In my journey to becoming a professional author, I've talked with dozens of other writers about both the creative aspect and the business aspect of writing. It's fun and illuminating to discuss the nuances of plotting, world-building, character development, and style. It's also deeply interesting to find out the details of other people's contracts, and both depressing and encouraging to discover the wide range of incomes that writing generates.
Yet, in all my years of discussing the writing craft, I've never sat down with another author and talked about the act of editing galleys. Galleys are the last step in the editing process of a book. In my case, my publisher, Solaris, has typeset the book. They email me a PDF of the typeset pages. This is the book as it will appear in print--except, I have one last shot at making changes.
In theory, all the typos and mistakes have been fixed in earlier editing passes. It's also far too late to make any changes to the plot or characters. Solaris would probably have a fit if I decided to chop three chapters and replace them with all new text. Every major decision is locked in at this point.
Editing the galleys isn't about the big picture. It's a long, sometimes tedious, step by step analysis of every word and punctuation mark. While some of the things I correct are actual mistakes, a lot of things I'm changing are simple judgement calls. For instance, on page 109 of the galleys, I found this sentence, spoken by the Slavecatcher General, Vulpine: "Instead of allowing this news to spread hope of rebellion among the humans, it's important that humans shiver with horror when they hear the words Dragon Forge." This sentence says what I mean it to say, but on this reading it sounded odd to my inner ear to use the word "human" twice in the sentence. So, I crossed out the second "human" and wrote the word "men" at the edge of the page.
While there are tools that would allow me to make notes electronically on a PDF, I do all my galley editing on paper. Up to this point, I've only seen the book as a Microsoft Word file. Before, if I wanted to change a word, I could just select it and type over it. But, I think there's a value in printing out the book and reading it close to its final form. Experiencing my words on paper is somewhat different than seeing them on a screen. Also, it's nice not being tethered to my laptop. I can read my galleys while I'm eating at a restaurant.
I'm usually given two to three weeks to review my galleys. At the end of it, I type up all my changes in Microsoft Word, noting the page # and paragraph # of the sentence I want to alter. It's rare that I do more than change a word or two per page. I'm currently up to chapter ten, and I'm actually striking a whole sentence of dialogue and replacing it with something new in that chapter--I make changes this ambitious probably only once every fifty pages. On the other hand, if I go more than two pages without making any changes, I worry that I'm not paying enough attention, or perhaps I'm paying attention to the wrong things. At this point, I've been away from the novel for several months... it's easy for me to get swept up in the storyline. As nice as it would be to read the whole book in a weekend, I have to stop every two or three chapters and do something else for a while so I can keep a little distance from the story, and return to it with fresh eyes.
Here's a link to the uncorrected galleys of the first three chapters of Dragonseed. The first change I make is at the bottom of the first page of chapter 0ne: I've crossed out the word "practice" and replaced it with the word "actuality." At the top of the next page, second paragraph, I've crossed out the words "not to stop" and replaced them with the words "to keep moving." It sounds more active and more in keeping with Turpin's speech patterns.
And so on. I won't bore you with every change I'm making in these first three chapters. It's all subtle, picky stuff. I strive to make my writing style simple and clean; I value clarity and flow. My goal is to keep the reader focused on the events on the page rather than the words on the page. My writing style looks like it would be easy to achieve, and perhaps for some people it would come naturally. For me, however, it involves pass after pass, constantly polishing. Hopefully, the results are worth it.
Welcome to my worlds!
I'm James Maxey, author of fantasy and science fiction. My novels include the science fantasy Bitterwood Saga (4 books) the Dragon Apocalypse Saga (4 books), numerous superhero novels including Nobody Gets the Girl and the Lawless series, the steampunk Oz sequel Bad Wizard, and my short story collections, There is No Wheel and Jagged Gate. This website is focused exclusively on writing. At my second blog, Jawbone of an Ass, I ramble through any random topic that springs to mind, occasionally touching on religion and politics and other subjects polite people are sensible enough not to discuss in public. If you'd like to get monthly updates on new releases, as well as preview chapters and free short stories, join my newsletter!
Monday, February 23, 2009
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Thanks for the preview! That definitely helps a little.
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