Thursday, February 14, 2013

Feedback time!

As I have probably mentioned, I recently finished the first draft of The Demons of Ghent, the second book in my upcoming Forbidden Spaces trilogy, and despatched it to my editor for perusal. Although The Demons of Ghent will be my fifth novel (and in fact my sixth book if you include my ghost story collection), I still get a wee bit (okay, a lot) nervous about the feedback stage. This is not, as fellow author Philip Ardagh quipped on Twitter, because "each book is slightly less good than the previous one" (thanks Phil - the hitman will be round shortly). I guess it is mainly because having gone through the process of producing other books, I know what an innocent editorial suggestion can lead to.
When I was working on my very first book, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, I suppose I cherished that impossible dream that I am sure many authors nurture: that the very first publisher to read the manuscript will be so enthralled that they will abandon whatever they were already reading (the latest tome by J.K.Rowling or a newly-discovered lost work by Charles Dickens) to devour it to the very last word. Then they will ring up and say, "The book is perfect just as it is. Here is a million pounds. I am just going to call the printer."
Alas, this never happens. Not to me, anyway. This is normally how it goes. For the first book at least, the agent (once you have got one) may suggest some changes to make the manuscript match-fit for the publishing arena. You may make those changes. Once the book has a publisher, the editor will probably suggest some changes too. These might be relatively easy to tackle ("it would be nice if they kissed twice in that last scene instead of once") or they may strike horror into your heart ("I know Manfred is in all 75 chapters but I think it would work better if we killed him off in chapter two"). You are not obliged to make any of these changes, of course, and if you are as slippery-tongued as a defence attorney you may even talk your way out of some of them, but ultimately you want the publisher to publish the book, right? By now we are on version three and indeed I do save the MS as a new Word document each time, so I can keep track, and don't lose any interesting bits that have to be cut but might  come in useful later. 
Once everyone is happy with the latest version the copyeditor gets their hands on it. In my experience copyeditors are all as good at spotting inconsistencies in a story as Sherlock Holmes or indeed the disturbingly compelling Inspector Reid from Ripper Street. They will also notice that you repeated the same piece of information 15 times in one book, that you have described the hero's smile as "lopsided" 37 times and even in one case (the shame!) that I had had the hero change gear in his car after he had parked it. 
It is still not over. Later, the proof reader will go over the manuscript too and pick up all the typos etc. My keyboard is somewhat aged and the D key keeps sticking, so he or she will probably have to go through the next book, Urban Legends, or Urban Legens as I shall probably type it thanks to that sticky   key, and fill in all the Ds. 
At some point, of course, the book will actually make it to the marketplace where it will stand before the reading public like a goat tethered to a stake in the middle of a jungle clearing. But that, as they say, is another story. 
Anyway, the next step for The Demons of Ghent is hopefully a meeting with the editorial team to discuss the manuscript. I must admit that I approach such meetings with the secret terror that once I am in there they are going to tear the stripes off the shoulder of my writer's uniform. Still, I can brace myself up with the knowledge that whatever they say, it cannot possibly be as bad as the feedback my first book got from school pupil 'Slattybatfast' in the Carnegie Shadowing Scheme: "its the lamest peice of drivvel i have ever had the missfortune to pick up."
No experience, good or bad, is ever wasted...

"OMG, you're absolutely right - there's a whopping typo here..."

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