By Bruno Noble
"The I is a thing of the moment, and yet our lives are ruled by it. We cannot rid ourselves of this inexistent thing." (John Gray, Straw Dogs, 2002) A novel on the nature of the self
Saturday, 1 July 2017
Please leave your ego at the door
I am up to my knees in blood.
You know the expression - “killing your babies”. It’s what the literary trade terms cutting your favourite sentences out, editing your book ruthlessly. It’s what I’ve been doing these last few weeks, as advised by Elizabeth, my editor. Believe me, we’re talking mass murder here, the slaughter of innocent sentences by the dozen. Something like this…
Elizabeth: “This sentence is naff. It has to go.”
Me: “Naff? But it's one of my favourite sentences!”
“It has to go.”
She’s right. It goes.
“And this sentence: it’s far too long. It should be three sentences.”
“But I like long sentences!”
“But your readers won’t. And this word - what on earth does it mean? Once your readers have to look a word up, you’ve lost them.”
“But I like looking words up.”
“Not everyone does. And no ‘whom’s. ‘Whom’ has gone the way of the dodo.”
“But I’m a pedant!”
“Yes, but your character - this young girl - isn’t. She wouldn’t say ‘whom’.”
“And this pun - it’s terrible! Forgive me, but it must go.”
“Well, it is a bit… But I like puns!”
“Do you want your readers to think, ‘Isn’t Bruno clever?’ or do you want to them to just read the story?”
“Can’t they do both?”
“Oh, you leave me with a difficult decision…”
“And it’s too clearly your pun - not this young girl’s.”
“Oh, OK. Fair enough.”
“And don’t write ‘desist’ or ‘cease’ when you could just write ‘stop’.”
“OK, OK, please… stop!”
The massacre ended on Friday when I delivered my final, FINAL manuscript to Unbound. That’s it. No more changes allowed. The structural edit is complete. (Even though I feel I could spend a lifetime on it.) The machetes and pruning knives have been cleaned and packed away. Elizabeth has been honest, fair and (nearly) always right and I have (nearly) always followed her advice. The experience has been educational, rewarding, interesting - and bruising.
Next steps? A copy editor reads the manuscript for grammar and punctuation. (I also delivered a ‘style sheet’ that covers such things as English vs American spelling, the use of the Oxford comma, when to italicise foreign words, when to use capitals, when to use ‘which’ and when to use ‘that’…) It then goes to a type setter, who decides on a type face and other presentational details. It (by now a ‘first proof’) is then read by a proof reader for errors of any kind. Finally: cover design. Dare I hope for a September publication?
In the meantime, thank you for being so patient. I wish you a lovely summer.