his office have gone over it. And yet I’m still combing nits out of it.
For the last two weeks I was formatting it, putting it in the template to have it printed as a book, 6 X 9 inches, page numbers, formatting chapter headings. Plus making changes in the text as I went. It was long process, kind of tedious. It’s more like being a mechanic tuning up an engine than a creative writer, but it’s got to be done, and done carefully. Doesn’t matter how good your story is, if the formatting looks like a hot mess you’re digging yourself a hole. Keep it simple, don’t go font crazy, make it readable. If you make the reader struggle, he/she is at some point going to decide “to hell with this” and toss your work aside. And take a close, hard look at other books to see how they handle formatting. Find one you really like and do that.
Now I’m proofing the galleys. And this stage is not that different than when our earlier books went the traditional publishing route. After the formatting is set up, you print it out and go over it page by page, sentence by sentence, word by word. Or, the publisher prints it out and sends it to you by FedEx.
That’s a very exiting day, when the delivery guy drops off the big envelope and you tear it open and inside is – Your book! Not complete, no cover of course, not printed, just photocopied, and no matter what the actual page size is, the galleys are printed on standard letter size paper.
But it’s the first tangible, physical manifestation of the book, the story that started in your very own head. There it is!
It’s not quite as cool when you’re self-publishing. There’s no FedEx guy. You transfer the file to your flash drive, take it down to Office Depot (my 16-year-old son, Max, drove, so yeah, I can’t say there was NO excitement, but that’s not what I’m talking about.) Then they print it for you, and you take it home and lay it on the table.
But still, there it is. The book.
And this is where you have to get very, very picky. It’s your last chance.
Anne Lamott in “Bird by Bird,” her wonderfully quirky book on writing and life, calls it the dental draft. Your first draft is the down draft – get it down. The second draft (and countless further drafts) is the up draft – fix it up. And the last pass is the “dental draft.” This is where you go tooth by tooth and make sure everything – EVERYTHING – works. Check every tooth.
So here I am with a stack of 248 pages, scribbling al over them. Not every page. Not even most pages. The majority have nothing but my initials in the corner to verify that, yes, I went over this one. But enough pages have a tweak here or a crossout there, and a couple have quite a few. It’s enough to make a guy wonder what he’s been doing for the last couple of years.
I’ve worked in publishing – newspapers and magazines – all my adult life and I’ve never seen it fail. When you’re reading something on the screen your eye often sees what it expects to see. On the computer screen it glides over a wrong word, or a missing word, because it knows what’s supposed to be there. Your brain sometimes reads the sentence the way you meant it, not the way it is.
But when you start going over the draft, the real physical pages, they just jump out at you. I don’t know why that is, but it sure is.
There are also sentences that suddenly don’t sound quite right. “Why did I say it that way, instead of this?” “Why is this passive voice instead of active?” So you mark them and plan to go back and fix.
When you’re being published traditionally, you can only do so much with the galleys. There’s a limit. Mark changes for more than – I don’t recall, but I think it’s like ten percent of the text – and they just toss the whole thing, make the changes and completely reformat, then charge you for the earlier work.
When you’re doing it yourself, you could of course change every word. But it just means you’ve wasted an awful lot of effort.
And with all this effort, it will not surprise me in the least of there’s a typo or two or an unexpected inelegance of phrase in the printed book. It’s just the way it goes sometimes.
Anyway, I’m about a third of the way through the galley now. Still a long way to go before it’s ready. But it’s getting closer.
It’s hard work. But it’s a very exciting time.