Month: July 2017

Self-Publishing Part 9: The Galley Proof or How the Worst Might Force a yet Another Hard Choice

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness


With the first proofread, all I was allowed to do was respond to the changes the proofreader made or suggested, as listed in a pre-formatted Word document. Any additional changes I wanted were to be held for this second proofread. In other words, I hadn’t any reason to reread the manuscript, which was going to be changed anyway after I submitted the proofreading sheet. Occasionally, I flipped to the manuscript when I needed to check some context, but that happened rarely.

Now that I actually looked at the typeset manuscript closely, the advice of the Quality Editor came back: that after the book is typeset, it needs to be proofread as things can happen when the conversion is made from MS Word to the typesetting software.

He had no idea how much could happen: as in all the italics were lost, but for the few the proofreader had put back in. I use them heavily to indicate actual thoughts of each POV character, which given the structure of contrasting views of the same people and events is not only critical but extensive, and as emphasis in dialogue. An average of over 2 instances a page over 434 pages. The proofreader had caught only a few dozen instances where I wanted them, and even got a few wrong (which I hadn’t accepted, and need now to correct). So, I started to collect all the changes, carefully putting each on a separate line in the proofreading sheet, with the page number, paragraph number and line number, including the current version, the updated version, and a note, explaining if need be, and giving it an X if it was a publisher error. As the number of instances that included words that should have been italicized added up, I worried about a line I’d read in some earlier documentation on the proofreading process that if there were more than a hundred changes, I should ask for a “retech”, their term for imputing the whole manuscript into the printing software from scratch.

I wrote my contacts, explaining that I might need a retech, mostly as a heads up sort of email, to let them know I’m working, but it’s taking a long time, and if there were something special I needed to do for a retech, then they could tell me.

That was a mistake.

I got this email in response:

            The retech would essentially be doing a full redesign of the book. With the Editor’s Choice and Rising Star, [b]ecause the Rising Star is contingent on having Editor’s Choice, […] if they [the Editorial Review Board] were to find that it does not meet editorial standards anymore then they would have to be fixed or you could lose Editor’s Choice and Rising Star.

            Um, what?

I’m not asking for many changes to what I sent in—a couple of dozen, mostly correcting errors—but rather to have all the formatting that the conversion had taken out returned.

Now what in the hell am I supposed to do? Give up on what is a critical part of my manuscript, or possibly lose the first two steps along the Traditional Publishing Path and then have to go through that whole process again?


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Self-Publishing Part 9: The Galley Proof and Worse Does Come to Worst

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

While waiting on the response to the lyrics from songs I’d pressed into service, I sifted through the collected lists of every book, movie, music venue, bar and club used or referred to in the book, organizing them by chapter, coding them by how a work was referenced or used, or if a venue, whether a scene is set in it or it functions as set dressing. These venues are as important to the book as the music, in fact, they can’t really exist apart from one another, and I had plans for the venues with scenes set in them, especially given that several no longer existed, yet people still speak fondly of them on social media. While the five of the six books directly used are essential to the very conception and structure of the book (The Alexandria Quartet and Armies of the Night), the last of the six has a scene built on a scene from it (The Satyricon), a it’s harder to imagine how to appeal to fans of those books. Doubly so for the two books directly referenced (Lolita and The Brothers Karamazov) and the short story (“The Story of I”). A few were read in the book (by Nabokov and Durrell), and a couple quoted, but for the most part, the uses tend to be subtle and might have to be pointed out versus being easily discovered.

While fun, the film and TV references would probably not be as useful at all for connecting with potential fans as they were not part of the book’s DNA as it were. One, though, does hold a clue to the secret one secondary character keeps, but only serious Fellini fans might get that one.

In any case, all of these are Easter eggs for fans of the bands, books, venues, shows, and movies, and some might be something to help market the book, or so I had been ruminating.

Yet before I had a chance to start working out how to make these ideas into something real I could use or give away, I got back the now corrected proofs, meaning it was my turn to go through the book, line by line, making all the last changes before approval.

On this step, things went from worse to worst, pitting changes I knew needed to be made versus my Editor’s Choice and Rising Start status.


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Self-Publishing Part 9: The Galley Proof, and of Course, It Gets Even Worse

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness


Since I knew I had made a lot of references, and suspected they could be fun to list or reveal somehow or use as a game of sorts, deep into the life cycle of its marketing, I had marked them as I revised. In Scrivener, the software used to write the manuscript, I took advantage of the commenting function, which allowed me to quickly find every one, in order and in context.

During the many and long lulls between actually working on the manuscript and getting it ready for publication and launch with iUniverse, I had collected and sorted them all in an MS Word doc, by chapter, marked if it was only a reference to the song, band or album, disc; or if it was played; or otherwise used. Referenced means that the song or album/CD/Single was referred to by a character in speech or thought, such as this:

Like the Sisters of Mercy sing, “Life is short, and love is always over in the morning”—a line I should have thought of.

Played means the song was played during the course of the story, such as this moment in a car on the way to Chicago for the first time:

Out comes Depeche Mode, and I bop my head to the beat of “Just Can’t Get Enough,” which has about the perfect energy for driving.

Used indicates that a song lyric, perhaps a work’s title was actually pressed into use in the story. For example, these lines from “You Are in My Vision” by Gary Numan & The Tubeway Army:

The wreckage of a hero lies
Broken in the corner and
Everyone pretends they like to live that way
was turned into this line in the novel:

‘The innocent one is almost gone, barely able to smile anymore, her dreams lying broken in the corner, with me pretending she likes to live that way.’

Not the same words, yet clearly inspired by the song.

As I dug into all these references, locating the originals for the reviewer to compare to, I found that, well, most of the time they were like this last example, reworked words that, if you knew the music, you might well recognize the reference. Further, I realized that most of the rest of the time, the lyrics were credited in the novel as if it were a school paper, like the above lines from ‘Temple of Love,’ and these from ‘Pretty Boys, Pretty Girls’:

‘Book of Love’s new single “Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls” is still running through my mind: “Sex is dangerous,” she sings, “I don’t take my chances.” ’

Still, I diligently marked up a manuscript with every reference I could find, using the insert comment feature to offer the original for comparison.

After one long day, I sent in the newly marked up manuscript, dreading that I will have to either remove all these references or seek the permission of every single band or publisher to use them.

Those thoughts made my teeth grind.


Self-Publishing Part 9: The Galley Proof, and of Course, More T​rouble

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

The road to publication still had a few twists to ride out, starting with the final proof having problems that needed fixing before I could check the accept box. A Perfect Blindness is about, on the surface, two close friends and their escape to Chicago to finally make it with a band. They found a new band called Mercurial Visions, and much of the narrative backbone unifying the three interweaving stories follow the fortunes of the band. Music is the milieu, and as such, the text is drenched in music: songs play when they are in their loft, when they go out to the bars, and clubs, and even in their thoughts. Sometimes references spill from their mouths in phrases or entire sentences, either verbatim lines or riffs based on lyrics of songs from the era. Mostly. A couple of references are anachronistic, coming from songs after this time, but they are kindred.

When I was going over one particular moment in a long gone bar called Artful Dodger, a song comes on, and Jonathan rushes to dance to it; two or so lines of lyrics add to the mood. When I was going over the final proof, I realized I had misremembered the actual words, conflating a couple of lines, and was a concerned that a fan of the band would get annoyed at the error. So I started fixing it. Then, the concept of “fair use” started bothering me, so I looked up what is considered fair use of song lyrics. I’d vaguely recalled reading that two lines are okay, but the lines I was using in that scene are actually credited to the band, so I wasn’t sure if that mattered or not. I had in mind 2 or 3 lines, a couple of dozen words. Enough to evoke the song if a person knows it; enough to give an impression if someone doesn’t.

Yet after an hour of searching, I could find no one able to give a hard rule. Some gave loose guidelines, others ways to ask for permission, and how it probably wouldn’t cost much to ask the band for use. One person commented that if you use one line of a song that has one line of lyrics, you’re using 100% of a song.

Vagueness and uncertainty were not what I sought.

Next, I asked iUniverse. They responded that they had already gone through the manuscript, but that if I was concerned, I should send them a marked up version, indicating every line that worried me.

Thus, more work, which then would lead to more waiting for a decision, which might then lead to yet more work.

            Does this process ever end? How does anything ever actually get published?

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Self-Publishing Part 9: The Galley Proof, a Pause Before Publication, and a Last Few Thoughts on Paying to do it​

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

A bit over a year after I’d submitted the manuscript, I got an email with the fully formatted, ready to go to print files. Felt good. Color cover. Well laid out type inside.

Damn that feels so good.

A few years before, I had shopped around a much earlier version of the manuscript. As in three complete rewrites before the deeply flawed version I initially sent into iUniverse. Agents were cold to it. Only now have I come to realize that the bloated, broken, barely readable manuscript I’d had so much faith in never deserved more than a few minutes of anyone’s time. Time I might should have apologized for.

After a number of rejections, I decided I’d lost all patience with agents and workshopped it with an eye to rewriting a last time and self-publishing it. I’d gotten my Masters of Arts in English by then, and damn it; I was going to whip the manuscript into shape, and take advantage of how technology has democratized publishing.

This time, I imagined, it would evade the rejections that met On the Road; Lady Chatterley’s Lover; Catch – 22; Lord of the Flies; Watership Down; Animal Farm; The Great Gatsby. Or Carrie, which was given the fluff off ‘We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell’; or Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which was given a similar assessment that “[…] we could not publish it with commercial success…”. Or Lolita, which was considered “… overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years. It isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention.” Nabokov had to publish it in France.

I also pondered how I would even avoid harsh words for me as the author—such as what happened to John le Carré over his first book, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold: “You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.”

If this model had been around in earlier, I told myself, it might have saved a life: William Kennedy O’Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces was rejected so many times he killed himself. His mother kept shopping the book around to agents, and after 11 years, one, finally and with trepidation, decided to represent it. It was published in 1980 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981.

Looking back at this, I stand astounded at my ego, putting myself with these writers and works with a manuscript that was not even passably good. Then again, it does take at least some ego to write for publication. A big one really: I realized in grad school, that writing for publication is an act of arrogance: to believe that your words are worth another human’s limited time on earth, that they are more valuable than those in other books, more valuable than spending time with lovers, spouses, children, parents, friends, doing any one of another million things a reader could be doing. That takes serious stones.

Yes, of course, it takes confidence to even try completing a manuscript. To then approach an agent. Or try to publish it on one’s own. Some ego is needed along with a kind of confidence not found in all people, even if the book is not published to sell, but only share, with friends, family, a group, or clients. Which in fact, a lot of self-published books are published for: determining that is a first step in the process.

Of those that are written to sell, most of those will never be found on a bookstore’s shelf, nor, according to an early contact at iUniverse, should they be. Most of the self-published works found at the bottom of rankings, with poor ratings and few reviews never went through all the hard work of multiple rounds of editing, and professional design for both the cover and the interior. This stuff isn’t cheap. And I’ve read that many people think self-publishing is about the freedom to avoid the demands of traditional publishing, to not have to worry about conventions, and simply get one’s ideas out, as they are, au natural. Frankly, from what I’ve read, very, very few people are Jack Kerouac, and fewer still have Ginsburg and Burroughs to help fix a dirty, stepped upon, disorganized mess into the recognizable form of a manuscript. On the Road is an extreme outlier.

But for some, whose books do have merit, who do have the will and skill and resources to evade the early fates of Nabokov, Rowling, Singer, King, and Orwell can take advantage of this new way to the Traditional Publishing Path.

Once it successfully negotiates that path, the book will venture out onto the market and will have to sell: people who are not paid to read it will pay to read it, and theirs is the final judgment against which I, all authors, have no appeal. For A Perfect Blindness, that time is now counted in weeks, no longer months. And with an eye to a bare star on the back of my book, I began to proofread the whole thing again, line by line.

Self-Publishing Part 8: While Still Preparing the Book, a Seedling Platform Weighs Other Benefits of Paying for Publishing a Book

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

Part of the appeal of self-publishing is writer control: the author can publish the book they wrote in whatever shape they wish, from rough draft to fully polished or any state in between. A writer can call it whatever genera they care, and fill it with idiosyncratic grammar, such as using then as a coordinating conjunction. No editor will command something be done or it won’t get published—the prohibitions of defamation, plagiarism, and explicit underage sex and drug use excepted.

But, if an author wants the book to be seen sitting side by side with books published by Traditional Publishing houses, not only online, but in bricks and mortar bookstores, and to actually compete with them, the book will (most probably) be required to meet the same quality standards demanded by those houses. If a writer wants certification that his or her book meets those standards, the writer will have to make (most of) the changes demanded by a self-publishing house’s editors in order to get the book into the same shape as a Traditional Publishing house would demand. For this effort at iUniverse, a book is given a certification of this high quality—a signal to separate it from all the other self-published books on the market, one that says, this book is just as good as anything from Random House, Simon and Shuster or Little, Brown and Company. That alone makes it special.

With A Perfect Blindness, the control of the content mattered less than control of the time line. I could fit my revisions in around my full life, and not have any editors demanding I meet their deadlines. I paid for this—it’s MY timeline. I took advantage of this and it was helpful, yet the quality of the book after all the work mattered vastly more than anything else. I wrote it to sell.

As proud of it as I was before the start this process; only now do I have some confirmation that my pride is not misplaced: Other people are spending their time and money on my book in an effort to get it noticed and sell more. Not only does that feel good, it makes me work harder. I now have other people whose time and money is wasted if I slack off.

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Self-Publishing Part 8: While Still Preparing the Book, a Seedling Platform Gets a Grip on Funding its Own Book

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

For A Perfect Blindness, my wife and I put the money up: The editors have all been paid, and the risk—will it make or lose money—is all ours. There are different ways to view the choice to pay to take my book through all the steps of the Traditional Publishing Path, from initial evaluation to Developmental editing, and through Content editing, Quality review, Design all the way to final Proofreading.

The cynical view sees the choice as the vainglory of someone who has enough ego and money to do it. There is something to be said for that. My wife and I do have the money to do it; it wasn’t cheap. And certainly, I will be very pleased to have my name on a book that I can show my friends and family: “See, I am a real writer. Here’s my book to prove it.” My wife has already shown it off to friends and acquaintances.

While I do care about the good opinions of friends and family, they already know I write. Yes, it’s great to have something they can now read. Yet, I published the book in order to sell it to strangers. To use A Perfect Blindness as a foundation to enable me to get paid to tell well-crafted lies. Perhaps even for a living. I’m going to write anyway, so why not get paid for it? (Sorry Dr. Johnson, it’s perfectly fine to write simply for the joy of it; no one is a blockhead to take pleasure in life.)


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