posted by Doranna Durgin

Seems like it's pretty straightforward, really, or it should be: Write the book.

Okay, maybe that's glossing over the whole book-writing process just a teensy bit, but let's go with it: Write the best book you can, follow it through the production process, meet your deadlines along the way. Because being a good writer is not the same as being a good blurb crafter, a typesetter, or a publicist...and there's no reason those skillsets should be expected to overlap.

Lately, though, things have been getting tricky. One recent publisher of mine had three pages of manuscript formatting directions for (spit) Word (assuming, of course, that everyone uses (spit) Word). And don't even talk to me about certain publisher production processes, and how much extra work/extra steps are involved for the author in the name of creating a shorter/cheaper/faster process at the publishing end.

No, wait.
I changed my mind.

Let's talk about just that.

How it should be when it comes to copyedits and proofs? Send me my hardcopy, I'll mark the changes, make reference copies for myself, and return the changed pages. The end. Simple and elegant.

But it has, of course (and quite reasonably) occurred to publishers that it's easier and faster and cheaper to send an electronic version of some sort, especially if you assume everyone uses (spit) Word. And there's always PDF, if your system handles it. It might even seem, on first blush, that it's easier for the author, too. And maybe it is, up to the moment the work lands in your inbox. But then...

Then things get ugly.

For starters, some of us have a tired eyes. Some of us can't read extensive fiction on a monitor. Some of us prefer not to. So suddenly we're bearing the cost of the printing, if we want hardcopy. (Don't even think about tightening down the formatting to save paper, supposing you have that option with the file you've received, because you're only going to trip over that later in the process. Ask me how I know.)

Now move onto the whole matter to return the corrections? Well, in recent years I've had the blithe request that I transcribe page, para, and line numbers, then describe the change.

Let's just pause here a moment and contemplate the logistics of this process. Thoughtfully.

First one peruses the manuscript, in one format or another. If it's PDF, one cannot make the changes "live," but must make notes or bear the cost of printing. If it comes in (spit) Word and you use another word processor, you have two choices--you can work in (spit) Word if you have the program lurking on your system, or you can convert to your preferred werp--but guess what. If you convert, the pagination will change. This becomes important shortly, because once you've made all your changes, you then must begin the process of flipping between programs to pin down the change locations.

1. Find change. 2. Note page, para, and para line number.
3. If you converted to your own preferred werp--or if you printed in a paper-saving format--swap into a third program and commit searches to figure out what page this would be in the (spit) Word formatting.
4. Swap programs again, transcribe page, para, and para line number into email or other document to be emailed.
5. Swap programs a couple of times to confirm your counts.
6. Describe change. Swap programs to confirm your accuracy.

Now, let's just pause here another moment and ponder the difference between crossing out a word and replacing it vs. the process of describing exactly what you want done.

*insert background music of thoughtfulness*

Done? Okay, if pondering this doesn't make any impact on you, then go try it. Go make some changes to text, whether it's email or fiction or whatever. Tweak it up. Change some punctuation, fiddle with a phrase. Now describe those changes as if you want someone else to make them. Really. Go try it.

7. Find next change. Start all over again. Glance at clock with astonishment at how much time you spent on that first simple change.

Now let's think back to the original straightforward hardcopy process, in which you read the manuscript, mark your changes, copy those pages, and fax or snail the changes.

Are we really supposed to call this progress?

Mind you, I've made one non-PC but so far utterly consistent observation: The smaller the press, the shorter its history in the business, the more likely it is to require the most egregious form of the above process. Ditto the manuscript requirements, which I won't even go into because...well, because my blood pressure is already rising dangerously this morning. That's not to say there's not a little mix-n-match, or that established, traditional publishers aren't trying new things--but those established publishers and editors also know what I know: My job is to write books. They know to streamline as possible. One recent proof process involving a e-version required nothing more than page number and changed phrase--no description, no lines, paras, or para numbers. That's someone who knows.

As for the last request I received to follow the contorted process described above? I'm afraid I politely drew the line. I offered an alternative process that suited me while still being reasonable--and it still took more of my time than it should have. And you know what? I think more of us had darned well better be drawing that line, or we're going to end up bearing untenable hours of ugly grunt work wrought by changes in process that make things just a little bit easier for the publisher side of things.

So consider this a wake-up call, right along with watching your electronic rights and various other unfriendly contract changes that publishers have so slyly tried to sneak in due to technological change. Draw the line when you can--politely, cheerfully, and as positively as you can--or your job is going to end up being so much more than writing the books.

Me...I've got stories to tell, and already not enough time to tell them. I know what my choices will be!

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