Making a book

Friday, 28 April 2017

One of the delights of pledging for an Unbound book is the nice surprise you get when you receive said book in the post over a year later having completely forgotten about it.

I mention this (a) because my copy of Paul Bassett Davies’ Dead Writers in Rehab arrived yesterday, and (b) to continue the process of expectations-management vis à vis and in re this here book o’ mine.

For all that we bang on about how wonderful this process is (and I really do think it’s wonderful for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is that you can go into a bookshop, point to the book in question, and say ‘There. Look at that lovely thing. I helped make that’), there’s no doubt it’s not the most efficient way to buy a book. But what it does do, I hope, is give you some insight into, and appreciation of, the creative process.

Here’s a little timeline, based on my experiences so far:

HOW PEOPLE THINK A BOOK IS MADE
- Writer has idea, writes book, sends it to publisher (time taken: ooh I dunno, probably a month or two?)
- Publisher sprinkles fairy dust on book, publishes it (time taken: ooh I dunno, probably a month or two?)

By way of contrast, here’s the way Unbound present the process, taking it from the moment of 100% funding (and believe me, it took plenty of blood, sweat and wretched snivelling to get that far):
1. Funding target reached (Tick.)
2. The final draft of the manuscript is delivered (Tick.)
3. The editor edits. And edits. (HERE. WE ARE HERE.)
4. Cover and artwork design begins. (We are also a little bit here.)
5. The copy editor reviews the manuscript for consistency.
6. Typesetter formats manuscript for printing
7. First proofs come back and are sent to the proofreader
8. Final edits are made
9. Artwork finalised
10. Final proofs go to press

I reached Stage 1 on August 25th last year, Stage 2 on February 20th this year, and we are now in Stage 3.

The video above gives you some idea of what that stage is like. For all that I wanted the ‘final draft’ to be perfect, it’s an immutable law of writing that what the writer thinks is ‘final’ never is. I wrote what I thought was a pretty decent book and sent it to Scott, knowing all the while that this was but the beginning of the process. He would have things to say. Nice, constructive, positive and helpful things, but things nonetheless.

And he did. So I took those on board, added some bits, took away others, combed its hair, tucked its shirt in, and sent it back for what he ominously calls ‘the deep edit’. And when he sends it back I will work on it again, and so on until we have a version we’re both happy with and we can move on to Stages 4 – 10.

It’s a game of creative ping-pong that could, in theory, go on for ever, but will be interrupted by the necessity of wrenching the book from our unwilling hands and turning it into an actual physical thing.

As the video above shows, the editing process isn’t needless nitpicking. The worlds of music, art and literature are littered with masterpieces, the genius of which is the result of the creators’ capacity for infinite pains. So I’m confident that, whatever you think of the final version of Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear?, it will be significantly better than the one I so proudly called ‘finished’ a couple of months ago.

Maybe you’ll even feel you can walk into a bookshop, point to it, and say ‘There. Look at that lovely thing. I helped make that.’

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Getting ready for print
Publication date: June 2018
128% funded
327 backers