Even the Flaws Must be Flawless

Draft 14 and Cameroned

Two different people, two different stances. They baulked in their own ways at the same things, things I thought were fine, until I read their reasonable assertions. The result? Draft fifteen and counting.

Two different people, two different stances. They baulked in their own ways at the same things, things I thought were fine, until I read their reasonable assertions. The result? Draft fifteen and counting.

I would have uploaded Gnaw by now if I didn’t have such a hang-up about perfection even though I know perfection isn’t possible. Yes, I was tempted to take Gnaw, published ten years ago, accept the flaws, pass them off as engineered and make it a quick repurpose job for ebook but I’ve learnt a lot in ten years. Readers deserve more than that. The characters themselves deserve more that that. When I wrote the male character initially, my protagonist did not need understand him. On re-read it nagged me. This guy could not just be a stooge for her musing; he had to be a real problem in his own right, an addition to the equation, possibly even a solution? It took nerve to develop Kenneth, who before was named after an alcoholic spirit (or pub), and make him more of a nuisance in his own right, but ‘our Kenneth’ is now firmly planted on the ground a spanner in the works for however long he lives in this format.

Rewriting it was like a piece of archaeological reconstruction. Like trying to conjure an urn out of a rim. I have excavated it, dusted it down and extracted the details. Perhaps I am less afraid of that story now because I am less afraid of love (Illustration: Jennifer Brady).

Rewriting it was like a piece of archaeological reconstruction. Like trying to conjure an urn out of a rim. I have excavated it, dusted it down and extracted the details. Perhaps I am less afraid of that story now because I am less afraid of love (Illustration: Jennifer Brady).

Another change: Gnaw was always a love story and within that, there was a metaphor for addiction. However while the metaphor was there, the love story was absent. I have put that love story in now. I had to be careful doing that. It was like a piece of archaeological reconstruction. In the weirdest piece of rewriting ever, I had to respect the original writer (myself in this case), and ascertain from evidence (ie the printed story), what that story was. It was like trying to conjure an urn out of a rim. Had I genuinely intended to leave the love story out back then? Or was I simply hidden to it? I have made a call on that now, excavated it, dusted it down with tact and extracted the details. Perhaps I am less afraid of that love story now because I am less afraid of love.

The title remains. There is no better one. The conundrum and solution is summed up in that title. I still believe that. It is the firmest artefact in the reconstruction of this particular rewrite.

So, after fourteen drafts of Gnaw in its new form, it did finally get to the copy-editor before Christmas (see previous post: Postcard to an Editor). I also sent it for a ‘stress test’ read with author and peer Janet Cameron. Two different people, two different stances, the result? They baulked in their own ways at the same things, things I thought were fine, until I read their reasonable assertions. Now, with draft fifteen incorporating editorial comments done, I realise I’ll need at least two or three more to get it close to flawless.

Postcard to an Editor

Cover B: Designer says ‘A response to the frenetic energy of protagonist…unravelling and of the tenuous hold she has on her life. The rope has not snapped yet, potential is there to stop the unbearable tension of whether to tame boredom or whether destructive contact will succeed.'

Concept agreed and on to Phase 2 of cover design; type size, positioning, technical issues explored etc.

From bungee jumping dragons to black vacuum tightropes and postage stamp anxiety, the poll returns the verdict 76.67% in favour of cover B. Cover B it is then.

I got some excellent comments and simulated samples from people who are busy in life and I thank you very much those who emailed me privately and those who commented online; Sean McCann, Laura Carpenter, Ferdia MacAnna and Recent Items. Very lucky also to have comments from Colm O’Shea writer and experienced bookseller, a wealth of awareness re categories, the mechanics of Onix and a justifiable wariness of self-pub. Also hats off to the designer now known as ‘The Sis’ for tolerating the dissection of her work while in beta form, not easy.

The Sis also gives us the shortest tutorial ever for any self-publisher embarking on a cover design, reiterated here as one in hopefully many of a series of 10 Second Soundbites* in case it helps anyone else out there commissioning artwork or thinking of doing it themselves. I’m all on for self-empowerment and doing things myself but the cover is the face of a book. Designers spend years in college qualifying and then years getting industry experience for a reason.

10 Second Soundbite* for self publishing — Cover Design

  • Stage 1
: Design presented. Concept is key.
  • Stage 2
: Design concept agreed. Amendments made — type size, positioning, technical issues explored etc.
  • Stage 3
: Artwork presented in medium required for publication

Cover for Gnaw is officially at Stage 2. Concept agreed! Enlarge title, move up on page slightly, enlarge author name, check that image is rights granted.

What Next?

Postcard back

The backbone of producing text is in the editing. Roughly edited or non-edited text gives self-publishing a bad name — I may sell only one copy of this ebook, but it’ll be an edited one.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing, or more to the point, rewriting the text itself,  creating the end-matter, copyright page, author bio and sundries and preparing to hand over to the most feared and respected person in the publishing world…no, not an accountant…why an editor of course! I have someone in mind for this. Someone I work with whose red biro would put the fear o God in you, a grammarian with a photographic memory and an unnervingly accurate factual recall and said recently at a Gill & Macmillan Finishing School ‘The best editors know what not to edit’. These are the words of an experienced editor for sure. Now, although Catherine Gough’s expertise is in trade non-fiction I believe she has the all-round experience and editorial agility for lit fiction and Gnaw in particular. But it is a tricky thing getting an editor who can accept odd things you come across in literary fiction like one-line paragraphs or absent punctuation…hold on… absent punctuation? Egad says Catherine on previewing this post (See? Already in good hands). I’ll have my work cut out thinking what can I offer in re-payment, this will be weekend time. You can but ask. Or send a postcard?

Postcard to an editor from Johanna Basford 'Secret Garden' art as coloured in by someone who appreciates detail very much.

The other side of the postcard to the editor: Johanna Basford’s ‘Secret Garden’ art as coloured in by someone who appreciates detail very much and evidently abhors a vacuum!

  • Hmmm, can text be a soundbite? Oxford and other dictionaries say it relates to speech or audio, however Wikipedia allows that in journalism a soundbite is ‘characterized by a short phrase or sentence that captures the essence of what the speaker was trying to say, and is used to summarize information and entice the reader…’ Maybe to be sure when Gnaw is done I could record the soundbites to make them truly soundbitey?