Tag Archives: editing

Back to work under the gaze of Mariah Carey

Phil: Regular readers will be pleased to know there were no fights in team NolanParker last week in Birmingham last week.

No, we met up in the Museum cafe and enjoyed some excellent tea, cake and chat. As Candice said last week, our problem is that we have more projects than time and this means none of them is making any headway. We need to focus on one, get it down and then move on to another.

First, we focused on eating cake – result – cake was eaten. Well done us!

Next, there was a look at our writing ambitions.

We’ve got 2 books out and a third half-written. But, and it’s a big but, we’ve never been entirely happy with the first one. There’s nothing really wrong with it, the story and jokes are excellent, but it didn’t seem like a finished and polished package.

Kate vs the Navy benefitted from a proper proof-reading. Kate vs the Dirtboffins was proofread, but not nearly as well. Some things you just have to pay for, instead we relied on our (then) publisher.

So, Book 1 has been sent off for proofing and we received the results a couple of weeks ago. As ever, Catherine has done a superb job. We learned a lot about our own book from the list of characters and locations in the accompanying notes. She also complimented up on some aspects of our writing.

But, this still leaves a huge number of changes to be looked at from tiny punctuation marks to sentence tweaks to pick up the pace. Someone has to go through these and I volunteered that someone better be me.

So, last Saturday I grabbed a seat in my local library. Candice being unavailable to supervise me, Mariah Carey stood in for her.  You’d never know them apart except that MK is older. And on a bag of crips. (No, I don’t know why)

I thought a good day we see this done. It wouldn’t, Katherine has been far too thorough. 6 hours and a second location with cake later, I’m only at chapter 10. That’s about 1/3 of the way through the book. After that, I’ll be left with the bigger changes that will need the full team to discuss.

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Beriberi doesn’t cause diarrhoea. Try dysentery.

Phil: We’re hard at work on the Kate vs the Navy’s edits thanks to some really superb work from proofreader Catherine Fitzsimons.

All the way through the manuscript, Catherine has annotated changes and made suggestions. Working on these is a little like the days of handing your work in to a teacher and seeing what they have written at the bottom of the page.

We’d expected little more than a tidy up for the grammar and spelling plus some useful text formatting. What we have is far better. Catherine has read the book and provided all sorts of plotline advice. There are notes about references that appear later in the book, the sort of the things you only know when you have fully grasped the structure of the narrative. To be honest, I think she knows our book better than we do!

Along the way there are also technical points such as the sort of illness one of the characters could have suffered in the past, although Candice was glad to have read this AFTER eating her Warwickshire Rarebit lunch (It’s like Welsh, but with local ingredients since you ask).

Once you get over the idea that someone has criticised your work, then the process of applying many of the suggestions is great fun. For a start, we have to really think about sections of text, some of which require a bit of head-scratching. However, the result will be far better than we’d have managed on our own and makes the service well worth every penny.

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Book 2: Status update

Status report

Phil: There you go, over the last 3 weeks you’ve been able to enjoy Kate vs the Dirtboffins opening chapters for free – and we’ve generously dropped the price of the e-book to 99p. Now you want to know where we are with the follow-up Kate vs the Navy.

Well, the proof readers have enjoyed it. We’ve looked at a couple of plot niggles but generally, thanks to our experience planning the story, there’s no wholesale re-ordering of chapters. Yay!

The whole lot is now with a professional editor who is sorting out all our typos and lumpy grammer. Much as we’d love to say it’s not neceassary, our readers say it is and even if they didn’t, we’d still do it as your text can never be too perfect. Yes, it’s going to cost money, but definitely, money well spent. One of the advantages of writing with someone else is you get to split the bill and convince each other how essential it is to take on the cost.

The cover design is also being outsourced with the intention that it has a similar look to the first book.

Release date? Well, we’re working on it. No promises, but soon. Watch this space…

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Pity the man who has to say no

I'm sorry, butPhil: Following on from Candice looking at things from the literary agent point of view, I thought I’d relate a recent tale along those lines, one that will hopefully provide some guidance to anyone hoping to see their name at the top of a magazine article.

One of the jobs I have is editor of an on-line model railway magazine. It’s basically an edited letters page with added news and other articles. We don’t have a budget for submissions but that doesn’t always put people off. Our ranking on Google is pretty good and as a first place to see your name over an article, it’s an excellent choice. You might not get paid, but it could be a stepping stone to greater things*.

The first and most important rule when approaching any publisher is:

Write what they are looking for.

Don’t pester Motorcycle News with 5000 words on growing pansies. It doesn’t matter how good a piece you’ve written, they really, really, aren’t interested.

In the book world, if your publisher specialises in sickly romance, your mix of Andy McNab and vampires, probably won’t spend much time between slush pile and bin.

We have been very careful to send our manuscript to agnets who have worked in the same genre in the past. We know they aren’t likely to be looking to make a hard job any more difficult by looking for a news set of contacts, even if they do hold the best book ever writen in their hands.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I received an e-mail from a lady who wondered if I would be interested in a piece for the mag. I replied saying I would be but pointing out we had no contributors budget. She wasn’t phased by this.

A couple of weeks later, my in-box was home to a really well written and interesting article. At 2000 words long, it was a good length for on-line reading. None of it had been obviously lifted from the web, or if it had, the re-write was sufficiently good to move from plagiarism to proper research.

The only problem was that it was a short history of the hobby, obviously aimed at people who knew next to nothing about it.

So, here I was with a very good quality lesson on sucking eggs that it was proposed I present to the thousands of grannies who read my mag (they aren’t grannies, I’m using a metaphor, stick with me). I looked long and hard at the piece. It was good but no matter how I thought about it, the fit with my mag was poor. I could have run it and just let it go but I knew the letters page would have been full of moaning or people wondering what the heck I was doing.

Eventually, I wrote a nice (I hope) note rejecting the offer. My suggestion was that it needed to go to a general interest magazine such as “Readers Digest” where the fit would be as good as the last piece in a jigsaw. I never heard anything more.

It’s not fun saying no, but sometimes you have to do it.


*Writing for free is fine as long as it’s a stepping stone. The trick is to learn when to stop. (Hint: Quickly)

Membership of a special interest society such as for your hobby means there will be a newsletter editor always on the lookout for free words and this is a great place to start. Look to move on to submitting to places where you get paid pretty quickly though, at least if you aspire to turning writing in to a job. Be warned, the world is full of people advertising great opportunities to write for “up-and-coming” websites where the only thing on offer is exposure. Trust me, real editors are not cruising the web looking for random writers. They have enough to deal with looking at stuff sent to them in the post.


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Peering over the Production Precipice

extinguished bluePhil: While the Nolan has been packing her life into boxes and moving into the 70s splendour of the new house, I’ve been slaving away doing a bit of publishing work which has taken me away from the job of submitting The Book to agents.

Editing a bookazine (it’s about trains so we will say no more about it here) has been an interesting and eye-opening experience. Compared to the one I wrote last year, I’ve had an awful lot more input on the project. Basically, it’s me, a designer, a proof-reader and the publisher.

All this has meant I’ve been brought face-to-face with the process taking words to a design that can be checked at the printers.

The main lesson learned is that everything takes a lot longer than I think it will. To be honest, I’ve always been hopelessly over-optimistic when working out how long it takes to do anything but this has hugely exceeded my plans.

The second is that you have to keep checking everything. I’ve examined every single page at least 3 times in addition to the initial writing and subsequent proof-reading. For 170 pages, that’s a lot of work. As an example, each of the 200+ photo captions seems to change at will. Not all of them at the same time but the odd one or two so you can’t relax.

Even on the final check, I came away with a list of 10 changes required.

Some of this is human error, ably assisted by the technology. Text previously fixed has reverted to faulty. Even the cover has been a problem, the first advertising poster design used an old version.

All has (crosses fingers) been fixed and the result looks fabulous. I’m certain that every other similar publication goes through the same pain too. I look at the magazine rack in WH Smith with a far better appreciation of the efforts behind each and every publication. OK, I’m not editing Vogue (yet) so no-one is going to make a film like The September Issue about me, but even on a small scale, the mechanics are pretty involved.

Which brings me back to The Book.

One option we are very seriously looking at is self-publishing. That’s going to see us taking control of the process of turning text on a screen into physical and electronic books. Having already dabbled in this and with the experience I now have, this is a much bigger hill to climb than it appears at first.

Newbies think, “You just press a button in Word and the book appears doesn’t it?”

No chance. Even from a little research I know that there are a bundle of e-book formats to content with. Physical books need the text flow checking to avoid pages with a couple of words on them at the end of a chapter. We are going to be very sick of reading our own story by the end of this.

Suddenly, the traditional route looks very appealing.


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Grammar Nazi vandalism

Phil: At the moment I’m reading Anthony McReavy’s book on the life and times of Frank Hornby – “The Toy Story“. Bought from a charity shop, the volume had originally be owned by the Worcestershire County Library service. Despite being published in 2002, this hardback volume in excellent condition has been sold out of service ten years later. Thanks to years of working with people from this service, I know libraries aren’t just about books,  but books lasting less than a decade in the stocks despite being just as relevant as when they were published saddens me a little.

Not as much as what I find inside the book.

Someone has taken it upon themselves to “correct” the text in pencil. You can’t go more than half a dozen pages without finding this amateur editors efforts defacing the text.

Why? Who on earth cares? Did they think that somehow if they scribbled in the book, all the copies would magically “correct” themselves?

The problem is that every time I hit an alteration, I find myself required to stop and decide if “correction” is correct. The flow of the text is lost. Each pencil mark is a set of traffic lights along the highway of knowledge.

Have you ever augmented a published book in pencil? I’m really fascinated to know more. If only the “editor” had included their address at the front, perhaps on the page that lists copyright and publisher, I could have gone along and asked them.

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Wasted paper basket ? No it isn’t.

Kit 47 in waste paper basket 4Phil: I’m glad to read that my esteemed co-writer still likes our book, as I’ve got bucket loads of ideas to improve it. My writing time since our last serious efforts in this direction hasn’t entirely been wasted, there are a couple of new attempts at the early part of the manuscript floating around and I know that a third is soon to be thrown in my direction.

We both agree with some of our test readers that the start of the book is slow. Having fallen into the classic new author trap of spending many pages setting up the story, it takes around a quarter of your reading time before getting stuck properly into the action. Obviously after this it’s a helter-skelter ride of thrills and spills but your average reader doesn’t want to know that if they stick at it good things will happen. They want it NOW !

All this means there is a lot of story won’t see the light of day. As writers, we need to get our heads around this and move on. Just because those words don’t appear in the final version of the book doesn’t mean it was wrong to write them. They are a necessary step along to the road to the perfect story (not that our story isn’t perfect, it’s just not everyone recognises genius when they see it), the base camp before scaling the mountain of publishing. The effort hasn’t been wasted if it helps us towards our goal.

Anyway, they won’t be lost. On my bookshelf I have two earlier versions of the book, one with scribbled in the margins (Thanks Sarah) each of which contain chunks of text since exorcised. One day, when we are famous, JK Rowling, Dan Brown and the 50 shades woman envying our sales figures (if not our actual figures, bloated from the endless promotional tours around the world) these will be worth more than Australia. After all (Olympic joke alert),there’s not much gold in that country ! We will still be able to enjoy them and perhaps even release a sort of DVD extras version of the book with everything ever edited out of it thrown back in.

Anyway, once we get back on track, there will be a new and exciting opener plus, apparently, lots more exciting plot. Best of all, since we both write on computers, the bin won’t need emptying !


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When you are a famous author…

Blott on the landscape and Granchester GrindPhil: While tidying a pile of books the other day I notice a couple of Tom Sharpes and realised there are lessons to be learned. Between publication of “Blott on the Landscape” in 1975 and “Granchester Grind” in 1995, things changed as Mr Sharpe became better known.

First, he got to write more. Blott is 238 pages, Grind weigh in at 490. Could the later book have been exposed to less editing ? Reading it, I think so. I bet had it been the first book, we’d have lost about a third. Not that this would have been a good thing, when you are in Sharpeland you want to wallow around a bit and enjoy yourself, but it isn’t as tight a story. New authors don’t get that much leeway and publishers don’t have a large audience waiting for the latest edition who will delight in a high page count.*

Which brings me on to the second point. By the 1990’s people would buy a Tom Sharpe book. They didn’t care much what it was about, they just knew they would enjoy it. Hence, the name of the author is considerably larger than the title of the book. On the spine, the font is so scrawly, you can barely read it. The placing on the cover is interesting too; Blot has title followed by author and then a quote from the Observer review telling the reader the book will be funny. Grind demotes the title to the bottom of the page with the author name filling the top quarter. The only extra text is “A Porterhouse Chronicle”, information that is only any use to the existing fan base who will already have read “Porterhouse Blue”

As an unpublished author, what I take from this is that our book has to be tight rather than long. No lovely, but unimportant expositionary paragraphs. If it doesn’t add something, take it away. Also, it would help to become famous. If a name in big print sells books then it would help if that name belonged to the nice man off the telly or the pretty lady in the newspaper, not some ned who you’ve never heard of.


*Younger readers will have experienced the same effect with the Harry Potter series. Book 1 could have been squeezed into a Tweet: speccy kid goes to magic school beats baddies with spells and meets friends who will look good in the movie. Book 7 on the other hand used more paper than every edition of the bible combined.

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