Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Making a Book: Final Edits

One of the reasons I began blogging during the production of Mom's Cancer was to document the process of publishing a book for the very few people who might be interested. Continuing in that tradition, I thought I'd update where we're at on WHTTWOT.

My six regular readers may recall that I submitted a "final" draft a few months ago. There's a reason for those quotation marks. Since the art files are enormous, what I actually turned in was a lower-resolution PDF of the entire book, laid out as facing pages as they'll appear in print, with my notes to the editors and designers under each page. That was the first time anyone had seen the whole thing put together.

Editor Charlie printed out the PDF at his end, and he and a professional copy editor, Andrea, both went over the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb. Now, immodestly, I think I'm a good, clean, deliberate, professional writer. I know English and how to put words together. But Charlie and Andrea made me feel like an idiot, in a good way. They found stupid mistakes I know I shouldn't have made but didn't catch. They found mistakes I didn't know were mistakes. And, importantly, they very dispassionately pointed out bits that weren't clear, conflicted with other bits, or just weren't as good as they could be. Charlie also has a practiced eye for comic art and graphics, and had several comments on that as well.

I find a thorough editing very invigorating. Like a teeth cleaning or carpet steaming. No matter how diligently you brush or vacuum, you're still amazed at the crud that turns up when an expert goes at it.

(This perspective can be hard to achieve. There's a lot of ego involved in writing; that's you on the page, and it's tough to be criticized. I realized I'd cleared an important hurdle early in my writing career when I could sit with an editor and hack up my writing without getting hurt and defensive about it. Even then, the kind of journalistic writing I was doing at the time wasn't remotely as personal as my graphic novel work. That's tougher. I think the key is remembering that you and your editor are working toward the same goal: making it better. That doesn't help much if your editor is a moron who blights everything he or she touches. I've known a few of those. Respect and trust are the foundation of a good writer-editor relationship. Luckily, I think I'm in good hands.)

So now Charlie has returned the edited pages to me for corrections. To help me keep track of my progress, I summarized the notes for each page on a little spreadsheet:

Most of them involve minor mechanical stuff: inserting commas, aligning text, spacing out ellipses. Lots and lots of ellipses. Some are more serious narrative or thematic points that Charlie and I are discussing. There'll be a little rewriting and redrawing. A few notes I simply disagree with; of those, there will be some for which Charlie makes the call because it's an Abrams book, and some for which I make the call because it's my name on the cover. There's also a professional fact-checker reviewing my references and science content whose notes I haven't seen yet. Since my research was thorough and I've already had a pro astronomer look it over (thanks, Sherwood!), I don't expect much to come from that.

I've got a couple of weeks to do my part. Sometime very near the end of this year or the beginning of the next, I'll turn in my truly final draft. Then the designer, with whom I've been corresponding for several months now, goes to work. Then proofs and galleys and printing and shipping. Then, Mayish, a book.

After all my efforts and the scrutiny of a professional editor, copy editor, and fact-checker, I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to the day I get the printed book in my hands, open it up, and behold a glaringly obvious error staring up at me from the first page I see. It's an unavoidable law of nature.


Sherwood Harrington said...

You do remember that I'm a community college astronomer, right, Brian? No guarantees.

And did you notice this?

Brian Fies said...

Yeah, well, when Abrams comes up with their own astronomer, we'll compare credentials. I don't think it'll be a problem. And thanks again.

I hadn't seen that space elevator story. Doesn't surprise me, weird things happen when you swing a string 22,000 miles: oscillations, waves, differences in angular momentum. I really doubt one will ever get built, but it's such a cool concept!