From its earliest beginnings—voice, character, concept, scene—your book has grown into itself, from crappy first draft through revisions (lots of them) guided by astute readers and editors who understand what it takes for your book to stand out from the thousands that hit the market daily.
Of course, you’ve proofread. If you’re not a for-hire proofreader yourself, you’ve contracted with a professional proofreader, one who’s good—really good. (Subject for an upcoming post: I’ve noticed of late a rash of author services “professionals” who make basic mistakes in punctuation and grammar in high-traffic spots like their bios and email signatures.)
You place your manuscript, either through an agent or with a small press or with the smallest of small presses, which is to say yourself. Additional rounds of edits and proofing will follow. You’ll play a part in each.
The final round involves galleys, or proofs, which may also be ARCs (pronounced “arks"), which stands for Advance Reading Copies. If your book will be released in both print and digital formats, you should have galleys for both. Print galleys go to reviewers no less than five months in advance of the release date. The authors who’ve offered to endorse (“blurb”) your book will get galleys, too, ideally in whichever format they request.
The galleys also go to you as the author, for final proofing. If you’re under contract with a publisher other than yourself, there will generally be a cease-and-desist clause that limits what you can change at this point. Common language reads like this: “With the exception of errors of spelling, errors of printing, or errors introduced subsequent to the previously edited proof by someone other than yourself, you agree to pay the cost of all alterations to the page proof made by you that are in excess of ten percent of the original cost of composition.”
If you’re indie publishing, of course, you can change as much as you like. But at some point you have to call “uncle” and say you’re done.
The galley stage can be exciting. It’s your last dance with your manuscript before it waltzes into the world. Yes, if you’re both publisher and author, you can make changes after you press “publish.” But if you’ve rushed and pushed out something sloppy, with formatting and other errors, you’ll have earned nothing more than a spot on someone’s “No Read” list, and it’s hard to undo that kind of damage.
The galley stage can also be tedious. You’ve read your book more times than you care to count. And even after all of that (or maybe because of it), you feel a little blind to its flaws. Insecurity creeps in.
This week I’ve been going through the galleys for Cold Spell, a literary novel (for grownups, I always add, since I’ve also written for children). Here, tips for authors when they reach this part of the journey:
· Though you feel over-familiar with the book, stay alert. No matter how many others have worked to spot them, errors still creep in. Only when proofing for the fourth printing of one of my novels did I notice the phrases “insulted coveralls.” I’m not sure how they became offended, but my character would have done better with coveralls that kept him warm.
· As a writer, you’re always growing, yes? And you’re already thinking about (and with any luck, drafting) your next book? Then use your galley proofing as a chance to look objectively at your (almost) finished book, as a reader would, with the idea of crafting an even better one the next time around. Note which parts sing. You’ll want to do more of that. Observe your characters. What are there longings? Their struggles? Their conflicts? Their complexities? How does the reader discern all of that? What will keep your readers turning the pages?
· In a similar way, I consider as I go through the galleys the changes I made based on input from early readers, both to remind myself of how helpful their comments were, and also to remind myself what I didn’t change and why. This sort of thinking—educators call it metacognition—helps strengthen your writing, and it improves your ability to see your work from multiple perspectives.
· As I go through the galleys, I also think about outtakes—why I removed material, and what, if anything, I might do with it in the future. In revising Cold Spell, I took out several chapters written from the point of view of an older woman. She’s an intriguing character who might appear in other books. One or two of the chapters might be transformed into short stories.