There are lots of phases of a book. Authors are involved in some, and not the others. (It’s more complicated than I’m implying too, there’s galleys and other stuff, emails and conversations and probably whole long parts of it that I’m not involved in and thankfully know nothing about since they would probably only make me more anxious.) Also, there’s all the parts with contracts and agents and money. (If you’re interested in the money and author part, read this.) This is just a peek at what it looks like from here, there’s other stuff.
The writing, naturally, is an authors job. You propose what you would like to write, then they say yes or no (or negotiate) and then the writer sits down to do the deed. (The proposal may be really formal, or not. When I submitted my first proposal I used this book as a guide (it worked too) but now that the publisher is pretty sure I have good ideas, I can just tell the editor what I’m thinking.) As the writing phase passes, depending on the writer or the publishers policy, the author is babysat to varying degrees. Sometimes the publisher asks the writer to submit the writing in chunks (this is so they know that you’re really working and your book isn’t crap) and sometimes, if you have experience in actually handing in books on time that aren’t total crap, and your publisher is the type, they leave you entirely alone and you just hand it in on the deadline. (There may be one or two phone calls from your editor broached as kind enquiry about your well being, “just calling to see how you are, it’s been ages” sorts of phone calls, but these are really “I’m calling to get some sense that you’re actually working on a book and have not gone barking mad, become an alcoholic or are otherwise endangering the odds that I will get that manuscript” calls. When these calls happen, both the author and the editor pretend that they are 100% unconcerned about anything. They are both lying.) This is the last time that the author will have absolute control over any part of making a book. The finished work is called a manuscript, if you are the editor and publisher, and “My Precious”, if you are the author.
The author sends the book to the editor. The editor reads it. The editor then makes decisions and forms opinions about the whole rest of the writers life and whether it is worth living. When they are ready to tell the author about these opinions and decisions, they call them. (The time that elapses before that phone call comes is so unbelievably awful that it makes the time that I fell asleep on a dock in Bala and got a sunburn so bad that I couldn’t wear clothes for four days seem like a spa day.) Once the editor has called the author (who cries, either from relief or shock) they begin the process of editing. The editor marks up the manuscript with words that rip your soul open like “unclear” or “wordy” or “will you ever, ever learn to pay attention to its and it’s, or are you stunned as a bat?” (Well. They don’t say that. They just underline it, but I know what they are implying with their red pen.) Then they send it back to the author and they have a couple of discussions about how it’s not wordy, those words are vital and if you take out even one of them the integrity of the whole thing washes down the toilet – which the editor endures politely until you are worn down and take the words out yourself.
The publisher starts having meetings. Authors don’t really go to them, so I don’t know what gets said. They claim that this is when they make decisions about design, layout and title, but they might be just talking about what pains in the arse authors are. (That’s my theory.) At some publishing houses authors are “consulted” on this stuff, in others they are not. Generally speaking, publishers decide on the cover and the title, although they consider the feedback of the people in sales a great deal. Unless you are dealing with a special sort of publisher – authors are not going to win any debates at this point. I can’t speak for all authors, but I know that I find the lack of control at this point pretty much excruciating. At least twice before there is a final cover and title, I cry out of sheer helplessness…(and that’s saying something, because although I do tend to over-invest in things, I am not normally a crier.) The author will probably be shown several covers between now an publication, so it’s best not to flip out over the first couple. It’s changing anyway. (This doesn’t stop the bad and soon to change cover from being on Amazon.)
While the publisher is thinking about the cover and the title and stuff like that, the manuscript has gone to a copy-editor. This person edits your work for the five C’s. (They make sure the work is clear, correct, concise, comprehensible, and consistent.) Sometimes at this point it comes back to the author, sometimes it just goes to the next step. Sometimes if the author sees it at this point they have a seizure for no reason.
The work goes to the layout and design people, and they make it pretty. They make actual “pages” or “spreads” of how the book will look when it’s a real thing. Now the work is called ” A proof” or “The Pages” and these are proof-read (by a proof reader) and then sent to the author, who heaves a sigh of relief because they think that this part should be called The Proof because the author finally has fairly good proof that the publisher is actually going to go through with this. This stack of paper is the last time that the author will see their words. The last time that they can make changes (but not too many – or the publisher is unhappy). The last time they can check for mistakes. The last time before the publisher turns it into a real book.
That’s what I’m doing today.
This is this book. (There it is. The cover that won’t be the cover, I think.) I can’t tell you how horrible I think it is that it is both on my coffee table and up on Amazon. It feels a little like a promise you aren’t sure you can keep. Like “Are you sure you want to sell something that isn’t even a book yet? Are you sure?”. I am painstakingly going over it with a fine tooth comb, checking for mistakes, thinking over the editing job one more time and deciding if it is ready to go into the world. This part makes me nauseous. Totally nauseous. If I make a mistake now (or if the editor, the copy editor or the proofreader made or missed a mistake that I don’t find) an error will be in the book forever that a whole bunch of you will email me about, probably for the rest of my life. 50 years from now there will be one beat up copy of this book in the Toronto Public Library and some knitter who hasn’t even been born yet will take it out, read it, and then send me an email about the dumbass mistake on page 7 and how I should have fixed it. (Excuse me. I just made myself dizzy with my own vision.) It’s a lot of pressure. Horrible actually, and although I love being a writer, I hate this part with a stinking and unholy passion. I have tried tempering it with sock knitting….
But my mood is still bleak and worried. (Perhaps I should go back to leaf knitting. At least that was only endless, not scary.) The only comfort a writer has at this point (and who knows, perhaps there are writers who LOVE this part. If there are, and they are sober, I’d love to hear from them.) the only thing that is a glorious and shining revenge and compensation is the word
Stet is a really fantastic latin word. It means “let it stand” and if you write it near a change an editor, copy editor or proofreader has made, it means “Put. It. Back“. I love it, for though it is a word of enormous import, power and dominion, it is very fast to write.
After all of the arguments a writer will lose during all of the phases of publication, after all of the negotiations, all of the compromises, all of the discussion and polite persuasion…. It is the authors final weapon, the last line of defence…..and I adore it with the full force of my being. Stet means “I wrote arse and I mean arse”. Stet means, “Yeah it’s a run on sentence, but maybe I like run on sentences”. Stet means “the serial comma is not a law, and you and your comma fetish can back right off.” Stet. It is a final, brief and dignified return of control to an author, and you should try writing or saying it to feel the real power in it. (Ever time I write it I cannot help but think of all the things I would STET if I could. Not just on a manuscript either. Curfews for a teenager? STET. The way I told you to pick up your socks? STET. What I said about that boy that you only think you like? STET.)
Stet. Let it stand. The word that cannot be argued with. Damn straight.
(PS. I know that the fact that I wrote “Stet Please” diminishes my claim to the inherent strength of the word. I’m Canadian. I can’t help it.)