You’ve been there too, right?
You know, those times when you’ve asked someone for a second opinion, they politely tell you the truth, and your response is to flinch, even bristle.
“Harumph” is not the exact word I used.
On June 30th I sent my draft of the manuscript to the editor, then settled back to wait for his reply.
Twelve days later (a reasonable turnaround time), I received the reply. He’d sprinkled a few red marks here and there on the manuscript, fewer than I expected. I was puzzled; I knew the draft was far from perfect and needed an outsider’s educated response.
Then I read his cover letter, which included this:
“Those who bought your first book will love it as well as people who didn’t buy it but love art. But those who look for excitement and drama in memoirs will probably not finish it.”
What my brain heard was this:
“The readers of “Look at That” will love it.
Art lovers will enjoy it.
Anyone else probably won’t finish it.”
“… the pace is kind of repetitive and slow…. I think you can reduce the slow pace by deleting some of the words that aren’t really necessary to carry the story or give a message. You would be the best to judge where to cut.”
What?? Okay, I see what you mean, to a degree. But where exactly is it slow and repetitive? You were supposed to highlight that part, right?
Then it hit me: He couldn’t possibly highlight the slow parts because the repetitiveness and lagging tempos were embedded throughout the entire 37,979-word manuscript.
Ouch, I needed that.
Deep breath, another pot of tea, then I said to myself,
“You call that editing. I’LL SHOW YOU EDITING.”
I donned my green editor’s visor, pulled out my metaphorical red pencil, and chopped away over the next seven days. Full Bob Cratchit posture.
It took no time to integrate his suggestions for punctuation changes. That was the simple part.
Then I started the meticulous three-step process of rereading, and at times rewriting, the entire manuscript, one chapter at a time. I knew where each of the 158 illustrations would eventually be inserted, but decided, “This has to work as a text-only book, with no images at all. Then we’ll strategically add the illustrations at the last minute, before publication, and the book will really shine.”
I’d been away from the manuscript for a full two weeks (after having worked on it day and night for six months), so happily I had fresh eyes. I paced myself, no rushing allowed.
Step One: Upload just one chapter to ProWritingAid, a paid grammar-and-style-checking app that’s well worth the price for anyone who wants to clean up their writing. After PWA finishes reviewing, you go through each of their suggestions and decide to either accept or reject them. Then you export the results back to a new and improved document.
Step Two: In your new MS Word document, under the Review tab, go to the “Read Aloud” option, and listen to your chapter as if it were an audio book. Stunning experience! Typos missed now jump out. Awkward rhythms become obvious. Redundancy shows itself to be thinly-disguised cleverness. Delete. Distill. Repeat.
Step Three: Do a second “Read Aloud” with no changes, no touching that mouse even once. Delete the original defective chapter from the master manuscript, and copy-and-paste this new chapter in its place. That’s the final blessing of that one chapter.
Check off that step on the massive to-do list.
Then repeat with each of the other chapters.
After seven days (while also developing my first mild case of carpal tunnel numbness), I proudly discover I’ve axed 3,884 words as well as the links to four illustrations. 11% of the original manuscript gladly gone.
The final “Hit Save” then “Save As” steps of the newly polished, final manuscript were intoxicating.
I haven’t opened that file since.
It’s now in the hands of the graphic designer, along with the 154 illustration scans (here’s your preview!)
The same designer is creating the cover as well as the book’s interior, and despite her lovely examples of possible cover designs, I find I’m hopelessly married to my original concept that you’ve seen here before (it’s on the Tip Jar page too.)
I doodled the Double Take book cover idea back in January, during a brainstorming session with myself. At the time I used colored pencils which were fine but alas, now I crave the look of real watercolor. It needs to be done over. Luckily, I have those skills!
That’s my next step in this ongoing self-publishing saga. The publication target date of the end of September is still on track. Thanks again to my patrons for their generous donations to the Tip Jar. It will help defray some of the many up-front expenses of self-publishing. I have the best patrons ever!
As always, feel free to forward this post to anyone you think might enjoy it.
Public comments can be posted below.
Private questions, comments, etc. will reach me by using the Contact link here.
The Tip Jar is available here if you found this post or this website helpful, or if you would like to help support the production costs of my upcoming book, Double Take, the prequel to Look at That!
Finally, thanks so much for spending some “aloft” time with me.
Your post brought back memories (good ones, challenging ones, technical ones and exhaustive ones)! Most memorable was hours talking with your precious mother By phone and email. She was my book editor! ❤️ Lovingly, Gratefully, Jeayn
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Jeayn, I remember that time so clearly! You made Mom so happy, she was in her element, loved every minute. I know editing was one of her long-time dreams from her days at Macmillan in Boston. Self-publishing is not for the faint-hearted! 🙂
Wow, Bob. Your discipline and self acceptance are astounding. I can’t wait to read it all the way to the end.
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Beth, thanks so much. You’ll recognize me, I know! It was enlightening as well as humbling to reread all those entries from the last decade or so, then decide which to include in “Double Take.” It still has a fairly gentle tempo throughout.
As I said on the back cover, “it’s not everyone’s cup of tea!” Fingers crossed you like it!