I was in new territory. I had a contract with a small independent press. Very soon I received the edited copy, which meant I had to do something I’d never done before. Now you should know that I had worked with personal computers since, well, since the very beginning. I cut my teeth on WordStar on an ancient CP/M machine. If you don’t know what that is, it’s not surprising. We’re talking old, old stuff. But it was a good intro into word processing and I’ve progressed in that regard since then. I’ve used probably a half dozen word processors. There is no secret that Microsoft Word is the apparent standard, it’s the best overall. Cost is an issue, I know, but you should understand that IT is what the publishing world wants to use. Sure, there are converters and such, but when you get that edited copy back, IN WORD, you’re going to want to be able to work IN WORD.
The edits are embedded in the text using a built-in feature. I knew this was there, I’d been using Word for twenty plus years, but I’d never used it, so I had to teach myself to do so, like yesterday. I was under the gun. They had given me, a fledgling, less than one month to devour all of the prerequisite steps and jump out of the nest. I’m a quick study and I quickly ran through the edits, approving suggested changes or altering as I went along. You have to alter in the edit mode, so the editor can in turn approve your changes. It’s a partnership at this point. The process is tedious, but after a couple of quick back and forth operations, both the editor and I agreed on the manuscript.
Then I waited. Well, not completely. Then I hastily filled out a form from the publisher. It contained a lot of things I’d never even thought of and I tell you this now. Think about these things before you are ready to submit. You should have a few ideas about cover elements before you ever get to the publishing step. You should also be well-set in your concept of genre, something I sort of glossed over. It is surprising to see aspiring writers with no sense of genre. Literary fiction? That’s like setting up your friend with a blind date and saying they “have a good personality.”
I concocted a dedication and “acknowledgment” mention. You also need to come up with meta-tags. If you don’t know what those are, do some research and think about them NOW. Then the dreaded tag lines and descriptions and blurbs. They also want review quotes, but that’s just like rubbing it in for a new author. Reviews? It’s not published yet. Anyway, these short descriptions are the bane of many an author. We can slam out 90,000 words but are stumped by conveying the gist of the story in a mere 200. (Hint: practice the elevator pitch, you are trying to convince someone to read your book while going up a few floors in an elevator). I struggled but completed the task.
A rushed cover design was submitted to me. Early on I had figured I’d be self-publishing and had secured the rights to an awesome photo, taken in the same general area where the action of the novel takes place. The cover was presented to me. It looked good. I approved. Another step was complete.
While all of this was taking place the copyeditor was going over the text. In a short time, I was soon sent a PDF of the actual book, with the cover, a title page, copyright page, dedication, and then the book itself. In publishing terms this is called a galley. It looked great. I was flush with a sense of accomplishment. Then I read the fine print. I had to review it. Quickly. Time was short. Earlier I mentioned that the edits were tedious. They were nothing compared to the galley review. Line by line, page by page, chapter by chapter. I found perhaps 40 or 50 errors, all of which I detailed in a separate Word document called an errata, copying the line as it appeared, followed by a new line with the correction. This was my first time. It took me almost three days because it is brain numbing work the first time (takes me less time now).
I made a big mistake in this process, compounded by another after the fact. One, I didn’t know one should review EVERYTHING. I reviewed just the manuscript portion. Trust me. Review everything. I’ll tell you why in a moment. The second mistake came when I received the corrected galley as an attachment. As it happened, I was working full-time and I got really busy at work, so I felt confident that all was done and the book would be published on time. Here’s a word of advice: ALWAYS CHECK THE CORRECTED GALLEY. Go through your errata list and make sure each and every correction has been made. Even now, after five published books, I know to review the corrections, and with every book I find a few minor errors were made in applying the corrections, usually one or two. This re-check takes a few minutes and it is well worth it. But this first time, I didn’t know that. I skipped it. More on this soon.
Publication day came and that was when it finally dawned on me that the most daunting task of any author had come to a head. These days I describe authorship this way. Writing a novel is hard. Revision is harder. Marketing the sucker kicks me in the ass. It’s as true now as it was then, except then I had absolutely no clue on how to proceed. See, with a big trade publisher, they’ll shepherd you through the process. They spend money on it and do a lot of background. They invest in the product. But even then, YOU have to do a lot yourself. With a small indie publisher, it’s pretty much up to you. First timer? You have to build from the ground up. So I did what anybody would do in 2015. I googled it. Oh, a web page? I can do that. I had a web page before most people knew they even existed. Facebook book page? Easy. Slowly I built an infrastructure, even this blog was part of that process (although I’ve changed the name a couple of times).
Still, sales were slow, mostly friends and family. Then I got the first bad news. My name was misspelled on the title page (but thankfully not on the cover). I was in horror. It was actually my mistake or two mistakes. In my rush to fill out the author form apparently, one pesky key had stuck and omitted itself from my name. I hadn’t read it over. Then, in the galley review, well, remember when I said check EVERYTHING? I should have caught it then. Yes, we can hope that others will catch things down the line, but ultimately, the blame comes down to me for not completely reviewing the galleys. Guess which thing I check first now? Anyway, if you bought one of those early paperbacks you have a collector’s item. The publisher agreed to fix it. Luckily with Print-on-Demand paperbacks, the damage is minimal and ebooks are easy.
Readers were reporting more errors. Lots of errors. Familiar errors. This time it was the publisher’s fault. In their haste they had uploaded the wrong file, the UNCORRECTED galley. Again, if I had checked the galley after the corrections, I would have seen it immediately, page one. This one was trickier. They didn’t believe this could have happened. I spent a week convincing them. They had already corrected the name and they had a policy of not wanting to correct every little thing. After all, they had new books for the coming month to work on. In the meantime, I had ceased my lame marketing attempts waiting for the corrections. Finally, they took a look at what I was sending them and realized I was right and it had been their error. Double-checking the galley is not even suggested, that’s my own new rule. Finally, 3 1/2 weeks in, I had the corrected book in print. There were a few other hiccups with the book, but from then on, I considered myself a successful author.
Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. You can find information on his books here: http://thefensk.com