When is a book finished?
When you are reading a book it is (obviously) finished when you get to the end. However, that is not always literally true. A good book may stay with you for a long time afterwards, particularly if there is an unresolved or intriguing ending. I have always been an avid reader, and ages ago I said to myself that once I had started a book I would always finish it – and I have stuck to that mantra. This has mostly been easy, but was less so when I had a period of reading some of the (Soviet) classics. I remember Anna Karenina taking a while, but I got there.
There is another ritual that I go through now when finishing a book. I subscribe to the Good Reads website (‘the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations’), and since 2009 have disciplined myself to write a short review of each book I read. Unfortunately my reviewing is less disciplined than my reading. I am hugely in appears in adding my ‘reviews’. Right now I am 27 books behind in reviewing, almost a year’s worth of reading.
Anyway, enough waffle. This post is really about when the WRITING of a book is finished. My first is finished, at one level, but not at another. It is still selling in trickles, and I still look at the Amazon page about once a day – to see what ‘ranking’ it has. Today is has an Amazon ranking of 22,845th. OK not a best seller, but will produce royalties when the next update comes (it happens every 6 months, and one is due).
Although the manuscript for the second book went to publisher in March, it was far from finished. The rest of this blog details some of the post-manuscript tasks that I have had to encompass on the way to the publication date (in September). I thought it might be of interest to some to see the range of work involved for an author. If you are not interested then I suggest you stop now, and go and read a good book!
The same day the manuscript was submitted I received a reply from the Editor saying: ‘you really do seem to have produced a worthy successor.’ Then came The Sting. There were requests for changes: ‘Move the map to the beginning?’ Then: ‘Chapters 6 to 10 are all pretty long. I would say that 6000 words is a pretty long chapter.’
After bit of thought, I found a way to break the chapters that I am happy with. I had to rewrite a couple of the endings and beginnings of the changed chapters to make it work. I moved the map out of the chapter into the prelims, and renumbered and renamed the chapters. Originally I was going to call four of the new chapters what they covered, but they would all have been “Fastest this that or the other”. I decided to go with the names of the protagonists in each case instead. That left one chapter split into two covering the same topic, now called “Impressions” and “Further impressions”. Realise that chapter naming may not be one of my strongest points!
Then the Editor queried a couple of possible omissions, and reference errors, which I dealt with, and then started on the process of looking for and contacting possible people for cover quotes [link to Guardian piece on being suspicious of them]. This is a test of your networking capabilities really. Mine have improved since the first book, so I was hopeful of some results.
I approached a noted author. They replied ‘I’ve no idea when I’ll get a chance to look at it. I’m up against a desperate writing deadline myself & already have no time for reading. In addition, I have two large soon-to-be-published running books, written by friends of mine, sitting on my desk waiting for me to read them. So your book would have to go to the bottom of the pile, and, to be honest, the chances of my being able to read it before September look pretty slim. And I really can’t give a cover quote about a book I haven’t read. I’m happy to give it a try, though, if all that doesn’t put you off; but I can’t promise anything. Alternatively, would it make more sense for me to give you some kind of general quote about the BG that you could use?’ Not being one to take anything resembling ‘No’ for an answer, I agreed on the offered BG blurb, and said I would send him a copy of reviewer’s proof anyway ‘on the off chance’.
At this point my Editor queried the amount of quotes, and whether they were all agreed and/or within ‘fair dealing’. Whilst never quite understanding this term, I responded with evidence and justification for my usage of other’s words.
There was then an editing switch, where a different person to my familiar Editor at Sandstone Press (a freelancer) was brought in due to The Editor’s workload and our planned timescale. This took a little adjustment, by me, but worked out just fine. Once we had exchanged a couple of emails I could see that we understood our respective roles, and that we would get on fine – which we did.
Next we started on the photo section – with me sending the hi-res photos to the designer and the editor. The designer declared some as being too low a resolution, so I started hurriedly investigating alternatives. Meanwhile, the first big edits came back on the main manuscript, and I was recommended to accept them by main editor. I agreed changes, and was also able to add in bit about Nicky Spinks beating the ladies’ BGR record over Easter.
Sandstone were very good about allowing more time to get the photos and edited manuscript ‘publisher ready’. We all agreed there was time in hand, and that if necessary could go to print in July and still meet the September publishing date. To facilitate this timescale the new editor and I agreed to accept considering the edits in sections and work on each section in turn to save time.
It was now halfway through April and the Section 1 corrections arrived. The editor also sent some text for my consideration. It nicely expanded on a point I was making in what had turned out to a considerably revised chapter. The second section was received, and both 1 and 2 were returned with changes that day (I am now working only 3 days a week so have more time for turning this stuff around). Section three and four was received and the smallish number of changes were soon dealt with.
Meanwhile, I started working on the text/information for the hardback’s flycover. This involved editing my profile, and deciding on a call-out quote to use from the book – a sort of content tease. I had several competing ideas for this quote, so asked a couple of friends for their preferences from the list, which interestingly varied somewhat from mine.
The need to use some different photos meant the re-start of negotiations for copyright. For one source this proved awkward at first, but then became productive when some new photos were offered. One other source kept passing the buck from one organisation/person to the other but this was eventually resolved.
I had just got all the corrections back into one file when an article I had written was published in The Fellrunner. There were some nice responses about it, including out of the blue email from a Cambridge academic with some late leads and information. Some small, but significant, bits were slipped in right at the last moment. Interestingly the photo credit chasing also turned up some extra information, but it was not important really and rejected, and the definitive version of the manuscript dispatched.
The final illustrations and final selection of photos were sent to the designer and editor on the 14th May, and just that day even more information arrived from one correspondent but it was now definitely off-topic stuff (eg did I know of a real tough guy triathlon – Windermere swim, followed immediately by the Fred Whitton Challenge and then the Bob Graham Round – all hopefully with 48 hours).
The last thing was to tie down the cover quotes. I had compiled a list of good people to approach and carried on the chase. It was pleasing to get the first agreement in, from a former outdoor magazine editor, and this was swiftly followed by one from a current outdoor magazine editor. The next two were very pleasing to get agreement from, being two legends of fell running (see It’s a hill, get over it for hints as to who they might be – I lay my cards out pretty clearly there). The last piece of this particular jigsaw was Sandstone agreeing to print four uncorrected proof copies to send to these ‘quoters’ so they can read a copy of the book before penning their words of wisdom. I await these with deep interest.