The Final Countdown
Thursday, 9 March 2017
The end bit of writing a book - the part between pressing 'send' on the completed first draft and finally picking up the finished article in a bookshop - is a weird combination of monotony, anticipation and delicious pleasure.
The monotony comes from the Groundhog Day-like experience of reading the book from cover to cover, again and again, each time pushing it forward to completion.
By the time you're happy enough to send a book to your editor, you've already read each line hundreds of times, and the whole thing at least two or three times. It's as good as you can make it - except it's not.
You've been working on the thing for at least a year, maybe two or three, and you're so close to it you've lost sight of what you thought it was going to be when you started. You're probably the least qualified person on the planet to make an accurate judgement on whether it's any good or not.
The best qualified person to make that call is your editor. If they're any good they know what you were hoping to achieve, but also have their own ideas about what success looks like. So when you submit the first draft, the editor falls on it and uncovers and polishes the gem you've pulled from the murky depths of your mind. At this stage the editor usually has a better idea of the throughline of the book than the author does, and can more clearly see where there are jumps, gaps, inconsistencies, and diversions from the main path. You're handing your baby to a business colleague, and that business coilleague has to find a way of saying your baby's haircut is all wrong, and you should maybe think about changing its clothes or feeding it differenlty, but don't worry, it's still a beautiful baby, and people will really see how beautiful it is if you only accept their suggestions for how you should care for it differently.
Not tense or difficult at all.
When you trust the person giving you this advice, it really isn't difficult to take it. I first worked with Jason at Unbound fifteen years ago, when I was writing my first book and he was editing his first. The plop on the doormat of the pages he wanted me to take another look at became a regular occurence through the summer and autumn of 2002. The envelopes successively grew thinner and lighter, but I thought it was bever going to end.
This time around, it was a Word document with track changes. Instead of getting to a sixth or seventh draft, we only had to do a second.
But it doesn't stop there.
The editor is responsible for helping you shape the overall narrative and doing big, important interventions. After that, it goes to a copy editor, who checks the nitty gritty of spelling and grammar, and may also do a round of fact- or sense-checking individual passages. So the document full of track changes comes back with many more, but smaller, comments, and you go through the whole thing again, approving or declining suggested changes, writing notes of explanation, amending passages where you keep repeating yourself, checking back on original notes to make sure the sentence that now sounds a bit bizarre is actually correct, and so on.
Once that's done, the text goes to be typeset and designed. The finished book is so close now you can feel it. But someone has gone through your words and completely reworked how they sit on the page. Errors may have crept in. Also, this is the last chance to change anything before publication, so it's best to go through very carefully, reading every single word yet again, slowly, to make sure there's nothing else untoward. By this point you lose your place frequently, thinking, "I'm sure I've read this already", which of course you have, many times.
Once this read-through is finished, finally, that's it.
I finished the first draft of Miracle Brew on 8th September. I finished the second draft in late November/early December. I finished the copy edit in January. And I finsihed the page proof edit the day before yesterday. I'm handing those pages back to Unbound tomorrow, and it'll be off to the printers some time next week I guess.
This is a large part of why books take so long. But it's painstaking, necessary work, without which your reading pleasure would be interrupted by typos, inaccuracies, pointless digressions, and me describing hop aromas as 'fleeting' four times on one page.
So that's the monotony.
The delicious pleasure comes thanks to the breaks between the different readings. When I first finish a draft, I look at a page and think, "Oh yes, that's from the notebook I took to Australia, that next bit is from the book on the history of hop growing I was reading in August, then that's the bridging bit I wrote last week to tie them both together." A few months later, you've forgotten what the separate pieces looked like and can only see the whole, like any other reader would. By this time you read most of it and go, "Yeah, that's OK, that bit's a little flat, that makes sense, that could maybe have been a bit shorter," and then find a passage that makes you go, "Wow, did I write that? That's really good! Am I quoting someone else? Plagiarising someone? Nope, I guess that's my work. I don't remember it being that good when I wrote it!" Stephen King, the master of storytelling, refers to this as the manuscript proving and rising, like a loaf of bread, in the time you get to spend away from it.
And the anticipation is of course the giddy wait for other people to be able to share it. Some of you pledged for this book over two years ago. I've been living with it all that time, trying to make it as good as my ambition for it was back at the start of 2015. I find myself chatting about it to people, and then when I have to go back and do the next read I realise my informal chat was almost word for word what I'd written on the page. This book is imprinted on my mind. I really need to share it with people now.
So the good news is that printed copies should be back at Unbound HQ by late April/early May. Official publication date is 1st June, but I'm doing all I can to make sure subscribers get their copies as soon as possible.
And talking of subscribers... once the book goes to print, that's it too for the list fo subscribers in the back. That means that after 759 days, two years and one month since it opened for pledges and one year and five months after we hit our target, pledges for Miracle Brew will close at midnight on Sunday 12 March. If you know anyone else who's been thinking about pledging, or you want to get a gift for someone else, they/you have until then to do it. The book is already available for pre-order on Amazon and things like that, so it will be easy to buy a copy. But this is the last chance to be part of the book rather than simply a purchaser of it.
Thank you so much for subscribing. Not long to wait now.
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