Revising Leah

January 16, 2009

Almost

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 12:36 pm
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Well, I finished reading through the proof copy of my novel today. I had thought that I would today be ready to submit the revised manuscript and book cover back to Lulu, but I’ve decided to sit on the book for the weekend and think about it some more. In the second half of the novel, I noticed a couple of potential continuity errors, so I want to make sure those are taken care of. Plus, I feel like I read through the novel so quickly (40-50 pages a day) that I just want to pause and catch my breath. Hopefully, on Monday, everything will be ready to go, and I’ll submit the revised documents then.

January 14, 2009

A Dream Deferred (and Deleted)

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 4:03 pm
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At the beginning of chapter fourteen, I had a paragraph-length description of a dream that Leah experiences a couple days after her school’s Homecoming Dance. The dream has long been a source of indecision for me because I always thought that the dream I described here was more than a little cheesy. In previous revision cycles, I considered cutting it from the story, but I chose instead to compromise: I left it in but tried to sweep the cheesiness out of the scene. I think I did a pretty good job.

But yesterday, when I was reading the passage again, it occurred to me that it might conflict with the scene at the end of chapter thirteen. At the end of chapter thirteen, in one of my favorite moments in the novel, Leah unhappily accepts the fact that she isn’t going to the Homecoming Dance with David or anyone else.

Apparently, in previous revision cycles I must have always taken a break from reading once I finished chapter thirteen, because this time, when I read the dream sequence at the start of chapter fourteen just seconds after reading the end of chapter fourteen, it suddenly occurred to me that the dream sequence completely contradicts and undermines the emotional impact of that final scene in chapter thirteen. I have never noticed this until now, and it alarmed me when I realized what I had done.

It’s too late for me to cut the plan for a dream sequence out of chapter fourteen since it is woven tightly into the start of chapter fourteen. I’d have to completely rewrite the first couple of pages of the chapter.

So what I’ve decided to do here is replace the Leah’s dream with another dream. It was the setting of the dream (a formal dance that was like something out of Cinderella) that caused the trouble. I changed the setting of the dream but not what made the dream so appealing to Leah: it was about she and David spending time together, alone — and talking to each other.

I think that has solved the problem, and it’s a lucky thing I caught it. The transitions between chapters has been something that I’ve been worried about. Because I can’t read the whole novel in one sitting, I have to stop some time. A new chapter is always a logical place to take a break, but taking a break disrupts the flow of reading, and when I stop I risk missing a transition problem like this one.

January 13, 2009

The Final Edits

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 5:23 pm
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As I read through the proof copy of the novel, making the final set of changes and edits, I find myself reading through the book rapidly — I’ve been reading at least fifty pages a day. That’s good, because it means I’m finding few mistakes. Each sentence and each idea is flowing smoothly into the next. When I feel tripped up, when I have to stop and re-read a sentence or a paragraph, that’s usually an occasion to fix something, but I haven’t experienced very many of those moments.

The biggest change that I’ve made to the text so far is to delete an entire paragraph from chapter two. The paragraph just seemed superfluous, and when I read the passage without the paragraph, it sounds better.

But most of the edits that I’ve made have been little changes. As I thought I might, I have found some lines of dialogue that aren’t punctuated just right. Many of the edits, though, have been the usual word choice errors that always plague me. For example, in chapter six, I wrote this sentence:

Instead, her eyes darted to each of the boys’ laughing faces, and then they took a quick glance out the window at her table on the patio.

The problem here is the pronoun “they”. It isn’t clear what its antecedent is. It is supposed to refer to “her eyes,” but given this sentence construction, it appears to refer to “the boys”. I fixed this problem simply by changing “they” to “she”.

I’ve also found a couple of continuity errors. In chapter ten, I write,

David handed the piece of paper to Heather and said, as he sat down . . .

but then a few lines later, I write,

“And they lived in Egypt,” David laughed as he sat down.

So here I have a character performing the incredible act of sitting down twice in the same desk. That’s gotta break some law of physics or another! In this case, I decided that the first time David sat down was sufficient, and deleted his second occasion of sitting.

I don’t expect that I’ll ever be able to change every single thing that I might want to fix, but I know that every correction I make brings the novel just a little bit closer to a state of perfection. Overall, though, I’ve been quite happy with the book.

January 8, 2009

Twiddling My Thumbs

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 1:33 pm
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Earlier this week, I got the message that the proof copy for Leah had shipped, so right now I’m just waiting for it to arrive. If I’m lucky, it will come by Saturday. I’m anxious to hold the book in my hands and see the revised story “in the flesh” instead of just on a computer screen.

As I wait, I’m trying to plan my strategy for what will be the final round of editing. Obviously, the first concern that I’ll have will be to check the cover and the formatting of the text. On the cover, I’ll be looking to see that the pictures and text are all lined up where they should be, and I’ll especially be looking to see how bad the pixellation is on the back cover. I expect some pixellation, but the question will be how obvious is it? If it’s really obvious, I’ll either have to blur the image a little more or I’ll have to design something different. Yesterday, I got inspired after thinking about my use of quotes on the front page of my new website, and I think I might be able to come up with a better design.

But the real editing work will be with the text of the novel. I’m going to try, as hard as I can, not to make too many unnecessary edits. I know that if I give myself freedom to do whatever I want I’ll be rewriting sentences and replacing some words with other words til the cows come home. But I really just want to limit myself to fixing errors.

One kind of error that I know I commit has to do with my dialogue. I tend to commit two common errors in my dialogue: I misplace or omit capital letters, or I insert periods where commas should go (or vice-versa). For example, I might accidentally write a line of dialogue like this:

“Yes, he was lost,” Joe said, “He didn’t know where to go.”

or like this:

“I liked the movie,” she said, “it was really good.”

So after I’ve read a chapter with dialogue in it, I’m going to revisit each line of dialogue and make sure I haven’t left any typos in my text. Little things like that probably won’t be noticed by someone reading my book for the first time, but they’ll bug the heck out of me if I see them in the final product.

Beyond those concerns, I’ll just have to stay on the alert for surprises. I won’t be too worried if I catch a lot of little errors in this final read-through. It’s a fact that reading a hard copy of text is a very different physiological and psychological experience than reading it on the screen, and since this is the first time that I’ll be reading a hard copy of the entire revised text, it’s possible that I’ve missed a few things in my previous revision cycles.

December 26, 2008

Publishing Through Lulu: Preparations, Part 1

In this final series of posts for Revising Leah, I’m going to document and comment upon how I am publishing my novel through Lulu. If you’ve ever wondered whether self-publishing is right for you, I hope you’ll follow along and learn out what it’s all about.

Lulu.com, and services like it, have become a force for the democratization of publishing. Now, anyone with a story to tell can publish one’s work. With this freedom, however, comes great responsibility. While it’s true that publishing through Lulu is easy and relatively inexpensive, if you want to do it right — if you want to produce a book that you can be proud of, that will sell — then there is a lot of work that you must do.

Revise and Edit! (Have you learned nothing from this blog?)

Obviously, the most important preparation involves carefully revising, editing, and proofreading your text so that you don’t give your readers the impression that you are barely literate. Even if the book you publish is for your eyes only, you don’t want it to be littered with errors and passages that you wish you had revised. If you do want your book to be read by others, then certainly you want it to look as professional as possible. If this means “beta testing” your manuscript with other readers or hiring an editor, then do it. Moriah Jovan had a nice rant on this subject over at Publishing Renaissance recently.

I’ve been working on my novel since April (and, of course, I have documented that process in this blog). My manuscript has reached a point where I am satisfied with it. I’m able to read through a chapter without seeing anything that needs to be changed or corrected. When I receive the galley proofs next month, I’ll probably find a few last minute errors that I ought to fix, but for now, I feel like the book is ready to go.

Formatting

So once the manuscript is the best it can be, it’s ready to be formatted. This may not sound like a big deal, but this is a step that you can expect will take a few days, at least.

The first step: page size and orientation. Lulu allows for several different possibilities for the size of a book, but the usual size for a novel published through Lulu is 9″x6″ — that’s a little bit larger than most novels published, but it’s not freakishly large or anything; it’s still easy to carry and hold in your hands and read.

You’ll need to format the pages so that they mirror each other. In other words, you have to imagine that page 1 of the novel will be on the right, page 2 on the left, page 3 on the right, etc. This can easily be set up within your word processor, usually in the same dialogue box that you used to set up the size of the page.

Lulu has specific requirements for the size of the margins. Basically, you’re setting up a half inch all around except for the inner margin (where the pages join at the book’s spine) which is a 3/4 inch margin.

Pretty easy so far? Well, now things get interesting. The next choice you have to make is the font style and size. Unless you are doing something wacky, you’ll probably want to stick to a size 12 or 13 font. The font style is up to you, though. Lulu has a list of font styles that they prefer you use, but it is possible to use others. I like to use Garamond because I think it looks really nice when the book is printed, but this is a subjective choice. There will be a lot more of these kinds of subjective choices as the process goes on. It can seem a little overwhelming, but this is what I like about self-publishing: the opportunity to direct all of the little details of the publishing process. I find it very satisfying. Satisfying, ultimately, but not always easy. . .

The Ninth Circle of Formatting Hell: Page Numbers

Nothing will frustrate you more than wrestling with the page numbers. Although I like to use OpenOffice for most of my word processing needs, the biggest beef that I have with the program is that it makes formatting up page numbers very, very difficult. In Microsoft’s Word, the process isĀ  much more simpler — in fact, it is so much easier that when I need to insert page numbers I often just open the file in Word, do my business there, and save it.

Depending on where you want the page numbers to go (top or bottom of the page), you might need to format breaks between the chapters. (I found this page online which helped explain how to do this in Word.) The purpose of creating a break between chapters is that it allows you to format the page numbers so that, if you choose, the page number won’t appear on the first page of the chapter. Depending on what the first page of each chapter looks like, you might not want the page number in the same place as the other numbers on the other pages. For example, if all of the page numbers for the rest of the text are in the top corners, maybe you want the page number on the first page of each chapter at the bottom of the page. Personally, I prefer not to include the page number on the first page of each chapter, but that’s just me. Whatever you decide to do, establishing formatting breaks between chapters makes this process easier.

At the same time that you are setting up the page numbers, you have to make a decision about whether you want your name and/or the title of your novel at the top of each page. And here is where you can literally do whatever you want. When I was setting up my page numbers, I sought inspiration and guidance by browsing through a dozen different books by as many different publishers. Almost every book had set up its page numbers and top margin material differently. Some put the numbers near the outer margin, some put them near the inner margin. Some books put the page number at the top of the page, others put the numbers on the bottom. Some books only used the title of the book, others used only the author’s name, others used the chapter title, others had a combination of some of these. Some books centered the material, others placed it near the page numbers. Apparently the only rule with page numbers and margin material is that there are no rules. You can do whatever you want.

So this has been a glimpse at some of the work you have to do when preparing the manuscript for Lulu’s publishing process. I thought you might want an example of what I’ve done, so take a look at this file:

Chapter One

It’s the first chapter of my novel, formatted more or less the way it will look when it is published. Look at my font, my spacing, the page numbers and headings, the first page of the chapter, etc. Again, you don’t have to format your manuscript exactly as I have formatted mine, but hopefully it will reinforce the idea that your text should look clean, neat, and organized — in other words, professional.

Next time: Preparing the title page and the book cover.

December 1, 2008

Walking in a Winter Wasteland

So, December, we meet at last . . .

Today I finished my Thanksgiving week read-through of the final 9.5 chapters of my novel, and as that concludes, so too does the seventh revision cycle come to an end. Between now and the start of January, I might tinker with the book a little bit, but really, I don’t plan to do anything more with it until I start the publication process through Lulu. That means I have a month to kill.

I’ll try to continue posting (I have a couple of ideas for upcoming posts), but since if I’m not working on my project, there’s very little for me to write about. Since I started this blog, I’ve been good about posting something new every 2 or 3 days. In January, I intend to document the self-publication process through Lulu, for anyone who is curious, but until then, I’m going to have to really scavenge for post topics.

I also intend to catch up on some reading. This revising project has taken up most of my free time since May, and I’ve got a backlog of books to work through. Right now, I’ve been reading a self-published novel by Ray Holland called The Hermit. It’s a political satire/bawdy comedy sort of story. After working on my project for so long, it’s good to just read something for fun. I don’t have to edit the book, or look for plot inconsistencies, or ask myself, “How could I arrange this passage differently?” I can just read the story and enjoy it.

And that, I hope, is how readers will read Leah. One of the great tragedies of being a writer who is an irredeemable perfectionist like I am is that it is impossible for me to read my own work in the way that a typical reader would read it. When I open the file, I see hundreds of little things that I could change about the text, but that’s a very different mindset from the typical reader. A typical reader might notice something glaring, like a misspelled word, but he or she won’t be worried about whether I’ve chosen the best adjective for a sentence, which is the kind of thing that I obsess over. What I hope is that a reader will read my book as easily as I can read someone else’s book, but that’s the one thing that I can’t foresee and prepare for when I revise.

November 28, 2008

Sick For the Holidays

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 1:12 pm
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Yesterday, I came down with a cold (or maybe a small case of the flu). After 24 hours, a sore throat and achy joints are the only symptoms.

That hasn’t slowed down my reading, though. Friday is a big day in that I’ve got a 15-page chapter to read. The weekend will be easy with only about 10 pages combined for the next two days. One of the nice things about reading the chapters set during Thanksgiving week during the real Thanksgiving week is that I can do some fact checking. In today’s chapter, Mr. Nells spends most of the day watching college football on TV, so today I was able to see what time the football games start and whether that corresponds with what I’ve written. (It does.)

I’ve mentioned before that I’m practically finished with this revising project. As I read, I continue to make a few little changes in each chapter, but I’ve noticed that only about half of the changes I make are necessary corrections. The rest of the changes are changes that really aren’t absolutely necessary: just rephrasing a sentence differently or swapping out one word for another word — changes that really aren’t necessary. For example, at the end of chapter 21, I rephrased this sentence

Grandmother and granddaughter worked in silence for a few minutes, and then Grandma whispered, without glancing up from the pot she was scrubbing . . .

so that it read

Grandmother and granddaughter worked in silence for a few minutes, and then Grandma whispered, without looking away from the pot she was scrubbing . . .

I made this change because I use the word “glancing” again at the start of the next paragraph, and I didn’t like that repetition. But would the first time reader of this passage even notice the repetition? Probably not. And since about half of all the changes that I’m making at this point are like that one, I’ve clearly reached a tipping point where the changes I’m making are no longer improving the story.

As I like to say, there’s no such thing as a finished draft. But there is a point where one has to put the draft aside and say, “It’s done.” I’ve reached that point in this revision cycle.

November 25, 2008

Joining Leah For Thanksgiving Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 11:24 am
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As I suggested in my last post, I’ve been spending these final days of November re-reading chapters 15-24 because those chapters are set during the last week of November. It’s a fun way to read the story (even though it does slow my reading down quite a bit).

On Sunday, I even managed to time my reading so that it corresponded (partly) with the time in the story. Chapter 16 begins at exactly one o’clock in the afternoon, and that was exactly when I started reading the chapter. That was pretty cool.

I can’t do that with every chapter, of course, but I am reading the chapters on the appropriate days. Today is Tuesday, so I’m reading chapters 18 and 19 which are set on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week.

I’m still not seeing any big problems with the story — nothing I need to revise. During my last read-through of these last 8 or 9 chapters, I did notice some possible instances of needless repetition, but I’ve been watching for that during this read-through and I haven’t seen a problem.

October 27, 2008

Oh Crap! I’m Almost Done!

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 5:10 pm
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I’m starting to think that my manuscript might be a lot closer to “completion” than I had previously thought. Over the weekend, I reread the “third act” of the novel and while I changed a few words and revised a few sentences, I really didn’t find a lot of work that needed to be done. In fact, that’s really all I’ve been doing: focusing on word choice, revising some sentences for clarity, and fixing some stray punctuation errors

My current revising strategy has been to convert my master document into a PDF document and read it that way. There are two advantages to doing that at this stage. First, because I cannot make changes to a PDF document, when I read the PDF version of my manuscript, I’m less likely to make superficial, unnecessary changes. I do keep my manuscript open in my word processor, just in case there is a correction that I do think is necessary, but the extra step of having to switch back and forth between programs discourages me from making changes just for the sake of making changes.

The other advantage is that a page from my PDF document looks similar to what the page would look like when the book is published — it’s as close as I can come to imagining what the finished, published novel will look like without actually printing it out. It’s a very different experience from looking at the manuscript in my word processor. As I said in the last post, a piece of writing like a novel is never really “finished,” but seeing the manuscript in PDF form does offer the illusion of completion. For me, when I see the manuscript in the word processor, it still feels like a work in progress and it seems to beckon me to make changes. When I see the manuscript in my PDF viewer, it looks like something static, like a published book, and that alters how I perceive the book’s progress.

But as the title for today’s post suggests, this situation causes a dilemma for me — several dilemmas, actually. When I started this blog back in April, I had a time line in mind for this revising project. I wanted it to be complete by the end of 2008 so that if I went the self-publishing route again, I could publish the novel in early 2009. Right now, I still have two months to go; even if I am 99 percent finished, I’m not going to to publish it until next year. So another problem I face is what I’m going to do with this blog for the next several weeks. I’ve been adding a new post every two or three days, but if there isn’t much revising left for me to do, then I’m not going to have much to write about. I might have to suspend this blog for a few weeks, and I’d rather not do that. I still have ideas for future posts (I have a backlog of drafts that I’m working on), but I don’t know if I can keep this going for two more months, until the publication process starts (and I’ll document that, too).

Of course, this isn’t really a terrible situation to be in. I’d definitely rather be ahead of schedule than feel like I still have a lot of major revisions to make.

October 24, 2008

How to Walk Away

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 4:06 pm
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I’ve mentioned on occasion how there are dangers and difficulties associated with revising a story as thoroughly as I am with this project. One difficulty is that each time I read a chapter, it can be a very different experience.

For example, a couple days ago, I was reading chapter seven. I didn’t expect it to give me any trouble, but as I read it, a number of sentences didn’t seem quite right; I wasn’t feeling the sense of flow that I thought I should. I didn’t make any drastic changes, but I did revise several sentences. The next day, I read the same chapter again, and that second time I didn’t see any of the problems that concerned me the day before. I was reading virtually the same text, but having two very different experiences.

Today, I read chapters three and four, and I was quite pleased with both of them. If I read them again tomorrow, however, who knows what my impression of those chapters will be?

I’ve said before that a text can never really be truly “finished,” and my experience with chapter seven just highlights this basic truth of writing. The dilemma for me, then, is when do I stop? I could spend another year — another dozen years — revising this novel, and it will never be “finished”. When it comes to my own writing, I’m a perfectionist: anything less than perfection in my own writing is an indication of failure and an occasion of shame. But I think I’m getting very close to the point where I’ll be able to lay down my pen (or close the .doc file) and walk away from it, satisfied that I’ve done the best that I can do.

How do you know when a story or a piece of writing is finished?

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