My tweet for May 15 reads "Page proofs for THE FOUR MS. BRADWELLS just arrived! Woo hooo! It looks like a book!" Which is all the work of others, whose praise I'd like to sing here today. We're talking interior design, and alongside that, the copyediting process.
So last we left The Four Ms. Bradwells (before the little agent interlude), it was March 19, and the new and much improved (thanks to the amazing Caitlin) manuscript went back to Ballantine, this time to be turned over to the copyeditors. Or actually, I think what happened was the March 2 draft went to the copyeditor, and someone magical person which may or may not have been my editor herself - the handwriting does look suspiciously like hers - took the copyeditor's marks and put them on the March 19 draft, as that was an easier tasks than putting my changes into the one sent to be copyedited. (Imagine Beth Pearson frowning here: this is not the way we usually do it! I know you don't know Beth yet, but plenty more about her in a minute.)
To be honest, it's shocking how much care goes in to making a book - care often the author remains oblivious to.
At this point, it was looking like the book would be released at the end of January 2011 - which may sound like a long time, but in publishing, it's very short. My email response when Caitlin had emailed me that (and this at the end of February), saying it was a very soft date ("that could easily change as we refine our spring schedule") was "Yikes! Revising faster!"
Now the book was officially going into what is called "production." What does that mean?
Well, it means I get a check for part of my advance, which is very nice! It means another excuse to celebrate!
And it means the process of producing those lovely-looking pages (and spiffying up the content of them) has begun!
My role in all this is surprising relaxing, because the Amazing (and that capital A isn't a mistake) Beth Pearson is looking after The Four Ms. Bradwells, as she did The Wednesday Sisters.
Who is Beth? Well, she's a fan of Elvis Costello, she likes "Cute Things Exploding," and she shares funky sign photos when she is traveling. I am also all of the above (see sign I took in China), so perhaps that could explain why I so like her even though I've never met her in person. But the fact is that all those things come from her facebook page, and the moment I fell for Beth came long before I even knew facebook existed, when she called to chat about The Wednesday Sisters copyedits.
I have never met anyone more thoughtful about punctuation as Beth is. Laugh if you will, but punctuation rocks, and as a writer it's a lovely thing to discuss why I chose, say, an em dash rather than a comma, and to be persuaded that in this case maybe a semi-colon would work best.
But that's just the tip of the Amazing Beth iceberg - a cliche she would never allow me to use in a book. She's "Associate Copy Chief, Random House," a job she herself describes "basically a fancy copy editor." But when Caitlin told me we were going into production with the book, my response was something like, "Please tell me I get Beth." And when Caitlin said Beth would indeed be running this production show, my response was, "YAY!!!"
One of the things Beth does is oversee readers at Random House who carefully cull my manuscript for mistakes and missteps large and small.
-Do you mean "portend," or would "augur" be better?
-Ginger is wearing a white oxford cloth shirt at the beginning of the scene, and a sweater at the end, without ever having changed
-Her eyes are green here, and gray here
-you've used [name your favorite overused word] 12 times in the last five sentences
-the Captain's Library is uppercased here, and lowercased here
-really, this sentence is so convoluted that no human being on earth but you could find their way through it
Although they are always very polite.
They look at every thing they can think of to look at - often things I have never thought to consider. They check every historical date, every line of poetry I've used to make sure I'm quoting right. They don't actually change anything, but they suggest changes. For The Four Ms. Bradwells, they sent me lists of the poetry and the Latin I use, just in case I prefer to have it wrong. (And I might, in dialog, for example.) The draft comes to me with little stickies querying things like the fact that the Latin I have over the Michigan Law School Reading Room door I passed through a million times isn't actually in Latin, but rather in English. And is this Latin right?
I call back with brilliant questions like "What do those three little dots under words mean?" And they never laugh at me until I laugh at myself first.
Okay, they probably laugh while I'm not listening. But I make some pretty funny mistakes.
In The Wednesday Sisters, they caught an error I made in describing a character in one of my favorite books - an error that, thanks to them, no one is now laughing about. In The Four Ms. Bradwells, they made me nervous enough about the Latin to spur me finally to tackle the hard task of finding a Latin expert, and I now sleep better at that thanks to John Downey. Too bad, now no one gets to laugh at the mistake that process turned up - at least not in the final copy of the book.
No doubt this post could benefit from Beth's careful, critical gaze, and that of the folks who work with her, but...
Now I think this post is long enough already, so I'll save the story of how they make the book not just error-free and gramatical, but also beautiful on the inside, for next time. - Meg