The Making of a Book
This week we come to the final edits and the proofread. And for this I used Perry Iles. He describes his job as ‘look after the small stuff’, but attention to grammar, spelling and consistency (is it proofread, proof read or proof-read?) is vital at this stage, when the temptation might be think you’re on the home run and relax.
- If you’re paying for more than one proofread, you might want to keep one in reserve for when you have your final proofs.
- Always supply your proofreader with your House Style sheet. (Not familiar with this term? Here’s mine.)
Here’s what Perry had to say about working on Smash all the Windows:
I hadn’t worked with Jane before. I knew she’d written several novels prior to this one and that she’d won a couple of prestigious awards, so when she asked me to proofread her novel I was expecting something by a proficient author who knew what she was about. As an author who chose the self-publishing path, Jane was aware that her work would need editorial input. We all do, us authors, no matter how good we are. It’s the author’s job to get involved, to the extent where the bigger picture can sometimes disappear. We stand with our noses an inch from the bark, so it’s hard to say “What a lovely forest!” As a proofreader, I’m the last in the line. The book gets written, it goes through large-scale editing, which means sometimes it gets re-written, or at least altered bigly, as our orange friend across the puddle might say. Then it goes to beta readers, who usually find a few flaws or a spelling error that’s become so deeply encysted in the author’s mind that it just gets overlooked.
Then it comes to me. I call myself a proofreader, but I guess I’m a copyeditor too. I’ll find the odd typo, change a bit of punctuation, advise the author that they used the same phrase a few pages back in a different character’s dialogue, this kind of thing. I might make a few observations—death to all adverbs, don’t use the passive tense, show don’t tell, always insert a bit of setting into long dialogues to keep the reader grounded, that sort of thing. I’m a polisher. I seek not to re-write your book the way I’d have liked to have written it, I just want you to be you, on a good day.
So when Smash all the Windows came to me, I did my usual job. Except I did it with a lot more enthusiasm, because I realised I was in the presence of something that was beyond good. Here was literary fiction that actually told a story, here was a style so nuanced, sensitive and filled with empathy that I felt rather hesitant to tamper with it. But tamper with it I did, offering suggestions hither and yon—do this, don’t do that, add a bit here, re-phrase this. I stuck my nose in good and proper, so I did. And Jane did exactly what she should have done. She took on some of my suggestions, rejected some and adapted others. Her confidence was strong enough to know when and how to react to pretty much everything I said. Was she right to reject some things? Of course she was. I got my nose too close to the bark in that first editing process. When Jane had finished dealing with my copyedits, she sent the book back and I was able to read it as a reader, rather than as someone who was working on a project. It was pretty much flawless. The end result is a brilliant book, certainly one of the best I’ve ever worked on.
Did I improve Jane’s book? It would be foolish and arrogant of me to say I turned it from something into something else. That’s not my job. It would be a bit pathetic if I said I made no difference to it at all. I think that with the suggestions I made and Jane’s reaction to them, we made just the right amount of difference to it. I polished it. I improved it by maybe one or two percent, but small margins can be important in this world of ours. Smash all the Windows deserves to sell by the truckload. It’s a great book. Like a tugboat on an ocean liner, I maybe helped nudge it in the right direction, and I’m proud to have been involved.
Visit Perry Iles at Chamber Proof.
Email him at email@example.com
The Making of a Book
If you missed any of The Making of a Book series of posts, you can find the links below:
Book Launch Update
My book launch will take place at London Book Fair, an annual coming together of over 25,000 professionals in the publishing industry, and the global marketplace for rights negotiation and the sale and distribution of content. This will be joint event with authors Rohan Quine and Dan Holloway, who was also structural editor for Smash all the Windows and for Rohan Quine’s novel, The Beasts of Electra Drive. You can read about my experience of working with Dan here.
On 14 April I’ll signing first editions at Barton’s Bookshop in Leatherhead, Surrey from 10.00am until 3.30pm. Do come along and say hello! But if you live in the UK, would like a signed copy, but can’t get along to Barton’s, just drop me a line. I will include 2nd class postage and packing to UK addresses in cover price of £8.99.
Meanwhile, you can pre-order the ebook at the special price of £1.99/$1.99 (it will cost £3.99/$3.99 on release).
Next week, typesetting. And I’ll also be talking to Ali Bacon about her photography-themed Edinburgh-based historical novel, In The Blink of an Eye.