Monthly Archives: August 2010

Proofreading Catalyst

A rough sample of the Catalyst Cover

The final edits are done. The picture cover has been designed by Bob Hobbs. All that’s left to do is the cover setup (the font will hopefully change), the formatting of the book itself, and the final proofreading.

The proofreading is tough. Even though I’m pleased with the story and believe it’s well crafted, by now I’ve read the darn thing at least five times in the space of a few months and, frankly, I’m a bit sick of it.

Soon I’ll have to read it again, and this time it’s a different way of reading. This type of reading is at the same time mindless and extremely focused.

It’s mindless because you can’t afford to read the story. Reading for the story is a different mode of reading. If you’re a moderately fast reader, like I am, you read ahead and anticipate the words. Even though you read the words, your brain doesn’t “see” them; it sees the story, the characters, the action, the setting. The words –if the story is well written– weave a picture, a mental movie of what’s going on. Even in a literary work, this vision building is the goal of writing.

With proofreading, you must focus on every word. Forget the computer’s spell checker. You are the spell checker. You must look at every word and make sure each is spelled and used correctly. It becomes a witch hunt for any spelling mistakes and false friends like “it’s” and “its”, “they’re” and “their” and “there”, “who’s” and “whose”, etc. Every word is scrutinized. If you fall into the trap of beginning to read the story, you have to back up and start over.

Granted, at this point there shouldn’t be too many spelling mistakes, which makes it even more arduous because, let’s face it, reading words for the sake of words is tedious.

And as a writer, when I get to that point, I must fight the compulsion to fiddle with the words one last time before it’s too late. This is a bad idea for two reasons: first, because major changes at that point can greatly delay the publication of the book and second, because there are chances that I’ll make things worse. The story is completed. Let it be.

And very soon, I’ll be holding a copy in my hands. Can’t wait.

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The Espresso Book Machine

Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Increasingly, discussions about thee EBM center around the possibility that this ingenious piece of hardware and software might save the small bookstore.

The Espresso Book Machine (EBM) is a print on demand (POD) machine that prints, collates, covers, and binds a single book (trade paperback) in a few minutes. The quality is surprisingly good–and the machine if fast.

Giants such as amazon and the rise of ebooks are stealing business away from small bookstores, which also cannot sustain the large inventories of larger box bookstores such as Chapters or Barns and Noble. The EBM is a way to cut costs and to have a huge inventory, as large as any electronic database of books can sustain. It also solves the problem of returns and how to supply out-of-print books.

Publishers such as Simon & Schuster and Hachette are setting up to provide all their titles for the EBM. Many other publishers will follow suit. It also brings to the bookstores people who wish to self-publish and have printed copies of their books, and most of the small indie publishers registered with Ingram who cannot afford to ship copies to bookstores.

The EBM has transparent walls so it’s possible to see a book being created from beginning to end, something most people never see.

Although it’s a pricey initial investment ($75-95,000), all university presses and bookstores that bought them fully believe they’ll recoup their investment in a few years.  Marcus Gipps, the Blackwell store manager in London, England, says that his customer base has increased since they brought in the machine; it has been dragging people away from their computers and into the store.

The number of university presses and bookstores that have Espresso Book machines is now up to 86:  http://www.ondemandbooks.com/our_ebm_locations.htm

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Can I write?

Yesterday, on LinkdIn, someone asked a question: My mom says my book is good, but is it?

The question turned out to be bogus, asked by a brand-new publisher trolling for potential authors. I didn’t realize it until I’d answered the question. When I thought back, I decided the answer I gave her shouldn’t be lost. I asked a version of that question when I first started to think I wanted to commit to writing more seriously. So, here is the answer I gave her:

Any writer, agent and publisher will tell you that the opinion of a family member is not a reliable gauge of one’s writing ability, even if they’re published writers themselves. Why? Because they love you. Because they don’t want to hurt you or your feelings. Because sometimes there’s a fine line between critique and criticism, and they’re afraid to cross it.

There are several thing you can do:

  1. Join a writing group. You can join a local writing group that writes in your genre. Your local library might be able to help you with that. You can join an online writing or critique group, although some of them are simply admiration societies and are pretty useless. Some of them, though, are quite good and can help you perfect your craft.
  2. Take a creative writing course. You can also take a creative writing course at your local college, or online. Some are quite good and don’t cost a lot of money.
  3. Read on writing techniques. There are tons of books on writing and self-editing that you can either buy or borrow from the library. One book that helped me tremendously is Orson Scott Card’s Characters & Viewpoint.
  4. Ask for unbiased advice. If you’ve always lived in the same town, you can go visit one of your English teachers, be they from high school, college, or university, and ask them for advice. But don’t send your manuscript or story to your favourite published writer. It is unlikely he or she will respond, unless you know them personally.
  5. Don’t stop writing. Don’t stop at one book. Write continuously; it’s only in doing it that you get better.
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