There is a strange, stage-by-stage aspect to finishing a book. One feels done so many different times. Obviously when the last word is typed (for the first time). Then when the manuscript is revised following input from editors, agents, trusted friends, sagacious bus drivers. Then comes the copy-editor, and I review mine – Catherine Marjoribanks – (well, her work) just as she reviewed me. And that, just an hour ago, is what I’ve finished now. I’ve addressed all her notes, and sent the file back for her to clean up our marginalia and send to the publishers. Copy-editors, whatever they are paid, aren’t paid enough.
Catherine thinks she’s done six of my books (just proofreading the first time, copy-editing all the other times). We have a process by now. She knows what I need her to monitor, I know her fetishes. Indeed, this time she triumphantly reported catching me for the first time in an eye colour slip. I always ask her to check eye colour (light blue in an early chapter became dark blue much later in this one). I could say I planted it to give her something to exult about but I’d be lying, and you’d all know it.
These really are comma, semi-colon, paragraph break, tense shift, word-choice wars. And if everyone promises not to tell her, I’ll say I end up enjoying it. I think she does, too. She tells me she does. (‘You probably say that to all your authors.’) We have little dialogues in the margins. It is a pleasure to engage with someone for whom such tiny aspects of language and writing matter, as they do for me. If I use ‘stet’ a lot (‘revert to original’ is what it means) I do so knowing that whenever I do buy a proposed change, it has made the book better. The time I spend assessing and often not accepting is simply part of what one does with a book one cares about.
Next stages involve the production departments. Children of Earth and Sky will now be typeset – it’ll look as it will when people read it – and Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) in some to-be-determined quantity will be printed. The ARCs will start winging forth to selected victims (empowered recipients, whatever) late in the year, ahead of the May release. These go to the early reviewers, influencers, sagacious bus drivers of this world.
Meanwhile, the typeset pages come back to me and to a professional proofreader and we read for errors, slips, gaffes, typos. In theory. I am one of those writers (I know others) who use this late stage to make still more changes. Almost always just a word or punctuation shift by this point, for me, but this is also when I first see the book on a page, and it … just looks different. A version of the effect that happens if you read your writing aloud. I often make adjustments after doing that.
So, a brief downtime now, before I get the page proofs back in a couple of weeks. One nice thing in the interval: next week I go to Ottawa to get my Order of Canada medal from the Governor General. We are members as soon as named (summer 2014, for me), but the medals are presented with formal citations read out and a black tie banquet when a recipient is able to get to Ottawa on one of the dates they offer (some people take years to find time, I’m told). No jaded author here: I’m deeply honoured, and my mother is coming up with us. That part is pretty special.
Protocol does not dictate a curtsy or bow, by the way, but for those who really feel like it…