Sunday, August 29, 2010

At least nine times

A few years ago, I saw Bill Clinton on "The Daily Show" promoting his autobiography. Noting that the book has more than 1,000 pages, Jon Stewart pitched a softball question to the president and asked: "So, this is something you just threw together?"

Clinton laughed, then did that hand motion he is famous for -- a thumb's up early in his presidency, a bent finger later on, and now more of a good ol' boy touch on the arm or leg. But always more or less the same motion, used to emphasise whatever is being said.

"Hey, listen," he said. "Now, I wanna tell ya: every single page in that book has been proofread at least nine times."

He said it as if it was the most difficult thing he had ever done. Getting Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin together was tricky, brokering peace in Northern Ireland was a challenge, but proofreading that book nine times was a motherfucker.

Actually, I can relate. I can't begin to guess how many times I've proofread The Way Forward, the novel I'll be publishing as an e-book later this week. There have been eight versions of the novel over the years, with each of those versions having been drafted, redrafted and proofread, well, at least nine times.

In fact, I think the excessive amount of reading and rereading is one of the primary reasons I shelved the book a few years ago. I had grown tired of it. When the book wasn't able to secure a major publishing deal, I simply allowed it to slip away.

But a few weeks ago, Lisa expressed interest and I read a section to her, which eventually led to her suggestion of making the book available on Kindle.

"Hmm, looks simple enough," I said to myself while watching the video on how to make a book available. "Just upload a .doc file, then sit back and wait for the cash to roll in."

But you know all those negative things that you think about the idea of self-publishing? And that weird feeling that somehow not having a tangible, glossy item produced by the publishing houses of authors you had to read in high school means the work is going to be awful? Some part of me feels those things, too. It doesn't make sense to feel that way -- my own experience tells me that any number of good authors are being ignored by the publishing industry -- but I can't help it. I'm a tool.

So, the first thing I had to do was get my own head around the idea. And as part of that, I wanted to make sure the novel is not shit. Or, at least, as not shit as I am capable of. Which meant rereading the novel. Again.

I printed out a copy, grabbed a pencil and picked through the thing with fresh eyes. I am happy to say there was only one typo -- I had written "you" instead of "your" -- and happier still to say I am actually proud of this work. Some part of me had mentally logged it as a failure. But in looking at it again, I find myself feeling this really is a story I'm happy to put my name to. I pulled some redundant phrases (specifically my excessive use of "sort of") and added approximately 700 words -- a sentence here or there to explain a reference or flush out an emotion. Lisa was kind enough to proofread the thing, as well, circling the odd redundant word and occasionally adding little comments, like, "Love this!" and, "This section is beautiful."

Comfortable in the novel's quality, I went to the Amazon page for authors, uploaded the .doc file, previewed it and... looked like shit.

In translating the .doc file to its HTML format, Kindle had made everything look crazy. Paragraph indents had disappeared; special characters had become gobbledygook. What I ended up having to do was copy the document into an HTML editor (SeaMonkey, for anyone looking for a free, simple editor) and then go through the thing taking out the shitty, worthless code that gets hidden into Word documents.

This is the part where Mr. Phin or an equally tech savvy person says, "Don't you have a MacBook? What you should have done is..." followed by a super-simple process that would have reduced my work time to five minutes. But I didn't know that trick, nor how to find out about that trick, so I went old school, bitches. I picked it apart by hand.

That took two days. Two full days of staring at HTML code. Two full days of reading and rereading the novel that I have read and reread so very many times. At one point I went crazy: I started screaming at kitchen utensils.

No, really. I stood in my kitchen and shouted, "Don't you fucking start with me," at a bread knife.

But it's done now. The book should be available on and by the end of the week. Next Saturday I will begin posting sample chapters on the blog. Hopefully that will encourage people to purchase the whole book -- comfortable in the knowledge it has been proofread at least nine times.


Anonymous said...

I would like a signed copy please. If you agree I'll send you a cheque and my address


Chris Cope said...

There won't really be a hard copy of the book, Huw. It will be e-book only, I'm afraid.