Category Archives: Blog
Lots of people want to have written; they don’t want to write. In other words, they want to see their name on the front cover of a book and their grinning picture on the back. But this is what comes at the end of a job, not at the beginning.
I’m one of those authors that enjoys the writing and that euphoric moment when you pull the author copy out of the package and hold the fruits of your labors in your hands. I don’t agree with the last part of Elizabeth George’s quote, though. For most writers, that isn’t the end of the job. There is still a great deal of work to be done promoting your book. It is, however, the transition from a solitary work shared only with your editor (when said editor can take a few minutes away from laughing maniacally and sharpening red pencils with a switchblade*) to something your cadres of adoring fans can enjoy.
Some of the real fun of being an author happens during the writing. That moment when you sit back and realize you’ve crafted the perfect sentence. When you figure out how to resolve that nagging inconsistency in the backstory. When you catch your botched pluperfect before the aforementioned editor sees it.
For us extroverts, though, most of the fun happens after the book hits the streets. We love standing in front a roomful of people to read our work, sitting at a book signing table with a line of fans in front of us, seeing our tweets shared far and wide.
Yesterday, I got to experience a joyful moment in the gloaming, that brief period between the arrival of the first books and the start of the hectic marketing campaign.
Almost a year ago, while working on Who Pooped in Central Park, I realized that I needed the kids to encounter a bird expert in the park. I toyed with different ideas for the character until I was struck with an epiphany: I know the perfect person!
Dominique Paulus is an artist who paints, among other things, birds. We have one of her original paintings hanging on our living room wall (“Woman Power,” seen at right). She’s been my friend for years, and we’ve chatted quite a bit about birds when she’s in my bookstore shopping for bird books.
So I wrote Dominique into the book and had her spend several pages telling the children about the birds in Central Park. I sent my illustrator (the incomparable Robert Rath) a photo of Dominique and she became a part of the plot. I couldn’t resist hinting to her that I had a surprise coming, but I did somehow restrain myself and not tell her what I’d done. Yesterday, on the official release date of the book, I gave her a copy of the book and showed her the pages that featured her.
Things that may seem minor to us, like a dedication or acknowledgement in the front of a book, mean a lot to people. Watching Dominique’s face when she saw herself in this book was a wonderful thing. As writers, we have many ways to change people’s lives. It’s up to us how we use them.
* To Will Harmon, my editor at Farcountry Press: I’m sure you don’t actually sharpen your red pencils with a switchblade. I’m guessing you use an axe.
This article started out as something I posted on the CompuServe Court Reporters Forum (CRForum) a couple of decades ago, and was turned into an article for MS-Strokes (The magazine of the Mississippi Court Reporters Association) in 1997. Later, portions of this article also appeared in the Journal of Court Reporting. I came across the article while going through some old archives, and thought my friends in the legal and court reporting business might appreciate it.
The inspiration for this article, of course, came from Jeff Foxworthy. As a side note, at least eight of these came from real life — I’ll let you figure out which eight!
You might be a redneck court reporter…
…if you’ve ever missed the verdict because you were mooning the defendant.
…if you use the pencil holders on your steno machine for cigarettes.
…if you have to move at least three cats to get to your CAT.
…if you wear your fishing vest on depositions because the pockets hold four steno pads.
…if you use cinder blocks instead of a tripod.
…if you’ve ever bet your judge you could drink a six-pack and still report that FedEx guy.
…if you have six steno machines, and only one works.
…if you have “y’all” in your dictionary.
…if your living room bookshelves are boards stacked on boxes of last year’s steno notes.
…if you have a spittoon on the side of your steno machine.
…if your bailiff introduces the judge by saying, “Y’all git up, Bubba’s coming.”
…if your steno machine has ever spent the winter on your front lawn.
…if you’ve pre-scripted the jury charge, and you call it up by writing “yadda yadda yadda.”
…if you bought text enlarging software so you could edit with a hangover.
…if you painted your steno machine black with flames coming off the keyboard.
…if you have a brief for “(witness nodding and belching)”.
…if you have a bass lure on your paper tray.
…if your front porch is held up by a hi-boy tripod.
…if you had your wedding reported so you’d have the vows in writing.
…if you’ve ever taken your notebook computer to a service technician to get the cigarette ashes out of the keyboard.
…if the attorney called for a sidebar, and you said, “Good idea, Judge! I’ll have a mint julep.”
…if there are at least three pieces of duct tape on your tripod.
…if you found underwear in your steno case, and you don’t know whose it is.
…if you’ve ever spilled a beer in your CAT system.
…if you’ve ever wrapped a fish in steno paper.
…if you’ve modified your steno case to hold the machine, tripod, three steno pads, and a six-pack.
…if you have a tripod rack in the back of your pickup truck.
…if you’ve decided to get into captioning so you can work in your underwear without the judge getting all upset.
…if you’ve ever had to call a scopist because you were too drunk to edit a daily.
…if you’re related to the judge, both attorneys, and the defendant, and don’t see anything wrong with that.
…if you check your purse on a date and find two kinds of steno machine oil, but no lipstick.
…if you watch Deliverance, and find yourself thinking, “How would you SPELL that?”
…if you’ve ever had a depo interrupted by a husband saying, “I did NOT sleep with your cousin Sally. She’s my SISTER, for chrissake!”
That was a short article, wasn’t it?
At the MPIBA conference last weekend, just about everybody had stories to share of authors who don’t think they need an editor, or copyeditor, or proofreader. Most of them, in fact, don’t know the difference between those three (more on that in a moment). Well, if Stephen King needs an editor and a proofreader, so do you.
Let’s say you’ve just banged out an absolutely amazing 100,000-word novel. You have created unique and believable characters. Your have brought each scene to life, so that readers feel, see, smell, hear, and even taste the places in your book. And with the average word being about five letters long, you have pressed a half-million keys (not counting spaces and punctuation marks). The odds of doing that without a mistake are infinitesimal.
I’m sure you proofread your own work. If you’re like me, you’ve probably proofread your book many times. But there’s a problem with proofing your own work: you see what you think you wrote instead of what you actually wrote. You know the book inside out. You will often read right past a typo or continuity error. That’s why there are three people you really need to enlist (sometimes one person may fill more than one of these roles):
Your editor is the one who reviews the book for continuity and flow. It’s the editor that might say, “spend more time explaining what’s going on in Chapter 3” or “I think Chapter 14 is completely superfluous.” Editors look at your plot structure if you’re a novelist and clarity if you write nonfiction. If you write YA or children’s books, it’s the editor that can tell you if you’ve hit your target age group. Good editors are experts in their genres. You may choose not to take their advice, but you should always listen to what they have to say.
Your copyeditor is the one that goes deeper than plot elements and structure. Copyediting involves checking your book for formatting problems, factual errors, style consistency, and other mechanical issues. If you say “see page 142” and the thing you’re referencing is really on page 144, it’s the copyeditor that will catch it — although in this era of ebooks, you really shouldn’t reference page numbers!
Your proofreader puts your work under a microscope, looking at spelling, punctuation, grammar, and the minutia of language. Treat your proofreaders well, because they’re the ones that catch the really embarrassing typos!
There’s a book we’ve been selling for years in my bookstore. It’s called Scats & Tracks of the Rocky Mountains. Here’s what the cover of the 2nd edition looks like:
The publisher has a new look for their Falcon Guide series, so they decided to redesign the cover. In general, it’s a good look. Everything went well until someone told the cover designer, “add an animal footprint on the front.” The designer added one, and they sent the book off to the printer. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the placement of the track:
Yep. It covered the first letter of the title, changing the book from Scats and Tracks to Cats and Tracks. Even the big publishers need to use proofreaders more often!