Tag Archive for Liz Szabla editor

Epigraph Page: BETTER OFF UNDEAD

Today I thought I’d share the epigraph page from my upcoming middle grade novel, Better Off Undead (Macmillan, October 2017, grades 4-8).

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The top quote was with me during the years of writing this book (yeah, it took some time). That sense of outrage and astonishment over the state of things, “What a world, what a world!” Early on, I decided on a minor sub-theme where this story mirrors certain key scenes with the Wizard in the classic film, “The Wizard of Oz.”

The second quote came later, around the time of Leonard Cohen’s passing. I’ve long been a fan. And this quote gave me exactly what I needed, the darkness but also the light. The world does feel cracked and broken, particularly where it concerns environmental issues. But as Cohen beautifully reminds us, “That’s how the light gets in.”

What precipitated today’s post is that I’ve been going through the typeset proofs for the book. It’s already been shaped into an “uncorrected” advance review copy (an ARC, in the parlance), and these pages represent my last chance before letting it fly.

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I’ve slowly, slowly read through these 275 pages two more times, pen in hand, making mostly minor edits. A slashed word here and there, done with a flick of the wrist, like a blade across a neck. But also, there’s a couple of sections where I’ve taken a blunter axe to the proceedings. Second thoughts! Third thoughts! Tenth thoughts! I hope my editor — Hi, Liz! — doesn’t mind. We have a phone meeting set up for next week, where we’ll go through it all, page by page, comma by comma. Yes, we enjoy walks on the beach and long, romantic conversations about punctuation.

That famous Oscar Wilde quote, “Books are never finished, merely abandoned.”

Ah, you see, getting a book published is a long process. Across almost 9 years, this blog has always been motivated by the idea of pulling back the curtain to reveal the inner workings of how a book is made. In this case, as in all cases, yes, please: pay attention to the man behind the curtain.

Here’s the arc that will go out to various book review services:

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Looks like fun, right?

For more on epigraphs, click here.

SNEAK PREVIEW: Three Rough Sketches from the Upcoming Jigsaw Jones Book!

The book centers around a note found in a book at a Little Free Library.  I love those libraries -- they are sprinkled all over my town -- and I'm glad to spotlight the idea in my book.

The book centers around a note found in a book at a Little Free Library. I love those libraries — they are sprinkled all over my town — and I’m glad to spotlight the idea in my book.

 

Fans of Jigsaw Jones know that it has been some time since there’s been a new book in the series. Even worse, the old books have been slowly going out of print. All of that is changing in a big way, come the summer of 2017. Four previous titles will be re-released by Macmillan, plus a new book — the 41st overall! — will be published. (Click here to read a short sample from that manuscript.)

The process has been a pure pleasure for me. I loved revisiting those characters and the classic “Jigsaw Jones” brand of humor and mystery. Writing this story, The Case from Outer Space, was a rare joy. And I hope that pleasure comes through in the story itself. It’s a happy book, intended to make readers smile.

Last week the book’s gifted illustrator, R.W. Alley, sent along 27 rough-sketch illustrations that will eventually appear in the book’s interior pages in refined form. I’ve received permission from my fabulous editor, Liz Szabla, to share with you a few of those rough, unfinished sketches. I think R.W. has done a masterful job, capturing the humor and essence of these characters. I’m feeling grateful all around — and excited, too. Jigsaw Jones is back on the case!

Jigsaw's brother Billy, reading on the couch, tells Jigsaw to answer the door. The door opens and the case begins.

Jigsaw’s brother Billy, reading on the couch, tells Jigsaw to answer the door. The door opens and the case begins.

Joey eats, Jigsaw listens, and Danika explains the mysterious clue.

Joey eats, Jigsaw listens, and Danika explains the mysterious clue.

 

Incoming: Revisions!

I got a big package in the mail yesterday . . .

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This bit, four real books, finally published, represents a final payoff. It’s done, it exists. There’s also something a little, I don’t know, deflating about it. An ending. Now it will go out into the world, probably to be largely ignored. That might sound a touch maudlin, or even self-pitying, and I’m sorry about that. But that’s the business these days. So many books don’t make it, even the good ones. It can be disheartening. And, yes, scary.

Hey, check out my new shirt . . .

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Cool, right? I love it.

And lastly, most exciting of all, came the editorial revisions for my upcoming book, THE FALL, a quasi-sequel to BYSTANDER. I try to enter the process of revisions with an open mind and an open heart. I trust my editor, Liz Szabla, and endeavor to deeply consider all of her comments, thoughts, suggestions. This is a new opportunity for me to try to make this book better than ever. That involves, sometimes, letting go of old ideas, favorite sentences. It means stepping back — to truly re/vise, to see again — and, well, take another whack at it.

In a moment, the sound you’ll hear will be that of a writer rolling up his sleeves.

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Uncorrected Proofs, Living with ARCs: One Author’s Perspective

I’ve never been comfortable when people describe themselves as “perfectionists.” Especially coming from writers. It implies that, somewhere down the line, they actually do get it “perfect.”

We don’t, not ever. But many of us — though not all — try our best. And often, our best takes time.

Part of the hardcover publishing process is for publishers to send out Advance Reader’s Copies, or ARCs. These ARCs typically go out for review months in advance of publication to selected bloggers, review periodicals, and influential librarians. To be clear: In most cases, an ARC is what the reviewer reads, not the finished book.

So ARCs are not final, and not perfect. In fact, in the case of my upcoming novel, BEFORE YOU GO, I had/have two rounds of opportunities to make corrections before the book goes to print. These are mostly small details, corrections, not wholesale revisions (and this is in addition to the copyediting process that goes on in-house). So, sure, the ARC is basically a good representation of the final book.

So long as you aren’t a perfectionist.

On the back cover of every ARC I’ve ever seen, it typically reads something like this: PLEASE NOTE: This is an uncorrected proof. This edition should not be quoted without comparison with the finished book.”

I’ve been living with my ARC for about a month now. For various reasons, it came out eight months before the publication date. The ARC does not reflect what I’d estimate to be several hundred minor changes, revisions, corrections. Maybe that’s a lot, I don’t know; and maybe it was all my fault, probably so. It might be because I’m a perfectionist . . . or that I can’t let go . . . or that I should have caught all that before we got to this point. Maybe I’m an idiot. These revisions range from changing a character’s name, to eliminating a comma, to deleting or inserting a single word, to trying once again to get that sentence exactly right. Here’s some examples:

It seemed funnier, changing it to “in the food-service industry.”

I’m adding a hypenated word here, now it’s “like some kind of tree-climbing forest creature.” This revision — everything I’ll show you here, in fact, we discussed with my editor, Liz Szabla. At the bitter end, we roll up our sleeves and talk it out, comma by comma. And I absolutely love that attention to detail. Liz and I will go months without discussing a work — I like to do my own thing for long stretches — but when we do get a change to get down to it, well, for me, that’s pure joy. I don’t understand writers who don’t like revision. That’s the fun part.

Deleting an unnecessary phrase, for speed.

We talked this over and stayed with “fractures.” There’s a great danger at this point, for someone like me, to gild the lily. To over-think.  Sometimes I’ll suggest a change and Liz will say, not unkindly, “I think it’s fine the way it is.” William Wordsworth, you know, rewrote many of his poems toward the end of his life. And the consensus is that he usually made them worse. There’s a point when you’ve got to put down the pen and back away.

I cut two lines, considered some new text, and cut that, too. Actually, I think I revised and inserted that revision into a different moment in the book. There was an idea that I was trying to get to, which resulted in this sentence: “He decided to believe in life.” But this particular paragraph ends, “Jude made a truce with that unknowing.”

Have you deciphered my lefty scrawl?

He forced himself to retrace his blessings, the people and things he would never wish away, yet the exercise proved small solace. Some secret part of him that he dared not confess longed only for annihilation.

The idea of death.

Just a little faster this way.

He’s a strong runner, an able runner. It was only two miles. Jude didn’t need to catch his breath, he wasn’t panting. He needed to find some pebbles to throw at Becka’s window. For dialogue, not “I’m sorry,” but just, “Sorry . . .”

Probably one of the more worked moments in the book. It now reads:

. . . And he reached back to cast that rock as far as he could.

Just to see the splash.

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PLEASE NOTE: If you are a reviewer and you are interested in reading the flawed, imperfect ARC to BEFORE YOU GO, please shoot me an email and we’ll see what we can do. I’ve got the perfect book for you. Well, not exactly perfect.