What It’s Really Like, Part 5: Page Proofs

I received the book design document last week.  This is a PDF that shows the book as it will appear in print.  My job was to read it through, note any issues, and get them back to the editor.  These are also called “page proofs” sometimes.

I did find some errors, but they were mine–continuity errors the team and I missed the last time through.  I sent back corrections, they were made, and I got a new version of the design with the changes.  It’s as perfect as it can be, so now I gather it goes to printing for ARCs.

ARC stands for “Advanced Reader Copy,” and those get sent out to various reviewers, book bloggers, and I think some stores.  The purpose is to generate “blurbs” and reviews to generate buzz and, hopefully, preorders.  Because let’s face it, the preorders from my friends and family won’t be enough to make the book a success.

Reading the proofs was fraught for me.  On the one hand, it was awesome to see the book as it will appear in the final form.  On the other hand, I’ve read the book so often over the last couple of years that I have lost all objectivity.

This is normal, I’m told.  Which is good to know, and which is why I’m writing this series.  Hopefully, some writer someday will read all this, and know that they’re not alone.  We’ve all been there.

Here’s to you, newbie.

What It’s Really Like, Part 4: Edits

I’ve been going through the edits on The Widening Gyre, and there is one thing that is true of both teaching and writing: You never stop learning.

I’ve learned that I have a bad habit of creating clusters of sentences with the construction “Someone does something AS something else happens.”  As my editor said, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that construction, but if you cluster them up as I’ve done, it calls attention to it and yanks the reader out of the story.

I’ve also learned that despite my having gone through the MS several times, I had a few leftover remnants of earlier drafts that had to be dealt with:

  • Events mentioned when, in the current draft, they haven’t happened yet
  • Characters names that have long since been changed
  • Ship names that are wrong

I also have a habit of using the gerund verb form to write sentences where characters do several things in sequence.  This is a problem, because that form really makes it seem like they are doing all the actions at once, which is, most of the time, completely impossible.

I also had a lot of “echoes”–words that are fine once, but when they happen three or more times on a page, it will yank the reader out of the story.

And there was, to be honest, a frankly inordinate amount of “snorting” going on.  Most, if not all, occasions of snorting got changed to other things.

Aside from these problems, the editor and copy-editor called my attention to several places where things weren’t clear, where a word I’d used might lead to misunderstanding, where things could be tightened.  And I found a fair few places on my own that seemed to work okay, but could be fixed with a small change to the sentence structure or a different word.

Going forward, I have some tics I’ll know to watch out for, because I’d hate to force my editor to deal with so many of the same issues in the next MS.

All in all, my first experience going through a manuscript edit for publication was really nice.  We’ll see how the next iteration goes!

 

The Importance of Local Bookstores for Authors–and the Reading Public

Long ago, in the dark days of my early-to-mid-twenties, I was a bookseller at Books, Inc. in Sacramento.  It was an odd job; very “Empire Records”-like in the way the staff interacted.  I kind of miss it sometimes, even though I rarely worked more than 20 hours in a week and I had to eventually leave it for a better-paying job.

But what I loved was helping people find books they would love.  I eventually ended up in charge of the Science Fiction/Fantasy section, because people knew that I was the guy who knew the genre well.  So anyone looking for SFF was quickly pointed my way.

Even in these days of Amazon and other websites that let you buy books, physical bookstores are important.  For one thing, Amazon is good for getting the book you already know you want, but it’s utter crap for browsing.  It’s much easier to walk the shelves in a real store, perusing the titles and author names, looking for something to catch your eye.

In addition, bookstores pay attention to what sells, and they log requests.  If people make the time to come in and special order a book, there is a better-than-zero chance the store will order a second copy for the shelves.

If enough people request or order the book, the bookseller is more likely to read and then handsell the book to people who want something new, but don’t know exactly what. This is what I did all the time, and if the bookseller liked the book, they’re going to push it.  This is why my store sold completely out of Ian MacDonald’s Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone.  We had ten copies, and not one sold until I got intrigued by the cover, read it, and then hand sold it to nine other people who came in looking for good SF.

A book on the shelf has a greater chance of being picked up on an impulse buy than a picture online, thus widening the audience.

Finally, if you shop at a local, independent store, you’re adding money to the local economy and helping a local business stay open.

Support your local independent bookstore. 

On Reviews of My Work, and How I’ll Handle Them.

Sometime in the very near future, reviews of my book will be appearing in the wild.  I’ve gotten a lot of well-meaning advice from friends to the effect of “don’t read them.”  But let’s be honest, here.  I wrote this book.  I sent it out for three rounds of Beta.  I rewrote parts of it extensively.  I sent it into the world and signed the contract to get it out to readers. How could I not read reviews?

I am totally going to read them.

Some of them will be positive.  Those I’m going to love.  Some of them I’m going to quote, either on Facebook, or on this site.

Some of them won’t be nice.  Those, I’ll do my best to shake off and move on.  I think I can.  One thing about being raised by a woman who beat me down nearly every day–I’m very good about hiding my hurt.

And yeah, they will hurt.  How could they not?  When one has poured oneself into a project for as long as it takes to write a book, and then a reader says it stinks, how could that not hurt?  But that doesn’t mean they meant to hurt me.

The bottom line is, no story works for everyone.  I happen to really like William Trevor’s Fools of Fortune, but others find it dreary and depressing.  I love space opera, others find it silly.  No big deal.  The world is big enough for all sorts of things to coexist, even things that are oppositional.

Accordingly, I will never respond to any negative reviews.  And I ask you, readers who like my stuff, to follow my lead.  Don’t engage.  Don’t comment and tell them they’re wrong, don’t say anything, and for the love of all you hold dear, please do not send me links.

Send me links to positive reviews, by all means.  But leave the negative ones alone.  Either I’ve already seen them or I will eventually.

I try to live by a philosophy I call “Let people like things.”  Even things I don’t like.  The opposite side of that is “Let people dislike things.”  I love the Ant-Man movies.  My wife doesn’t.  That’s okay.  More than okay, it’s how the world works.

Grief: It Never Really Ends

My daughter got us to watch a teen romantic comedy, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.  It was much better than I’d expected, and I actually recommend it if you like such things. 
There’s a really touching scene where the female lead talks about what it’s like to have lost her mom years ago, and it was pretty much perfectly accurate.
 
You go on like normal, and then when you’re doing something pretty routine, you start to think about your family, and then you realize you’ve almost forgotten there was ever a different way. And then you feel horrible for moving on, or you get a rush of grief that is every bit as powerful as it was before.
 
For a few years now, I’ve been visiting my mom’s grave in Clearlake at least twice a year. Sometimes it’s a few moments of sadness, but some visits, it’s dissolving into tears and missing her all over again, and also feeling awful because I can’t remember what her voice sounded like.
It’s the same with my father, my grandparents, and an old friend who died in my twenties. I go on with my life, and every once in a while, I remember there used to be a person where now there’s only a memory.  It get easier with time, but it never quite goes away.

Fountain Pens

Through several of my friends and classmates from Viable Paradise 17, I’ve gotten back into fountain pens recently.  And I keep asking myself why I ever left them.

I’ve always loved fountain pens, since I was 15 and I took a summer school course in Calligraphy (what can I say; I lived in Napa and it was the 80s–we had classes like that).  But while I’ve always kept my calligraphy pens, and used them from time to time, I drifted away from using fountain pens–they tended to leak, and there would inevitably be a day when something would get ruined.

Well, it took years for me to realize that that happened because I was buying cheap pieces of crap.  I don’t blame myself; I was poorer then and got what I could afford.  But now that I’m a working professional, I thought it was time to try some new pens.  I got turned on to The Goulet Pen Company, who sell pens from 1.50 to many thousands of dollars.

I started out with a relatively cheap pen, the Monteverde Monza. It was a decent pen, enough to get me interested again.  And then I saw it.

In Lightsaber collecting, a Unicorn Saber is the lightsaber that you simply must have, the perfect saber that will complete your collection.  Well, on the Goulet site, I found the Unicorn Pen.  It was far more than I could justify spending, but I told myself I would get it someday.

And then I sold my novel. As my wife and I had agreed, my first advance was mine to spend however I wished.  For the family, I bought a PS4 so we could play some games that aren’t on Xbox. But then I got my pen: the Platinum 3776 Century Chartres Blue & Rhodium.

If ever a pen was designed for me, it’s this one.  Cobalt/Chartres blue is my favorite color.  I prefer silver to gold.  It’s translucent, which I love.  And when writing, it feels like heaven.

I currently keep the pen filled with Platinum’s Blue Pigmented Ink.  It’s wonderful.

At school, I use another pen for correcting papers starting today: The TWSBI Eco demonstrator, currently filled with Noodler’s British Empire Red ink.

I have a few other pens, all very cheap, which I’ve all but stopped using.  The Platinum and the TWSBI are my go-to pens for now, with the Monza as backup at work.

But I doubt they’re the last pens I buy.

The Widening Gyre Now Available For Pre-Order!

Exciting news!  The Widening Gyre, my debut novel coming in March from Flame Tree Press, is now available for pre-order (in some formats)!

NB: Only the hardcover, paperback, and non-Kindle ebook are currently available to order.  If you want it as a Kindle book or an audiobook, you’ll have to wait a bit longer to pre-order.

Hardcover, Paperback, and Ebook can be ordered directly from the publisher.

Paperback can also be ordered from Amazon in the US.  All other formats WILL be on Amazon US eventually, but of course you can also order them direct from the publisher.

Amazon UK has both the hardcover and paperback available.

You should be able to preorder from book stores, as well, but I’m not sure if it’s percolated that far yet.  The ISBN for the paperback is 978-1787581432. That might help. If anyone does successfully preorder from a brick & mortar, please let me know!

So far the book isn’t on B&N.com, Kobo, or iBooks, but as soon as it is I’ll post that information.

Pre-Production Report: The next WIP

I’m currently in “pre-production” on a new-ish project, by which I mean I am engaged in working the kinks out of an idea I’ve been kicking around for some time.

In movies, pre-production is when art, financing, casting, etc. are done.  The script is finished, then broken down into scenes, and storyboards.  Location scouting, costuming, props, all are being worked on.

In writing a novel, pre-production is very similar to film work.  I’ve finalized the cast of characters (with, of course, room for new supporting roles as needed), and I’m working out the plot–or, rather, the plots, because this book has a few of them.

In The Widening Gyre, there are some subplots, but there’s really just the one throughline–as a first-person work, I could only show what Tajen himself was there to see.

In this new story, I’ve got four POV characters, and each one has their own plotline, beginning in vastly different parts of the Boundless Empire, each on their own path.  Now, before the end of the book, some of them will come together, and by the end, they’ll all be pretty interconnected, even if the characters never meet.  But that’s still four major plots, and every POV has at least one minor plotline.  All in all, this story has ten distinct story arcs.

This is even harder than TWG was, because in TWG, if I adjusted something, it might cascade to other things in the novel I had to adjust, but in this book, if I change one plot, it might have ripples that affect every other arc.  For example, I removed a meeting from one character’s plot–I decided having her go off on her own against orders, and have to deal with the ramifications of being something of an “outlaw,” was more interesting that just having her fight a mindless bureaucracy to get things done.   But removing that meeting meant a subplot that affected other plots had to change.  And that subplot’s change led to even more changes, even for storylines that at that point in the story are only tangentially related to the first arc.

It’s teaching me a lot about how to juggle plotlines, and each change forces me to think through elements of the story.  As a result, things that had been part of the story from the beginning are now falling away, discarded because they don’t make as much sense as they once did, but they’re being replaced by better elements that will make the story stronger and much more interesting.

I’ve also been adjusting certain character attributes, figuring out what makes each character tick–what their goals are, their individual psychologies, and even their appearances.  It’s a story far removed from Earth, again, and not part of present-day Earth cultures, but also informed by them.  So it’s very much a multi-ethnic cast, even if they don’t exactly correspond to modern-day ethnicities, and many of the characters are multi-racial.  I’m still working on names, because some of them are a little too modern for my tastes, but so far the cast includes Shin Kincaid, Alua Tan, Jen Tan, Ian Khan, Lavraj “Raj” Patel, Emily Kennedy, and Marian Neves.

Right now I’m mostly focussed on figuring out who the characters are under their skin.  Once that’s done, I’ll focus on their individual plotlines in earnest, and then once those are all nailed down, I’ll break them into scenes, then interweave the scenes so they work as a coherent, cohesive whole.  I figure I’ll be adjusting the whole thing as I go, until it’s time to start work on the composition–and even then I’ll be adjusting until the story is finished.

Writing, man.  It’s hard.

 

Friday Fragment: From WIP

This is from chapter 3 of The Blood-Dimmed Tide, book 2 of the Zhen series (which remains unsold; don’t get your hopes up):

Councilor Siiren rose from her seat in the circle around the outer edge of the room. Like all female Kelvaki, she was slighter than the men, about the same size as a human male. She stepped softly to my side, and her hand rose to rest briefly on my shoulder. “We do understand this, Captain.” She looked at Aljek, and her expression hardened into one of disgust. “What my esteemed colleague is asking, is why that should concern us?” She looked at Aljek. “Yes?”

He glanced at me, then at her, and then at the Ascendant, who was leaning forward, his eyes fixed on Aljek.  Finally he turned back to Siiren. “Yes,” he said grudgingly.  “Though I would not have phrased it quite so ineloquently.” Siiren hissed amusement; she knew damned well he would have.

I glanced at Liam, sitting on the side of the chamber. His wide eyes met mine, and I suddenly realized—I was standing in the middle of a power play that ultimately had nothing whatsoever to do with me or with Earth.  I was being used as a convenient lever to move a difficult piece in the Asendancy’s game of rule. I took a moment to consider my words carefully, then moved to the center of the chamber, turning to face Aljek and the Ascendant both.

More Cats Than is Strictly Necessary

One of the lines in my mini-bio, which I am perhaps inordinately proud of, is that I live in Sacramento, CA with “his wife, daughter, and more cats than is strictly necessary.”

Which is to say, four. And sure, four cats isn’t a terrible number of cats, but do we really need four? No, we do not.  And we didn’t really choose to have four of the little beasts.  Here’s how it happened:

When I was single, I had two cats, Caisha and Shinji.  Caisha was a lovely black cat, and Shinji was an adorable black and white kitty with a Hitler moustache.  They were best friends, though Caisha was twice Shinji’s age.

Then I started dating Elli, who also had two cats, Cleo, a tortie, and Fletcher, an “orange” tabby kitten.  Obviously, once we got married, our two cats each became four.

In late 2006, Shinji suddenly became very ill, and had to be euthanized–one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  He was only five years old.

I couldn’t even think about getting another cat for years.  Eventually, we discussed it, and we decided that a “one cat per person in the household” rule was good.

A couple of years later, we came home to find Caisha, who had been his normal self, catatonic under a cabinet, not responding to us.  We rushed him to the hospital, and to make a long story short, as I’ve written about this before, he, too, had to be put down.  Again, it wrecked me.

Eventually, we adopted Maggie, a one year old ragdoll.  She’s amazing, but we decided after a while that maybe three cats was too many, and so we’d let attrition whittle us down to two cats, and then we’d only have two.

Cleo, the oldest of the household, was failing fast, and at 17 years old, we had to put her down to spare her an increasingly painful decline into death.

We then went on with only two cats for a time, until friends had to give up a cat, and we took her in.  So now we have Celty, an adorable-but-neurotic cat of indeterminate age (at least 13, we think).

And then my sister asked if we could take another one.  He was adorable, and our daughter fell in love with him, so we adopted Loki, who is now two years old and seems to like me best, and then my daughter, and then–if she’s laying in the right place–my wife.

As the guy who does the majority of cat waste disposal, I have put my foot down: NO MORE.  And attrition until two cats is the rule of the house once more.  Four cats aren’t particularly hard to take care of, and they’re not destructive, but it’s a lot of work. I’m trying to get my kid to start helping, but you know kids and pets–dad does most of the work.

How many cats (or dogs, or rabbits, or whatever; we here at the Johnston house don’t discriminate) have you got?