It gets late early out there…

(Yes, a Yogi Berra quote. You’ll see what I mean about timing and accelerated schedules as you get into this one!)

Because my last few books have been spring releases, it seems that each time as the International Festival of Authors begins here, and Penguin (or, now, Penguin Random House) throw a cocktail party to get the show started, I end up in ‘discussions’ with people over wine and whatever hors d’oeuvres the servers are floating past with. No, it isn’t too early for this, they always tell me (the publishing people, not the servers!). I always mentally check the date and become aware, again, that long lead times are so the norm in publishing.

I have Serious Sit Downs ahead. With marketing and publicity and editorial here in November, and in NY in early December, and am meeting my UK editor (he promises single malt) in two weeks at Saratoga Springs.

Right. Saratoga, in upstate New York, is where the World Fantasy Convention is this year (the Chair tells me standby memberships can possibly still be scored). It is a lovely town, and WFC is my own favourite con … and not only because a diverse and gallant group seek each other out late at night deploying secret signs, having brought from their far corners of the planet good bottles of whisky to share. (There may be a theme emerging for this post, yes.)

I’ll also be doing the worldwide first reading from Children of Earth and Sky there, on Friday November 6th. I debuted both Kitai novels that way, too. This is always tricky for me, as it is well before I am really ready to talk about a new book (May release, remember!) but WFC offers a truly good mix of colleagues, professionals, book lovers, and it feels like the best place to open up a bit on the novels. Does also mean I need to give thought in next little while as to what I want to read.

Readings … we all need 5 minute, 10 minute, 20 minute passages when a book comes out. (I think going much longer is usually a mistake.) Actually, I’ve even been asked on radio to read a one minute snippet. All these need to be sorted out, though for me it always evolves as I start touring … you discover what feels right, learn what audiences respond to.

At this moment I am awaiting the Return of the Manuscript. The copy-editor, Catherine Marjoribanks, emailed this morning to say I’ll have it back tomorrow afternoon or Wednesday morning. Then she gets to relax and I get to be driven crazy by what she’s done to me. Mostly joking. Copy-editing is critically important (and I’ll add that it is too-often not done carefully these days). For one thing, a good one monitors consistency, and through a big book written over a long time, it is easy to run into issues. Usually small, but in a way nothing is small.

Catherine and other copy-editors are also looking down at the level of commas and paragraphing. If I disagree with her deletion or insertion of a comma, I’ll change it back, and she knows I will. In turn, I know she’s being thoughtful when she makes suggestions and even if I don’t agree with a perercentage of them, whatever I do accept has – this seems obvious – improved my book. I used to get irked when younger, by having to change things back. I don’t, any more. I’m grateful for attentive eyes on my pages, and for a copy-editor I’ve worked with several times now. There’s a comfort zone that emerges.

It is a painstaking process, though. And done under deadline. Publishers want the finished, copy-edited manuscript by November 17th, and I even had to ask the production director to do battle, to get that date pushed from the 10th. (May book, remember! These timetables can induce a shaking of the Authorial Head.)

Once the manuscript is with them the publishers move (quickly) towards a few things. They make what are called First Pass pages, set as they’ll look in the finished book. From these they also make Advance Reading Copies (ARCs). The ARCs are what will go off to reviewers, ‘influencers’, people who buy authors well-aged single malts. (Joke. Really!) ARCs always indicate ‘please check against finished book before quoting‘ as these pages still need to be proofread, by a professional and by the author – though some writers do skip doing this. Errors will creep in to typesetting (and errors often linger in books, as we all know, even with proofing).

So this update, as I await my novel’s return to me, is to say, it is getting tangible with this book. I had a running joke in an earlier edition of these tour journals with that word tangible, but any writer will tell you are are many, many stages to a book feeling done, real. A few will be ticked off here in the next few weeks.