Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Finishing the book

by Kate Pearce

You sit back in your chair, a calm smile on your face and stare at those wonderful words-The End. You've done it. You've achieved something that many people can only dream about. You've written a book, you've edited and polished it to perfection and now you're ready to send it off to your publisher.

I know, I can just imagine all your happy little smiles of remembrance. That's how it works, right?


1. Your editor calls and wants revisions. Resentfully you agree to look at the 'suggestions' even though you know the book is PERFECT just as it is.

2. You send the book back. Sometimes this stage can go on and on until you seriously want to leap through the internet and strangle your editor. (but that might just be me) Somehow, despite your mumblings the book actually seems to be even more perfect!

3. You send off a pristine clean copy wrapped in bubble wrap and extra thick tape just so someone at your publishing house will break a few nails getting the bugger out of the box-passive aggressive payback? Maybe.

4. Your perfect manuscript comes back in an envelope-smelling of pipe smoke, strong cologne, covered in coffee rings and a kipper wedged between page 100 and page 101... Someone has also WRITTEN ALL OVER IT IN RED INK. When you finish weeping and bewailing the bubble wrap trap, you realize that some of the marks and squiggles actually make sense! They are COPY EDITS!

5. Copy edits are annoying. Who cares if you abandoned Great Aunt Trixie at an inn in Southampton and completely forgot to mention her again for the rest of the book, even though everyone else has gone on to London? (see Simply Sinful available Nov 08 for details) Who cares if you get the hero and his identical twin brother mixed up in a crucial sex scene? Apparently someone does.

6. Copy the archaic marks, (with a red pencil please), insert a few sentences about dear Aunt Trixie and send it all back. But remember:
a) this is the only marked-up copy-edited copy of your ms in existence so you'd better pony up for express registered mail or you will not be popular in NY.

7. Sit back and forget about the manuscript until it turns up AGAIN-this time as galleys or page proofs which you usually have a ridiculously short time to get back. Personally, I photocopy the pages I make changes to, send the originals back and insert the copies in the ms. This is a good thing when you get an email saying the originals never arrived...(ditto Simply Sinful)

8. Finally a book cover flat arrives and you get to read the tasteful blurb created for you-and realize they have perpetuated the same mistake from book one. A mistake which you made originally in your initial proposal and one that never got changed. Okay, so the cover doesn't look historical, but the guy is HOT!

9. Six months after that, the book arrives and you lick it. Well that's what I do and then I read it.

Yeah, I read it.

Lots of authors can't do that, because they are worried about what they might have messed up. Here are a few of my favorite literary fantasies about what an author thought when she read her book...

Jane Austen, on reading Mansfield Park: "What on earth was I thinking? That Fanny is a frickin' wimp, she deserves to be taken and ruined by that gorgeous scoundrel Henry Crawford."

Margaret Mitchell-"Gosh and darn it, I should've just made Rhett take Scarlett upstairs, chain her to the bed and teach her some real manners."

Daphne Du Maurier on Rebecca-"Fuck! I forgot to give my heroine a name!"

And then there are the critics...
Here in no particular order are the three most asked questions by my readers.

1.Why do you have a character called Caroline in Pleasurable Bargains and a character also called Caroline in Simply Sexual? Are they the same person?
-polite answer-"No they aren't the same person, Caroline was a very popular name in Georgian Regency England so I just decided to use it twice."
-real answer-"I don't write anything down, character names, plots, family trees, etc-how the hell would I know if I used the same name twice?"

2. Roping the Wind starts before Where have all the Cowboys gone? but WHATCG? came out first. Why is that?
-polite answer-"Gosh, you are absolutely right. Thank you for pointing that out."
-real answer-"I had no idea I was going to write another book in this series until Jay turned up in his brother's book all grumpy and surly and hot and I just wrote it that way, okay?"

3. Why does Lord Valentin Sokorvsky in Simply Sexual have a Russian surname if his father is an English Marquess? (shut up Madelynne Ellis)
-polite answer-"Ah, because his mother was a Russian princess who gave him the title and name so he uses that because he doesn't get along with his father."
-real answer-"He just turned up like that in my head and okay, his mother was a Russian princess but that doesn't really explain why his half-brother from another mother is called Sokorvsky as well does it? Damn it.

Apart from the above, I never want to change my books. I've realized that they were as good as I could get them at that point in my writing career. As writers, we're always looking back on ourselves but it shouldn't stop us getting better.

So here's my question for you all...
Which classic piece of literature (and I mean that very widely) would you change the ending of, and which one, if any of your own creations would you love the opportunity to do again?


Portia Da Costa said...

LOL! What a brilliant post, Kate! Loved it, because it's so funny and so true. :)

Gosh, I wish we had the copy edit stage with Black Laces. The times I've had to fix a Great Aunt Trixie type situation at page proof stage, with the minimum amount of word changes. Ack, makes my blood run cold...

I never read my books once they're printed. Mainly because I would want to do every goddamn one of them over again because I can always think of ways they could be improved.

I'm ashamed to say that I'm such a collossal philistine that I don't tend to read classics, so I can't think of any I'd change. Although I suppose I'd want Scarlett to get Rhett at the end of GWTW, even though she doesn't really deserve him.

Janine Ashbless said...

Brilliant, Kate - I laughed so loud at the Du Maurier thing I woke 3 dogs and Mr Ashbless up.

I'm really glad we can do all our proof corrections at Black Lace by e-mail: no more precious hardcopy manuscripts getting lost. Plus it's easier to have a discussion on points that may or may not benefit from changing. Yesterday Simon agreed to put 4 pages in italics and restore a "cunt" so I'm pretty happy.

Which of my own books would I like to change? Well I'd have loved to have the line "Continued in Wildland" at the end of Wildwood. *sigh*

I can't think of anyone else's books I'd like to change the end of. But I'll give it some thought.

Nikki Magennis said...

Haha! Brilliant post, Kate. I especially loved Daphne's epiphany!

It's funny, I woke up in the small hours last night sweating about The New Rakes - completely irrational, but I was almost compelled to get up and start frantically checking if the drummer became a bass player midway through the story.

Instead I lay there wondering how I could maybe run away somewhere and change my pen-name and pretend it all never happened.

Changing someone else's book? Hm. I don't know - I think it might feel a bit sacriligeous, and I'm buggered if I can even spell that.

(Janine, glad to hear about the restored cunt!)

Olivia Knight said...

Wonderful post, Kate! I'm completely anal (but you knew that) so a lot of my corrections consist of me sitting in the garden yelling "You do not need to hyphenate an adverb and an adjective! It's not a compound, it's a modifier and a qualifier!" and "Aargh! Another inverted comma pointing the wrong way!" In The Dragon Lord from Magic and Desire, I spat bullets because all royal titles had been capitalised, even when they were used as common nouns. (Thankfully, The Three Riddles in Enchanted was spared that and my painstaking proofing left intact. I think my emails come in and the editors hide under the desk muttering nervously "Ooh, the Duchess, the Duchess, she'll be so cross, she's found another pointless change from 'okay', which is a word, to 'OK', which is pretending to be an acronym but doesn't actually stand for anything and jars the flow of the text with its irrational capitalisation, oh my ears and whiskers!"

Things I'd change... Well, I hope Shakespeare woke up in a cold sweat one night realising that a) clocks didn't exist in ancient Rome, and b) he'd forgotten about the Fool halfway through King Lear. And I'm sure that for the rest of his life he was plagued by the weakness of his trope, in Romeo and Juliet, for keeping Romeo from getting the message in time. Wordsworth is still rolling in his grave about the line "lonely as a cloud" and suffered lifelong regret over his unforgiveable description of a pond:

I've measured it from side to side:
'Tis three feet long, and two feet wide

...but I can't think of stories I'd change. I buy into stories completely; they're fixed, immutable fact. Films I can reimagine differently - but rarely books.

Olivia Knight said...


Madelynne Ellis said...

Sorry, Kate. LOL! You don't draw family trees! I do. It's my ambition to have them included at the start of the book one day.

I always read my books once the final novel arrives and I generally set Mr Madelynne to the task as well. Mostly, I do this to make sure they have actually included the changes I've requested to their edits. They didn't in the original version of A Gentleman's Wager, hence the differences between the first edition and the reprint.

Re: endings. I'm sure there are some I've wanted to change, but I'm damned if I can think of them at the moment. I'll have to think on it.

Olivia Knight said...

Btw - what do people do when they finish a book? I find it can be the most anticlimactic experience, adjusting the final word and then...



Now I have a little ritual of a handful of friends I can put on "stand-by" for when a novel is nearing its end, and when it's done they'll come celebrate with me. So if I'm at a loss about what to do with myself, I can always decorate the living room appropriately, or prepare nibbles, or lay out glasses, and look forward to other people saying the thing that's so hard to say to oneself, which is "Well bloody done, you must be shattered! Cheers!"

Madelynne Ellis said...

I have a period of mourning. It's the end of a love affair, and it's always hard to let go.

Janine Ashbless said...

The ends always come as a shock to me. They seem to happen so quickly, compared with earlier stages where it can take me an hour to write 200 words.

I'd have liked a diffeent ending to Terry Pratchett's novel about the opera. Then I wouldn't have thrown the book across the room and spent the rest of the day in a rage.
It is possible I was taking a Pratchett novel too seriously.

Janine Ashbless said...

"You do not need to hyphenate an adverb and an adjective! It's not a compound, it's a modifier and a qualifier!"

That's funny Olivia - Black Lace copyeditors spend most of their time removing my hyphens. (And my semi-colons. And my em-dashes. And my paragraph breaks.)

Olivia Knight said...

I stand as an angel with a flaming sword between editors and my semi-colons.

Actually, The Ten Visions was my first experience with Black Lace and I was resigned to having to part with all my semi-colons - only to discover that the editor was perfectly happy with them. Yay for the semi-colon! Yay! Yay!

This, people, is why Ulysses was self-published.

Kate Pearce said...

Hi Portia! Yes, Scarlett should get Rhett, despite herself but I'd like to see him really be the boss of her. :)

And I know lots of people who don't read their books again, so you are not alone.

p.s. I posted your parcel today!

Kate Pearce said...

Janine-yes it definitely is easier with BL doing the editing online, especially for me over here :)

Ellora's Cave does the whole process on line, submission, line edits, covers etc, you never see a real piece of paper.

Sometimes the whole paper thing scares me, I just sent off book #3 to Kensington today and I'm already worrying that it will get there in one piece :)

Kate Pearce said...

Forgot to say, I am also delighted about the restored cunt :)

Janine Ashbless said...


May all our cunts be restored!

Kate Pearce said...

Hi Nikki!
I think we all have those moments of cold fear when we realize 'something' might have got by us!
And the escaping into another identity? Sounds fine to me :)

Kate Pearce said...

Olivia-you anal? I'd never have guessed it.
Shakespeare put clocks in there?? Ha Ha, that makes me feel better and Wordsworth-yes, he should still be embarrassed!

Kate Pearce said...

Madelynne-to be honest, you weren't the first person to ask me the Sokorvsky question-and I'm sure you won't be the last :)
Glad to see I'm not the only one who reads her own books!
Family trees???? God, you are so organized.

Kate Pearce said...

By the time the end arrives I'm usually too exhausted to care and need to start the next one!
But I do buy myself a nice box of chocolates and have a feast.

Dayle A. Dermatis said...

Oh, this was indeed a brilliant post, and the Du Maurier quote made me howl with laughter! Thank you!

Once a book is done, I'm pretty much over it. The creative part is finished and now it's my product to send to market. Copy edits and proofs take a whole different part of my brain.

(And I also wish Black Lace would send copy edits! It would save so much trouble at proof stage!)

Madeline Moore said...

Fantastic post! Kudos to you, kiddo.
It's fascinating to hear about the exchange of manuscripts and the red pen thing. None of that with BL and if there were, my books would never be published as the Pony Express takes it's sweet time meandering across the pond.

What book would I like to see edited?
Hmmm. I detest the way TV/films make happy endings to classic literature that didn't end happily.
Felix and I watched an adaptation of an Oscar Wilde play that had an achingly poignant ending...only to have a little scene tacked on where 'she gets the man afterall.'
It ruined the whole thing, frankly, and although I haven't checked, I'm absolutely sure that was NOT what Wilde originally wrote. So I'm not going to mess with literature, even though Madame Bovary's end is horrific and maybe it might've been nicer if Kujo hadn't killed the kid.

The ending of Bovary, that life goes on even if yours doesn't, is fabulous. And as Stephen King does not even REMEMBER writing Kujo, he can't be blamed for the sad ending - he says now it is obviously a metaphor for his losing battle (at the time) with alcohol.

I guess y'all are discounting the sequel to Gone With The Wind? Not written by Mitchell, of course, but guess what! Scarlett DOES get Rhett.

As for how I celebrate the end of a novel...I do feel there should be some sort of parade in my honour but as there isn't, I think I just lie down and try to get the obsessive/compulsive weirdness to exit my body.

Oh, I should say, although it's probably not a very good idea, that I'd like to do something about the way I wrote the death of Roger in Amanda's Young Men...
I think the book had been published (in the UK) when it suddenly hit me that there is a mistake to the description of his body. OMG! Nothin' to be done.

Thanks again Kate. Loved it!

Kate Pearce said...

You know Dayle, I think you hit the nail on the head-I agree, once it gets to the technical stage of copy edits and proof reading I've kind of given it up to the publishing gods and feel free to go back and create something new

Kate Pearce said...

OMG-that sequel to GWTW was just...awful-although I must admit i did read it. I think I preferred my imagined ending more than hers :)

What was wrong with the death of Roger? Inquiring minds want to know!

Madeline Moore said...

Oh alright but I'm gonna regret this.
Roger is found dead in a fly by night hotel room. So Amanda's quest, besides saving the company and bedding young men of legal age, is to find out who was with him when he died.

So in the end she does, and he was with a Domme type who was giving him a good cropping. He died of a heart attack and she took off the collar so as to 'preserve his dignity' but!

If he was being cropped when he died, how come there is no mention of marks on his body? Hmmm? Madeline???????? Gack.

Kate Pearce said...

um, maybe it was a very soft crop made of feathers and jello?

Madeline Moore said...

Maybe it was a soft flogger that his Domme misidentified as a crop...?

MariaGeraci said...

I'm in the middle of my first copyedits and feeling like a kid on the first day of grade school. Will definitely be taking some of your advice, Kate! :)

Madeline Moore said...

Oh Kate - I thought the rose petals scattered about the box in your pretty pic were drops of blood at first...equally fitting, I think.

Maybe your guy with the Russian last name just plain ol' changed his name (and so did his bro.) Could happen.

Maybe Roger had really resilient skin?

And Janine, I think at the end of 'Wildland' you really must put 'Continued in Wetland'

It's so perfect you might just have to write a trilogy in order to publish a book called 'Wetland'

I also think we might take a cue from Shakespeare, who wrote for the masses, as we do, I think, or would like to do. So what!

Yeah - so what. Bite me. The peoples luv my work.

Some of the bloopers in multi-million dollar movies that have an actual CONTINUITY PERSON in charge of the movie making sense are so full of errors it's shocking - and no one really cares.

Of course, one would have to give up 'perfectionism' which I don't know if I can do, or if any of us can do, but I think, after the fact, (learned this from Felix) it's really a case of - shrug - book is published, too late, get on with the next. (at least until a book goes into a second edition, and maybe even then.)

Mima said...

i spit water when i read the snark about rebecca being a last minute thought. really cute and inventive post, kate. the cover is gorgeous, it's all going to have been worth it! i'd change wuthering heights. :)

Lucy Felthouse said...

Ahh, has anyone seen the guy who plays Henry Crawford in the recent TV adaptation of Mansfield Park!? He is DAMN gorgeous... if you can find any naked photos of him, please post them!!! His name is Joseph Beattie and he is HAWT!!

Jamaica Layne said...

Love this post, it shows that so many of the aggravations we authors face are universal. Love the sense of humor at the end, too. (esp. the comment about du Maurier forgetting to name her most famous heroine----that's got to be one of the greatest mysteries in all of romantic suspense.