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Whew. What a week. After a balmy weekend, we actually got a glimpse of the back lawn. So that’s what grass looks like.

And then on President’s Day (Monday), things went back to normal:

I’ve had a lot to deal with.

On Friday I got the first round of edits for the Damn France Book from my publisher,

so all this week I’ve spent 8 – 10 hours a day making the fixes.

Plus, I finally trapped the feral cat that I call Bibs, who’s had a bad head wound for a week, and I had to schlepp him to the veterinary hospital for surgery.

He’s spending at least another week in my kitchen, in his cat condo, which is two largish holding cages linked together so he gets exercise room. I hoped he would use at least one of the cages as his salle de bain but nope, Bibs is firmly and proudly not housebroken.

And of course we all know how important Vitamin D is to the healing process, so I move him from the kitchen into whatever room is getting the rays so he can take his sun bath.

(In case you’re  wondering, draping the cage on three sides, gives a feral cat the feeling that he’s protected, as if in cave, and is the best way to keep them calm. It looks like hell but it does the trick.)

And as if I didn’t have enough to deal with, with the book edits and the sick cat who needs his cage linens changed twice-three times a day, Top Cat decided to grow a goatee.

So it’s been a busy week.

Now, you might think that making the tiny edits of punctuation and the occasional word change might be a breeze at this point in the book writing process — after all, the hard part is getting all those words down on all those blank sheets of paper, right?

But no. Edits are a very heartbreaking phase of book writin’. Here’s why:

This is my editing set-up. That’s my original manuscript of the Damn France Book balancing on the back of the couch in the den. That’s the editor’s black and white photo copy of the manuscript on the little table to the right. It contains all her edit marks on it, in blue ink. (Yeah, I thought red ink was de rigueur, but times have changed.)

About 80% of the editor’s pages have some kind of mark on them — punctuation notes, delete marks when I’ve repeated a word needlessly, carrots when I’ve forgotten a word, once in a while a question mark on a whole paragraph that means I need to re-write it in better English.

But even adding the tiniest punctuation marks shifts the whole text, meaning that each change necessitates a whole new lay-out of text on the page, in order to accommodate the illustration and the newly configured wordy stuff. That’s where the light box (on the small table to the left) comes in. I put the original page of my manuscript on it, using a specially rules guide that I made myself, to be sure that the new work is centered and within the trim size of my book (which will be 8″ x 9″ when the book is published, but allowing for the printing process margins means I have to keep everything within 7 1/4 ” and 8 1/4 “, being sure to add extra space on the bottom so the optical effect isn’t bottom-heavy).

I don’t mind telling you that it is heartbreaking to have to re-do an entire page of text all because I forgot to use quotation marks in the second line. (And I have a habit of forgetting to use quotation marks.) It’s a little better when I have to re-write a whole paragraph — that makes the  new lay-out worth the trouble; but often as not it’s only a word or two that needs to be changed and it’s as much bother as if it were a whole paragraph.

And oh, yeah: it seems that every one of those pages that you find in the front of a book, the ones with copyright and title and author and dedication stuff on it — every one of those pages has a name, and they go in a certain order, which I didn’t know. So I had to shift the page order in the front of the book, which also screwed up all the subsequent page numbers, which meant that I had to re-paginate 208 pages by hand. Which is why the page numbers are on Post ‘Em notes but still; I had to shift 208 Post ‘Em notes and I’m pretty sure that regular word-writers don’t have to deal with manual page counts ever

It’s heartbreaking because this is just the first  round of edits: when I make all these corrections, it will go to a proofreader who will be looking at every little thing to make sure I made the corrections correctly and will nail me if there’s any thing the least bit wonky about my spacing, my commas, or my spelling. And of course she’s going to bitch about all names of the seasons that I capitalize.

But it’s this persnickety editing that makes the difference between a real book and a self-published book. Although typos still sneak into a real book, the self-published books that I’ve seen are infested with them and they drive a reader — even one as lax as me — crazy. (You know how awful it is when I don’t spell-checkt his blog, right? Imagine that multiplied by 200 pages….ewwwwwwwww.) So in order to give my readers as smooth, as calming, as trouble-free a reading experience as possible, I will gladly drive myself crazy with these edits. It’s what I fork over 80% of the cover price of the book for.

Speaking of covers, I must say that I LOVED reading all your comments about covers. Smart, smart, smart — you people are outstanding! I don’t have access to such a breadth of knowledge and interpretation when I’m sitting here all by myself so I need your input. I looked up all your recommendations on books that had fabulous covers, but so far I haven’t found anything that I can steal. Yet.

But I appreciated reading what you thought of the cover for When Wanderers Cease to Roam, because getting my own art work on the cover was a battle and I’m glad I made myself unpleasant in order to get what I believed in.

And in case you were wondering, Yes, those are my own suitcases on the cover, just a small part of my collection of vintage luggage. I still have them, and I got them out last weekend to show you:

I tried to get one of the cats to do the Slumbering Cat pose for you but nooooo. They were all too busy.

(This is Taffy, one of the allegedly feral cats from my backyard, who is Wintering in my basement, who has decided that he likes to keep us company from time to time. Make yourself at home, fella.)

I also started googling “Best Book Covers of All Time” and, with Joan‘s comment about how a chair on a book cover always appeals to her, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find this:

So now that the first round of edits are done, I’ll mail a new black and white photo copy of the manuscript of the Damn France Book back to Bloomsbury this weekend, and I’ll spend the next week figuring out what to do about the cover.

And when I get some ideas sketched out, I hope to bore you all with them. Please?

Do I have any volunteers to be my focus group?

17 comments to How Publishing Really Works, Or Not, Part 3.

  • Carol

    I loved your suitcase/cat cover–and I really like the idea of a chair–keep me posted on your ideas for the France book!

  • Me, pick me (I am frantically waving my hand in the air!!!) for the focus group. My only credential is that I am actually in France. I LOVE hearing about your book. I mentioned in my post today which I hope is okay. I figured if you are talking about it like this that it was okay but if not by all means break out the rage, I can take it.

    Thanks for the ongoing glimpse into the publishing business…


  • How about THE SAME picture of the cat on the cases; BUT a window with the Eifel tower behind? – Or, a familiar bridge over the Seine River in Paris, with Notre Dame in the background? Same border, same artwork, same cat.
    Same look. “Vivian Swift” in big letters on the front,like WWCTR.
    Then…. when you do book three, it will all be familiar.

  • Susie

    Awwww, shoot. Too bad there isn’t a way to have this book be an orphan like your first one. Not to be a crepe hanger, but I hope the editor isn’t killing the heart of your charming manuscript…I mean, your book will be lovely, I can’t wait for it, neither can my 92 yr old Mom (she wants to have it before she’s blind or dead, eh?) but if it’s too perfect, will it really be YOU? What we love about your first book is it’s freshness, it’s spontaneity, that certain “soomthing”, that Vivian-ness, that spark……That Damn France Book WILL be you, just very correct and perfect.

    And I had a heart warming chuckle over your cat adventures with Bibs. I trap, neuter and mostly adopt feral cats, too. Punkin, who was an old feral cat old when we got him had a head wound, nasty, smelly. We’ve had him for 11 years, he never left. Probably waiting for his testicles to come back… He did decide to use the litter box after while. Anyway, it’s so good to hear of another kind soul on this under-appreciated mission.

    So sorry about the goatee….I nearly peed my pants laughing.

    Can I leave a long reply? Delete it if it’s too much….

  • Janet

    Pls sign me up for your focus group – and I agree with you that the comments about the cover last week were very interesting. My boss spent months going through the dance with an editor for her book that came out this week — they do generally make things better, but in your case it does create a mountain of work for you. My Woody Robinson was a long-haired white feral tom cat that I named Elvis, and he was such a wild guy when he first showed up. He stayed for many years and died a few years ago when he was 23. Haven’t really had the heart to replace him.

  • JOAN

    I’d love to be part of the focus group, don’t know that I’m qualified to be. I don’t mind you posting, ranting, bragging…whatever it takes to get your book editing done. Please trot out the ideas and run them past us.

    I’m amazed that the CHAIR showed up as best of book covers…I still don’t know what it is that “calls” me when I see chairs on covers, but if Steinbeck (one of my fave authors and Tennessee Williams came up as best covers, I’ll just leave it with them.

    Hopefully your editor will agree with all of us that your art work on the cover is a must! Tell her that there might be a very noisy demonstration outside her spiffy office in the Flat Iron Bldg. if she doesn’t concur with the Vivianites, the Swifties…HA

  • Shirley

    Would love to be in the focus group! In Paris March 1-9 but after that I am ready and willing and excited about the prospect of maybe being chosen. Loved reading about the publishing process. Thanks.

  • Jen

    I would be happy to be a focus groupie too!

  • Shelley

    Sign me up for focus groupie status too! I have no qualifications at all except loving your work, and being willing to give an opinion when asked.

    It’s great how you are de-mystifying the publishing process for us. I will appreciate books even more, knowing just a bit of what goes into birthing one!

    I agree with Susie that what I love about your books is your unique perspective, not whether all the quotation marks are in the appropriate place.

    And, my two cents on the seasons ~ definitely capitalize them! Winter with a capital W packs way more punch than plain old winter.

    And, the cover absolutely MUST have your artwork!

  • I would just like to say that Top Cat looks very handsome in his goatee and I for one would go out on a date with him.

  • Deborah

    Thank you for taking the time to make the book so nice for us. It makes my head swim just reading about all that you have to do to make one ‘simple’ change.

    I’d love to focus on it

    (Just back from a pro-union rally in Indy — my favorite sign: GOP high on Koch, held by a man dressed like Robin Hood)

  • Nadine

    Way to go, Deborah! I’ve had enough of the oligarchs blaming the victims for this economic mess. It takes guts to demonstrate outside in Winter in Indianapolis.

    I have no visual sense so I’m not a good candidate for your focus group. However, I’m a demon at punctuation if you need help.

  • I’m happy to help in any way needed – just let me know. Wow, reading what you need to do to edit makes me tired (yes, we word writers do have it easy). Thank you for all that you do to make your books fabulous!

  • Sure, I’ll be in your focus group. But I’m at the other end of the country, in Portland, Oregon. BTW, my vote for the best book cover of ALL TIME is “Born to Kvetch,” by Michael Wex. Have you seen it?

  • Another volunteer for your focus group right here, if needed…

    I loved your first cover. I just read “How to be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto” by Tom Hodgkinson – I have the hardcover and I like the cover a lot – it reminds me of yours with its one image in the middle and a border of sorts around the outside, and lots of easy-on-the-eyes white space inbetween. I see from google images that the softcover edition is good too (it even has a chair – well, a guy sitting in a chair), and handlettering, and an offbeat sketchy quality.

  • p.s. those French cafe chairs I love in the inside of your book would look so nice on your cover, if you do choose chairs… so quintessentially French!

  • From the north woods of MN, I would love to be included in the focus group. I gave your book to a friend in Seattle for Christmas and sent her a link to your blog so she could see your travel plans. The chair idea reminded me of the other blog I follow bi-weekly, Veronica Funk, who specializes in painting cozy chairs. I also vote for the French cafe chair idea for the cover. Anyone who has been to France or fantacizes about being there pictures themselves in a Paris cafe. Thanks for your blog which inspires and amuses.

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