Thursday, February 16, 2006

On Proofreading and New Editions

As I’ve mentioned, I’m using my blog to describe the lifecycle of a mystery novel with my third book, Candy from Strangers—which is being published by Bleak House Books this September—as the prototypical example.

However, I’m also in the midst of what you might call a “mini-lifecycle” with my first novel, The Immortal Game, which Bleak House is bring out in a new trade paperback edition this March. I thought I’d use the next few postings to give you a feel for some of the activities involved in bringing a reprint to market.

The Immortal Game was originally published by Poltroon Press in Berkeley. Poltroon did a wonderful job with the design—modeling the book after the first edition of The Big Sleep—but could not afford a professional proofreader. We “solved” this problem by enlisting friends and family to review the final draft, and since they found so many typos, I thought we had things well in hand.

I thought we had things in hand, that is, until I started getting all the e-mails, letters and comments at my readings. All of the mistakes were my own fault, of course, and some of them were very embarrassing.

The buyer at a distributor we were using, who loved the book and had a gray-haired ponytail such as fan of 1960s music might sport, pointed out that Jimi Hendrix’s first name was not spelled “Jimmy.” After a signing in my neighborhood bookstore, I got an e-mail from someone who lived in the area suggesting that I could see a Galaxie 500 like the one August Riordan drives parked on a particular corner. He said a trip to visit the car might particularly informative because then I would see that its name is not spelled “Galaxy” like the heavenly body.

Most embarrassing of all, I was told that, like Andy Sipowicz on NYPD Blue, I’d mixed up prostrate for prostate. And there were many other errors of a less egregious sort.

Bleak House Edition

I’ve been working with Alison Janssen, my editor at Bleak House, to prepare the text of The Immortal Game for the new edition. Before sending off the file, of course, I made sure to crank in all the corrections I’d accumulated from the prior edition. There were a lot.

And once again, because there were so many, I assumed that I was out of the woods in terms of handing over a clean draft. Wrong typo-breath!

Bleak House does engage the services of proofreaders for their books, and when Alison put them to work on the manuscript, they found quite a few more. They also found a few errors of logic and generated a several questions about language choices I made. Here are a few examples:

Terri's tattoo is on her left breast on p19, and on her right breast here.
Terri is the femme fatal in the book and the tattoo in question is of a praying mantis. Apparently, I’d moved the location of the mantis without realizing it.

“Teller’s are there in several places: the refrigerator door, the beer bottle, the photograph you said he was holding when he walked in.”

Suggested change:
“Teller’s are there in several places: the refrigerator door, the beer bottle, the photograph you said he was holding when you walked in.”
This is a logic error. This is dialog spoken by spoken by a cop to August Riordan. The cop is talking about fingerprints, but August was the one who walked into the room in question, not the character named Teller.

“I suppose that makes sense,” said Stockwell. “Why leave any more loose ends than you have to. Well, how’s to rifle the wallet. Or have you already done that?”

One proofreader was curious about the bolded sentence. Is it as you intended? Should it end with a question mark?
"How's to" is made-up slang that Raymond Chandler created and I use it occasionally. It basically means "how about," so we agreed to put a question mark at the end of the sentence where it’s used.

All this goes to show that it’s very difficult to publish a novel (especially from a typo-prone writer like me) without the professional services of a lot of other people besides the author. I’m very pleased that Bleak House has brought to bear the appropriate resources and I’m looking forward to their edition as the definitive one for Game.

Dated References

Apart from plain old typos and logic errors, another thing that is tempting to address in a new edition of a previously published novel is anachronisms. Like all of my books, The Immortal Game is set in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley and involves computers, software and other high technology. One of the challenges in writing about software and computer technology is that it changes so fast. For example, when the first edition of the book was released in 1999, people were still using floppy disks to distribute software and the PC operating systems extant were Windows 98 and Windows NT.

Among other things, the first edition of The Immortal Game had references to these items and Alison and I discussed whether or not we should try to remove or update them. Of course, any novel is a portrayal of a particular place and time—that’s part of the appeal of reading novels from the past—and changing things to keep up with technology is a losing game. If you change Windows NT to Windows XP, eventually XP, too, will be out of date.

Alison didn’t feel strongly about making the changes, but in the end, we decided to remove some of the references and update others because, by and large, the novel still reads like it is set in the present time and a mention of floppy disks might be jarring to readers of the new edition who are not expecting a late 1990s setting.


At 9:54 AM, Blogger Lady M said...

Thank you for the internal look at the editing process.

I do like the cover difference, btw.

When looking at it, I thought of what I would do with it, if it were my project.

I would have put your name on the top... The title below the pictures or near the bottom of them... I would have put a black box around the pictures, framing them on the outside - and I would have left off the red horse chess piece. (Your name would have been in green metallic, shiny letters, the Title of the book, in White lettering.)

I also would have put the #1 of the series at the very bottom underneath the title, in italicised print, much smaller than the other writing.

I do however like the more sepia color than the glaring bright tones.

These are just my thoughts - but I'm not in the industry - and I don't know costs or if it would be more marketable... Those were just the ideas that came to my mind. And, me being the perpetual pain in the arse, I thought I'd tell you.


Hope you don't mind.

I wish you well on the sales, promotion and continuance of great writing.

Lady M

At 7:57 PM, Blogger John Daniels said...

Thanks for the post!


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