By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Tom Kasey and Jack Steel)
As I write this, I find myself in the rare position of not actually having a looming deadline. In fact, that’s not strictly true, because I have to deliver my second novel of the present contract to Simon & Schuster by next Wednesday, but the book is finished and I’m just giving it a final read through before I send it off to my delightful editor there. She, no doubt, ably assisted by her assistant, another charming lady, will probably take a machete to the plot and hack it to death, but that’s fine by me. As always, I’m far too close to the book to see the errors and problems which will be glaringly obvious to a third party, reading it for the first time.
My latest novel for Transworld is now with the copy editor, so my work on it is largely finished apart from checking and incorporating whatever suggestions he or she makes, and then the final read through the proof pages when the typesetters have done their bit.
One of the things which has always puzzled me about this last phase of the process before the book goes to print is the way that unexpected errors creep in. Logically, the conversion process from my Word file to whatever program the typesetters use should be electronic, a straight digital conversion. They should take my text and simply insert it into their program, which should mean that the integrity of the text will be preserved. But actually, it isn’t. I’ve lost count of the number of tiny errors – a letter dropped out of a word, a punctuation mark that mysteriously vanishes – which appear at this stage. One that I remember is ‘what’ being changed to ‘wat’.
Very odd, and another reminder, if one was needed, that this final check of the manuscript is just as important as all of the other checks which preceded it. And the other niggle, I suppose, is that having first written the book, then gone through the editing process, then responded to the copy editor’s comments, by the time the proof pages arrive, most authors will be heartily sick of the sight of thing, and just want to see the book on the shelves in Waterstones and WH Smith.
It’s also interesting that, even after all this exhaustive editing, checking and proof-reading, both by the author and by numerous other people, there will still be mistakes in the manuscript.
And it’s not just me. On one of the cruises on which I was a speaker, one of the other lecturers was Jeffrey Archer, and he reminded me that it was only when one of his books had actually been published that it was discovered that he’d got the capital of Switzerland wrong. He’d said the book that it was either Zürich or Geneva – I can’t remember which – but of course it’s actually Berne or Bern.
The other problem for an author is that because you’ve actually written the book, you know what’s coming – or you should do, I hope. So you tend to see what you expect to see, and read what you expect to read, rather than what is actually there. That’s why it’s so critically important to take your time and read every single word, ideally aloud, because for some reason reading the book that way seems to identify errors that you’ll never find simply by looking at it on the screen of a computer.
So, anyway, I’m able to have a bit of a break now. Or at least, that was the plan. But I had a telephone call this week which means I have to get back to work, albeit in an entirely different field, right away. I’m one of the lecturers on the inaugural cruise of the Saga Sapphire which sails to the Mediterranean late in March, and I’ll probably have to give at least six different lectures on board, so I’ll be preparing them for the next few weeks.
It should be an interesting trip, and the ship will be visiting Civitavecchia. My guess is that, along with many of the other people on board, I’ll be up on deck when we leave that port, just making sure that the captain doesn’t steer the ship too close to any of the offshore islands …
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