Editing on Paper

I’m at the very tail end of editing my press’ March book, The Gods of Second Chances by Dan Berne. It’s amazing how a manuscript that has been read and revised multiple times can still need tweaks once it’s in bound book form. Suddenly I find myself questioning every detail and every comma, writing comments in the margins and over the text with a pencil, erasing, and rewriting, and erasing again.

That’s because a book laid out as a book feels real.

Much more real than the words on the screen, words that can be changed, added, or deleted. But on a 6 x 9 book page–the stark white background, the black type, the way a long paragraph suddenly sticks out–the stakes are higher. This is it. The moment before the story envisioned by the author–and then cared for as a breathing mutable document on the publisher’s hard drive–becomes a book. A real thing. Something other people can read. Something that can’t be taken back–or at least, not without an extreme cost and effort!

I’m standing here on that exciting precipice with Dan Berne’s debut novel. He’s a protege of Karen Karbo’s, the bestselling author of the Kick Ass Women series; her latest is Julia Child Rules. Dan owns his own marketing consultancy. And his book is the first novel Forest Avenue Press, my company, is publishing. It’s a fast-paced, relationship driven story about an Alaskan fisherman raising his granddaughter while battling storms, invasive species, and lawsuit-happy tourists. It’s full of lovely landscape writing and tense scenes between the fisherman and his daughter, who sends him a letter saying she’s coming home from prison to rebuild her life.

And it’s almost a book. A real, tangible thing, ready for reviewers.

Right now there are five print copies in existence. By early next week, we’ll have advance copies ready to pick up from the Espresso Book Machine at Powell’s so we can mail them to the media. If you’re a blogger or reviewer, and are interested in getting your hands on a copy, contact me through Forest Avenue Press. It’s the kind of literary fiction that’s fun to sink into–a strong story, lots of action, and at the core, this triangle of family members trying to figure each other out.

What my writer-self is taking away from this intensive pre-release editing process, now that I’ve gone through it with two of my authors, is that we get really used to our words–or others’ words–being in a certain spot on the page. And that makes it hard to question things. You can’t look at a piece of dialogue and evaluate its effectiveness if your brain thinks it’s supposed to be there, because it has been there, just in that form, through the previous few drafts.

Changing the font, the spacing (leading), or even the page size of your manuscript would be a great idea the next time you plan to print out a draft for editing. It might help you find those last few pesky mistakes, kill any leftover darlings–and perhaps sprinkle in a few more commas.

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Books, Espresso Book Machine, Fiction, small press, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Editing on Paper

  1. susielindau says:

    There’s actually more of a scientific reason. It is easier to see your manuscript with a fresh eye if it is printed on paper. Your brain is so used to seeing the screen that it skips over errors. Once printed out on a different surface, your brain does all the work again. I have mine right in front of me. I’m on page 277 of 363. Every single page has been marked up! I can’t believe how much I missed!
    Good luck!

    • That’s definitely true, Susie! But there’s also something, at least for me, about editing something in its final form–great motivation to dig into Every Single Thing. There won’t be another chance to change it. And I definitely see how my mind looks at something on the page and accepts it because it has always been there, but on paper, in a different layout, the words look new again. Maybe that’s part of the scientific part, too.

  2. Memoir in progress says:

    This is so exciting. I can’t wait to read it! I’m working with Karen through the attic Atheneum program and she is amazing! Keep up the good work.

  3. I definitely had that experience with A Sane Woman (my first novel). Took me 15 years to write and edit and finish, absolutely final, and then when I started to put it on paper I saw a million things.

    And I had an absolute “It’s final, finished, no more edits” rule, but still there were punctuation changes (those were allowed) and all the widows and orphans and whatnot. I went through a lot of galley versions before I was satisfied.

    • I need to institute that final rule, at least for the advance copies, so we can get them in the mail! It’s such fun to tinker, and so rewarding when something that was overlooked last time gets a tiny bit more perfect because of one more pass. But then again, deadlines are deadlines. I am less conscious of widows and orphans when laying out a book (vs. a newspaper), incidentally, because a lot of times dialogue strings cause lots of those, and I usually have a few pages where I just can’t fix them unless I change the text–and it’s the author’s book, and it makes me uncomfortable to suggest cuts just for layout. I probably will fix a few that way, but on the other hand, I tend to side with the story, and if there’s one short dialogue line after the other, there’s going to be a widow and/or orphan. And the other thing is that I find myself preferring a widow or orphan over tightening or loosening the text so much that it looks funny. (Hey, maybe this is a blog post…)

      • The great thing about all this technology is that it makes editing so easy. The big drawback is the same thing, that it makes editing so easy.

        In the days when rewriting a published book meant it had to be typeset again, that was one thing. Now, a few clicks and it’s done. I’ve known people who published (and sold) books on Amazon, continuing to make major rewrites while the books were on sale. This seems wrong to me.

        Speaking of a blog post about widows and orphans and related matters, here’s one:

  4. jmmcdowell says:

    I’m old school enough to need a paper copy for editing, especially as a draft reaches 30,000 words or so. I like the idea of changing fonts, margins, and the like when getting to the final polishing stages. That fresh perspective really helps. I’ve also found sending the document to my Kindle is great for catching typos. That looks so much different from the printed page!

    I promise have not forgotten about reviewing “A Simplified Map of the Real World.” Life decided to get busy again, and I’m actually making progress on the rebuild of one of my WIPs. I’ve told myself this review and another must be posted before I can read anything new!

    • Your Kindle trick sounds similar–and much easier–than converting something to book layout in InDesign!

      There’s no rush/pressure from this side in terms of the review, jm! I know how it goes… I have a review I need to do of a book that launches tomorrow. (Maybe I should work on it tonight, come to think of it!)

    • And I forgot to add that I’m thrilled to hear you’re working on your fiction. That’s so important. That’s where the blogging comes from, right? And it’s so easy to get sucked into the various demands of blogging (and reviewing… and and and) and not make time for your own work. Keep going!

  5. Call me old fashioned, Laura … but there is something about the “feel” of a book that can’t be duplicated by a screen. BTW I can’t wait to read this one. I love the sound of it. How do you like the publisher role you are in now?? It must be very rewarding 🙂

    • I totally agree, Florence! I have a few ebooks waiting in my iPad, waiting for attention, but at night, when I read, I always, always go to the stack of books by my bedside.

      And I’m so excited you’re looking forward to Dan’s book! It’s a wonderful read.

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