Thursday, March 20, 2014

Behind the Scenes of Book Publication

Our view of Italy's beautiful coast
First of all, let me say that this dreamy photo has nothing whatsoever to do with this post, but it brings back a happy memory from our European anniversary trip last year and I love it. So there it is. Hope you enjoy it too.

Okay, now on to business.

I'm nearing the March 31 deadline for completion of my new book, Too Loved to be Lost, so I thought I'd share what goes on behind the scenes at this stage of the publication game.

A few weeks ago, I started seeking endorsements (known as blurbs in the biz) from high profile people for the "Praise" page and/or back cover of my book. I'm fortunate to be acquainted with several wonderful authors who graciously read my chapter sampler and provided me with a lovely blurb I can either use as is in its longer form, or edit for a brief one or two-liner (which is what is often done for promo purposes).

I also asked my publishing house editor and my agent to give some thought to coming up with a few potential endorsers within their various circles of influence. Hopefully that will glean some nice results. 

For the last two weeks, I've been busily self-editing, which consists of grinding through the manuscript repeatedly, spot-treating (locating and making content problem areas better) and correcting errors. 

Spot-treating got easier for me with this book (as compared to the previous four) thanks to the wise advice of Dr. Angela Hunt. I attended a posh luncheon in Angie's benefit a month or so back and she suggested her booklet, Track Down the Weasel Words to help me with the tedious chore of self-editing before submission.

True to its cover promise, Angie's book supplied "strategies to revise and improve your manuscript," which happily augmented my tried-and-true system I'd long ago derived and revised from Browne and King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. 

I suppose that resource sounds peculiar for a nonfiction writer, but I cut my teeth on fiction and have found the precepts go hand-in-hand with creative nonfiction storytelling, which pretty much describes my current writing style.

Angie's suggestion to compile a list of your "weasel words" and plug them into the search and replace feature on your computer system was a terrific time saver for me and I'd like to pass it on to you.

The list of commonly overused wimpy words/phrases (which Angie recommended) I entered into "search" (typed in space-word-space) and then replaced with the very same word in all caps, again with a single space before and after the word, were:
it                    that                        just
was                there was               of the
were               there were             started to

The purpose of capitalizing these problem children is to make them jump out at you during your next pass through the manuscript, giving you the opportunity to see how overused they are (or hopefully not) and substitute a better word or phrase to tighten up loose writing.

For example, I was shocked to find that "it" appeared over 300 times in my book. Yikes! Some I decided to leave (can't do much with "Take it to the bank"), but others were quite expendable, making my writing all the better for the deduction.

"He tried the doorknob. Surprisingly, it turned." became "Surprisingly, the doorknob turned."
"As clearly as if he had spoken it aloud" became "as clearly as if he had spoken aloud." Simple, right? Yet so much more streamlined and professional (especially from an editor's viewpoint for those of you preparing to submit to an agent or publishing house for the first time).

Searching "of the" turned up dozens of sloppy overuses such as: " minutes of the meeting ..." which became "the meeting's final minutes."

Rooting out "there was" found many sentences like: "I knew there was nothing I could do." which became "I knew I could do nothing on my own."

I also noticed a few overly-repeated weaselly stylistic devices that are my own personal nemeses: em-dashes and italics. I was able to replace many of the em-dashes with semi-colons but there was still a hefty flock of pigeons left. I was flabbergasted at how many I use without knowing until a clever little tool like this digs them up. I tried to limit italics to no more than three per page (which was a struggle for me - hey, I talk in italics!) because I recognize that I'm actually removing the oomph by trying to emphasize too often.

So what are your personal weasel words or stylistic devices and how do you deal with them?


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading how what you learned from your "posh" encounter was applied to your writing. Isn't it interesting how something suggested by someone else all of a sudden appears so obvious, especially once your make the changes in your own manuscript. I would never have noticed the difference but now that you pointed it out, I will be more diligent in looking for the words or phrases, at least for a while.