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. 

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.

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?

 

 

 

A little experiment: Open Questions

Okay, so… I’m no Scalzi, but I thought maybe I’d try to do a reader question period.  I don’t have a ton of readers, but if you have any questions about my writing, or (more entertaining, most likely) teaching, or what-have-you, feel free to ask in the comments.  I’ll answer in a post or three.

Or none?  That’s possible, too.  We’ll see what happens!

Writing the New Project

I’ve spent much of the last few days shaking off the 2016-2017 school year.  It wasn’t a bad year, as teaching years go, but it still takes a lot out of you.

But, it’s over, and now is the Writing Time.  And the house-cleaning time, and the child-raising time.  But without work-time, those other things go smoother.

I’ve been looking over my plot outline for _Year of Rage_, and … wow, it was bad.  Whole chapters had to go.  Luckily, I’ve been on a roll writing new chapter outlines, so I think the book will be okay.  It just needed some adjustments.  A character was cut, but I think she was superfluous, and a new character was created that will fit into the plotline even better than her predecessor.

The hard part right now is answering questions about the stellar nations in the book.  Why is the T’lari Alliance so interested in the Boundless Empire?  Why did the Matuush Ascendancy stop innovating so long ago?  Why did nobody explore Khuta in the 1400 years it’s been a dead world? What happens if the Emperor of the Boundless Empire dies without heirs (hint: They’re tanists).

It’s exhausting, and often the questions are answered, then a note saying “Gods below, don’t ever put this in the book!” is appended.

Right.  Back to work.

Reporting from the Query Wars

Queried: 38 Agents, 3 publishers
Form Rejections: 30 (28 Agents, 2 publishers)
Requests for Partials: 5 (all agents)
Personal Rejections: 3
Still out: 3 Agents, 1 Publisher

Neither publisher got past the slushers, near as I can tell.  And that’s okay; I expected that.  I haven’t had a partial request since last summer, which is wearing on me, but them’s the breaks, and as a friend has said, it’s basically a numbers game.  40 queries is still in the little league of novel rejections.