Thursday, 2 March 2017

Delayed Gratification. Or, the Long Path to a Real Book

Sketch by Iz Simonds

Here's a little insight into what is happening between a publisher buying my ‘book’ (a collection of words), and my Book (with covers, pictures, and all that) actually appearing in the real world. If you’d rather not have that insight, I recommend you go and read this wonderful short story by Steven Millhauser instead.


I thought this would be painful, and it’s been great. Perhaps it’s a good thing that I’ve spent so much time critiquing, and being critiqued, in writing land, that it would take troll galumphing through my manuscript to rile me now. Listening to feedback from an accomplished editor who understands both literature and selling books is useful and fascinating. Rare is the literary writer who can sit down and deliberately write a ‘sellable’ book. Some genre-writing may work like that, but this stuff doesn’t. Entertaining thoughts about ‘the market’ when you’re on your first draft, even your fourth, will only screw things up. Getting a professional view at the end of the process, however, I have found exciting. My editor’s suggestions make sense. Nobody is asking me to add a twist, or a happy ending, or a girl with a secret on public transport. Good editing is about making sure the writer’s intent comes across, and as a result my book feels entirely itself, but polished up. I consider myself lucky.

Book design

‘Keep an eye out for illustration styles or book covers you like, and we can show them to the designer’ my editor blithely said. Three Pinterest boards later, she has not yet expressed any regret. Is it a good thing, letting a writer try to influence a book cover design? For me, I’m delighted to be able to make suggestions. But unless the draft that comes back is like a child’s drawing of a giraffe (there are no giraffes in the book), I won’t mind if they ignore my ideas entirely. After all, I’m about as expert as a giraffe at this.


That these are on the table at all is a source of great pleasure to me. Over the years, I’ve worked hard at lowering my expectations around publication (good for avoiding disappointment), and I’d dealt some time ago with the fact that grown-up books don’t get pictures. Except now, it seems, some do. Even more exciting is that someone I know and love is currently filling a sketchbook with ‘illos’ (I’m learning the lingo) for that very purpose. It was with trepidation that I suggested a relative illustrate my work. Probably, the publisher expected that giraffe, or something equally unsuitable. But no! We have pages of glorious, atmospheric motifs and sketches, and permission to jump up and down a bit more.


We’re still a year away from publication. There are copy edits, cover designs, typesetting, proofs, quotes and all the rest yet to come.  By the time the book comes out, how different will I be as a writer? Will it still feel like mine? If I’ve moved on, it will only be easier to watch it emerge, vulnerable, into the world. The less of a big deal that seems, the better. For now, it’s still a thrill to sashay up the steps to my publisher’s office with my final draft under my arm.