Friday, 11 March 2011

Mistakes, I've made a few ...

I've spent the past week going through the copy-edited manuscript of Defender of Rome. The MS is about three and a half inches thick and made up of 338 pages of A4 that contains, at the last count, around 110,000 lovingly crafted words chronicling the continuing life of Gaius Valerius Verrens, hero of Colonia, after his return to a Rome ruled by an ever-more erratic Emperor Nero.

There are a lot of vital stages in the production of a book, but the copy-edit is right at the top. It's a process that every writer has to go through, and for some it's a chore, but I thought it was worth giving you an idea how it works.

For me it's always a time of part-pleasure, part-frustration. The pleasure comes in knowing the book is another step closer to becoming a reality, and the fact that your character has developed in ways you would never have imagined when you wrote the first novel. The frustration is that I've had to drop my next book, Avenger of Rome, half way through, and that I'm having to face up to the numerous mistakes I made writing Defender.

My copy-editor, Nancy, has a wonderful eye and the Classical education I wish I'd had. She came up with twenty major queries or suggestions, which isn't bad in a complex story of over 100,000 words, and an average of about three minor tweaks (cuts, improvements or corrections) a page, every one of which improves the book in some way. While I checked what she's done (was I tired when I wrote that the world 'spun on its access' or just stupid?) I made my own corrections etc, which amount to a 3,000 word document affecting around 250 of those 338 pages. I'm never sure whether to be pleased I'm able to make such a difference even at this late stage, or embarrassed at the amount of work I've had to do on something I once thought was the finished article. Again, every change should be a further improvement in quality, whether its historical accuracy or the standard of the writing. Bear in mind that this is after my editor, Simon, has taken the novel through a similar process, focussing on the storyline and the writing rather than the facts, and I've probably checked it six or seven times already.

I'll have a chance to give it at least one more read through before I head off next Thursday to do an event with Manda Scott at the Transworld LitFest just outside London, and I already have another few changes in mind. After that, there's only one more stage I'm involved in, the final proof read, and the next time I see it, it will look like this.

7 comments:

Paul Darnell said...

Its spins on its Axehead Doug

Mary Schneider said...

Great post, Doug. Out of curiosity, I Googled 'spun on its access'. There were 98 results. That's a lot of tired people writing the same thing. :)

Gabriele C. said...

Lol Mary.

Dropping 'Avernger of Rome' halfway through hopefully doesn't mean the book won't be finished (and published) some day?

Doug said...

No Gabriele, it just means I have to take a step back for a couple of weeks, which can sometimes be a good idea. In this case I don't have an option. The first deadline is the priority

Mari said...

Well, that gave me pause, Mr Jackson. I always find it inspiring (reassuring?) to read/hear about the nuts and bolts of writing, but what a lot of work!
I just finished 'Hero of Rome' and pre-ordered this tome in question, so I'm going to cast my vote for 'happy' even though it was more work for you. ;)
I suppose this is the novel length version of what had plagued me, and others, in writers papers at Uni; 'I knew what I meant' so that is what I saw! Thereby making the proof-read pointless and rendering my point mysterious to any other reader. Which, in my case, might have been the better option, come to think of it...

Doug said...

I know what you mean Mari, when I first started writing I looked at the first draft I'd put together and thought it was perfect when it certainly wasn't. I'm much harder on myself now, because I've got to be. I have readers who deserve the best I can give them. Just going through Defender again now and having to work even harder to keep up the concentration, but I know it's worth it, because every word I change now improves what you'll read!

Doug said...
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