Steaming to the Finishing Line

Picture it – The beginning of November, deep blue sky, flame-coloured leaves, a calm mind and trim body return home from walking the Camino. Soon to transform into a galvanized brain and a sluggish body glued to a chair indoors.

Job 1 was editing the book down by half. With the photos the publisher wanted to include, the book as it was would be simply too long, too expensive to produce and thus too pricey for the market. The first TouchWood editor had attacked my manuscript in my absence, and I was to cut it even more. Instead of looking at my original manuscript to see what had been cut, I decided to read the new version as if it was the completed draft. That editor is a bit of a genius. She honed the focus, and inspired me to go further. Between us, we determined where and how the book should end, which enabled further cuts but required further rewriting.

Job 2 was to ensure all the women’s responses to their chapter drafts were in hand. Most weren’t, and so there were a lot of phone calls and emails and letters. All key concerns and corrections were attended to.

Job 3 was to get photos from all the women, which also required a lot of contact. Oddly enough, it was my generation, those who grew up with photos and slides and home movies, who required the most prodding. Getting photos of sufficient resolution was another challenge.

Once the year ended, a new set of jobs was given to me.

Job 4, fine tune the editing. Another genius editor helped a lot with that. Many drafts zipped through the ether, with facts checked, writing steamlined, errors corrected, and everything that needed adding, taking away, clarifying, and confirming done as needed.

Job 5, get maps prepared. I wanted more maps than were accepted but was able to successfully fight for the ones that got in. I love maps.

Job 6, more photos needed, so more time spent trying to hunt these down and get them in a form the designer could use. I was thrilled that more photos were going in than originally thought. I also had to write captions for all, and ensure the photo credits were assigned correctly.

Job 7, write a Preface, a Bibliography, an Afterword, and Acknowledgements. I researched what the rules were and how good examples looked before drafting and editing my own. I checked with all those individuals I wished to thank to ensure they were okay with being named. And I stressed out trying to avoid forgeting anyone or anything!

Job 8, get going on social media and promote the heck out of the book. The publisher follows traditional promotional methods, approaching print, radio and TV media as befits the book in question. But it is a small, regional publisher reliant on its authors to do their bit. I have to admit, coming home from the Camino, the last thing I wanted to do was plug myself more into a world of social media, but this is part of the deal so I treated it as a learning curve, spoke to as many switched-on millennials I knew and slowly put together this website, went on twitter, instagram and set up a separate facebook page.

In February of 2019 I was told to expect the first proof, which is a result of the designer now involved and creating the book, in a virtual form, as it will appear to the reader, incorporating photos and titles and layout. It was almost a month later when that proof arrived.

I am a deadline-oriented person and I started to feel the weight of that final deadline, when the completed proof had to get to the printer. When something was passed to me I tried to get it volleyed back as soon as I could, not wanting the delay to be at my end. When the delay was at the other end, I felt less stressed, but still stressed. Plenty of all-nighters.

When I started writing this book, I always felt it was a collaboration between me and all the women profiled. Now it was clear I was part of a completely different collaboration: between the publisher, the designer and me. I was the lesser cog in this wheel: an unknown, first-time writer, and I deferred to the others’ expertise and experience, unless the text was not served by the design. It was important to me that every woman in the book had their stories and photos presented equitably and the book itself was easy to follow as intended.  

Proof after proof arrived, and I tried to follow directions given to me ‘don’t rewrite it, trust the editing process and just attend to errors’. That was surprisingly hard to do, as I could see all sorts of ways I could make this sentence better or move that paragraph more effectively. I was also still getting emails and letters from my ladies with new or amended information.

Once, when attending a funeral, my husband and I were lined up at the buffet dinner provided. It had been a long, sad funeral, and everyone was starving. We had a lovely, very chatty elderly lady in front of us, whose rambling colloquies were holding up the line. It was clear she did not have what I call a “buffet strategy”. She would vaguely pick up a bread roll, and then start in on some other conversational tidbit, ignoring the platters of seafood and carvery with a large roast of beef sitting temptingly in front of her. My husband, who gets along very well with elderly, chatty women at last said to her, “Florence. Let’s chat more at the table. Right now, focus on the beef .”

So my mantra has become “focus on the beef”. Whether I eat it or not, or if it exists or not, is beside the point. It’s a metaphorical directive that is very helpful when i am in danger of getting side-tracked or distracted. Despite my adherence to the mantra, I am sure there were a few eye-rolling moments in the publishing house at my corrections and changes!

The last thing to be completed was the Index. A professional Indexer (is that the right title? Imagine hearing that occupation at a cocktail party!) was hired to prepare this. This is quite a technical job and it needs to be done at the very end so that the correct page numbers can be assigned. When I saw the result, I could see that yes, this is a complex task and the result was way more comprehensive than any Index I could have cobbled together.

This was only a couple of days before the entire thing was due at the printers, the date for which had been pushed back as late as possible to deal with some of the major issues that had had to be adjusted. Despite the incredible job done by the Indexer, there were errors and so I pulled my last (of many) all-nighters to go through it with care. I didn’t have time to check to see if all the page numbers were correctly inserted to the relevant item, but most of those I did check were correct so trusted the rest.

And then, suddenly, that was that. Months and weeks of days and nights since November. 6 months of heavy lifting, and chalking up as many hours on the project than it had taken to write the thing in the first place.

It was done. Feeling relieved and thrilled, I promptly got the worst head cold I’ve had in my entire life.