Surely I am not alone when I write of those heady days of my youth when I dreampt of receiving the galleys of my novel from my publisher. I could almost smell the ink on the pages, fresh from the wooden contraption that gave them their name, the galley-press. (Click on the link for a picture and description of the process of creating galleys.)
Those publishing people really worked hard, didn't they? I guess it got easier once they harnessed the sun to help power the press...
Oh how I wanted a book and in 2006, I got one, thanks to Adam Nevill. The publishing process for Wild Card began: write book, submit book, proofread book. However, whilst my career as a novelist was as new as tomorrow's dew, the days of the galleys were but a memory, as poignant and ancient as the first tear of heartbreak.
What I received from my editor was a quick email note with a fat attachment. I was asked to look at the author's proofs and relay my corrections via email ASAP.
No smell of ink, no ream of heavy paper...and in place of the words I'd imagined would drop me into the pantheon of Great Canadian Writers as surely as Sheila Watson landed there with The Double Hook (one slim novel) I cast my eyes down to see:
He leant away slightly to put his hand between her knees, and then drew it slowly up her skirt until his fingers cupped her sex. She widened her stance to accommodate his big hand. He laughed at the wetness of her panties.
Oops, I remember now. I'm not in the running for Great Canadian writer, one slim novel or no. But that's okie dokie with me. I simply wish to be known as one of the many marvelous contemporary erotica writers working in the UK today. That's why I've crossed the pond. So please, if you wish to order my work do so from Amazon.co.uk. I'd be positively chuffed, eh? Here is a photograph of me reading one of my favourite novels in my English Garden.
Perhaps I should have said one of my favourite novels. I live next door to Elizabeth George and across the street from Mitzi Szereto. Honest I do.
I submitted five pages of author's corrections for Wild Card. An example?
...lips pursed in a tiny O to accommodate the delicacy it nibbled.
Since I am writing about her lips (plural) delicacy should be followed by the word they, however, since lips don’t nibble, teeth do – please change it to read:
...lips pursed in a tiny O to accommodate the delicacy of the nipple.
Oh my Gawd our editor is a saint. Here's pictorial proof from the Virgin Press archival library (now part of the Random House Archival Libraries).
St.Adam Tends to His Flock of Biddies er, make that Birdies:
I hasten to say that the author's comments on the author's proofs for my second Black Lace novel, Amanda's Young Men, were only four pages long and this was mainly because the powers that be decided to relocate it from the UK to NA and I was asked to suggest word changes they might have missed, for example, 'elevator' instead of 'lift'. Here's my favourite:
Page 193, Line 25 ‘Naff off, you, before you get hurt.' (UK)
‘Take off, you, before you get hurt, (NA)
The rest of my suggestions were much simpler this time, to whit:
Page 98, Line 22:You'll have fun with this little slut, Roger, you’ll see. Lift her up by...
Change name: You'll have fun with this little slut, Rupert, you’ll see. Lift her up by...
This is important because while Roger is a fifty-something philandering husband who is, in fact, dead by this point in the novel...
Rupert is a legal young hottie with an angelic face and an ever ready hardon.
I've only ever received author's proofs for one short story, from Mitzi Szereto, for Hurting Hugh, in Getting Even: Revenge Stories. I was eternally grateful because I got to answer a question posed by the American proofreader ('cougar' is UK, should we use 'puma' instead?) with STET. "The proofreader uses this Latin term to indicate that proofreading marks calling for a change should be ignored and the text as originally written should be "let stand." Talk about yer wet panties!
I like receiving author's proofs. The work is detailed to the point of being obsessive and I am helping to improve my book. Now let us address another aspect of proofreading - proofing the work of others.
My daughter wrote a fantasy novel which I undertook to proof and subtly edit as a gift for her nineteenth birthday. The work was excruciating; at times I felt I was taping an invisible wall, only to find she'd meant 'Tapping an invisible wall. DUH.' Later, she thanked me. Her work shows promise.
I am an excellent proofreader of Felix Baron's work. This is one of the reasons why the author's proofs he receives are so much less error-riddled than my own. Felix thinks I am the best proofreader there is. He has secured not one but two 'quick' proofreading gigs for me, as a way of grabbing some 'fast cash'. (A buck a page.)
In both instances the same mistake was made and both gigs ended poorly. The error? I did not insist that the piece be formatted in Word before it was sent to me.
The first time, there were so many glitches in the piece that I sent it to my computer analyst sister, who makes more money per hour than I make per short story, for help. She performed miracles but there was some dumb little dinky mark, no bigger than this + that showed up every now and again. This little mark, according to the author, destroyed the integrity of the novel and negated all my hard work.
Spoiler alert: This novel had no end. Apparently, the author decided once she'd typed enough words to call it a book, it was one. I actually wrapped up the story for her, not that she + noticed. I'm happy to report that I was paid. I'm sorry to report that my last words to her were 'You'll never sell it in a million years.'
Not long ago, Felix arranged another proofing gig for me. As we were dealing with a friend of his, a fellow who self-publishes, Felix spent the day reformatting the Word Perfect document into Word before I began. I ploughed through the story of a cop in small town America who cannot catch a serial killer even though our protagonist has been established (in a number of previous self-published novels) to be an expert in his field and has been given an additional 400 officers to assist him. Meanwhile the murderer tears an astonishing number of women to pieces. Will you forgive me when I say that once I was done I dispatched the attachment post haste?
Incredibly, the document had been so corrupted by the reformatting that most of my changes were not saved. The author was understandably upset. The two friends agreed to meet and Felix, being English, departed for the coffee shop fully confident that I would be paid. Our intrepid author offered Felix a box of chocolates for me in lieu of money. Felix replied,'Let's forget the whole thing.' To the author, a Canadian, this statement means 'Hurrah! We're still pals and you'll still write blurbs for my books and I can still call you whenever I want and say, "Felix, is there a hyphen in half-back" and you'll be happy to answer!' To Felix it means, 'I just forgot that you were ever born.'
Spoiler alert: The serial killer book has a happy ending. No, the cop doesn't actually ever catch the killer but he (the killer, sadly, not the cop) freezes to death in a creek and in the spring along comes a lean, hungry old wolf who makes quite a meal of that nasty carcass!)
My lesson? I'm good at proofing my own work and I'm good at proofing Felix's work. The rest I'd best leave to the pros. I guess I should mention that Felix 'proofs' my work too but instead of looking for things like, say, where I've used the dead guy's name instead of the hottie's name, he has admitted that he's mostly looking for information about my darkest, unspoken sexual desires. This makes for two things:
1)Our editor thinks Felix is a consummate professional and I'm a newbie.
2) Some confusing and foody (eeek!) encounters between the sheets.
Things I know about proofreading? Three Facts and a Hypothesis:
The manuscript must be properly formatted and delivered in Word.
Spell check does not replace proofreading.
If it's short, like a business letter, read it backwards.
By the way, our editor is not under any obligation to approve the changes suggested by the author. Author's proofs are a luxury, not a right. So...
I betcha, if you're asking for a big change, you have a better chance of getting it if you try and match the number of characters in the corrected version with the number of characters in the original version, much as we did in the bad old days when we were actually typing these things and using white-out to try and make corrections with a minimum of retyping. For example:
Page 213, Line 18,19
Her brief velvet jacket hung loose, the soft fabric covering
only her arms, really. With each breath she took, the lining of the velvet
jacket caressed her nipples.
Change sentences so they don’t contradict each other:
Her brief jacket hung loose, barely covering half of each breast. With each
breath she took, the satin lining of the velvet jacket caressed her
Original: 28 words, 137 characters w/out spaces, 173 characters w/ spaces.
Revised: 27 words, 133 characters w/out spaces, 168 characters w/ spaces.
Professional proofreaders, care to comment? Authors, any tips or traumas to talk about? Readers, any groaners to report? And how do you spell it? Proofreader, proof-reader, or proof reader?