Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sweatin' the Small Stuff

by Kathleen Ernst

I just finished my final read-through of Old World Murder. Today it goes back to Midnight Ink, and on to the printer.

Many authors, I suspect, savor this moment. (I'm done! I'm done!) Me? Not
so much.

It's not that I'm not excited about publication. Of course I am! But a refrain keeps circling through my brain: What did I miss?

I can't even count how many times I've carefully worked my way through these pages. Dozens and dozens. Hundreds, maybe. Lots of writer-friends and content specialists have reviewed it as well. And still, on this final pass, I found more than a few mistakes.

After Midnight Ink accepted Old World Murder, I cut about twenty thousand words in order to get the manuscript down to the publisher's target length. I tried to smooth over the cuts, but I did find a couple more disconnects on this final round. For example, very late in the novel I refer to a character saying such-and-such, when in fact, that line in Chapter 1 was deleted.

Then there were the awkward bits. Here's one clunker: "A headband striped with yellow and green and blue kept a curtain of shoulder-length braids swept back from her shoulders." How could I have missed that double "shoulder" earlier?

Old World Murder is set in 1982, which provides a few extra challenges. One reader informed me that the word "Scrunchie" was not in use then. (Scrunchies, for those not in the know, are hair thingies.)

I have memories of wonderful meals at a place called The Nite Cap Inn back in the '80s, and I wrote it into the book. (I only use real places if I love them.) I thought I'd described it well, but my husband and I recently dined there so I could revisit the fish fry experience. The food is still superb, but I'd forgotten that you have to order first, and wait in the bar until a table is ready. A small thing...but locals would know the difference. I changed my scene accordingly.

Consistency is another bugaboo. A patio table that was made of iron in chapter 4 had magically morphed into wicker by the book's end. My cop character is keeping an eye on a tavern called The Eagle's Nest; I noticed on this round that about half the time I didn't capitalize "The." Ack.

And despite the careful and detailed timeline I've constructed for the narrative, I not once but twice referred to the wrong day of the week.

I work really hard on my books. I hope I've told a good story in Old World Murder, but that isn't enough. I want the writing itself to sing.

So to all patient editors, manuscript reviewers, copy editors, and proofreaders--thank you. I'd be lost without you.

And to all readers--thank you too, for being willing to float over whatever flubs escape the final edit, and make their way into print.


Lois Winston said...

Kathleen, have I ever been there/done that! In my first book I had a running gag with a geography theme to it. I have a distinct memory of grabbing the atlas to check my facts when I first wrote it. That book wasn't out a week when I received an email from a reader telling me you can't get from Iowa to Kansas by traveling down the Mississippi River. I knew he had to be wrong. I researched that fact! So I went back to the atlas and discovered when I first looked it up, I'd mistaken the Mississippi for the Continental Divide! I chalk that up to a small map and a need for new glasses!

To make matters worse, this ms. had been vetted by my detail obsessed critique partner and my equally detail obsessed agent, plus my editor and the copy editor. No one had picked up the mistake.

So I ran a contest on my website -- a prize to the person who found the error. No one else picked it up except one woman who was so obsessed about finding it that she finally did on her 3rd read through of the book!

Lisa Bork said...

Kathleen, with all the care you've put into crafting this book, I'm sure it will be outstanding!

I would fix four things in my first book if it ever goes to reprint, but no readers ever pointed anything out to me.

Kathleen Ernst said...

No matter how hard we try, we're human, and mistakes will happen. But it's so hard to see them in print! (Sound of hand slapping forehead.)

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I've had readers point out stuff to me. In my second Odelia book I called Dale Evans' horse Buttercup when it was really Buttermilk. People notice those things!

Kathleen, you are not alone. My 8rh completed book just went to the printer and up to the last minute my production editor, proofreader and I were fixing things we'd missed earlier. These little nits come out of the closet like boogeymen even with an army of people looking the book over.

I'm looking forward to your book!

Darrell James said...

Kathleen- I feel your pain. No matter how many times I go over a manuscript I still find "sniglets".

Kick back and start thinking about the next book.It will drive you crazy enough to forget about the first.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Lois - great idea about the contest. No point in trying to hide!

Sue Ann - "little nits" - great description.

And Darrell - thanks for reminding me that I've got plenty of ways to distract myself. (Second book! OMG, I'm way behind already.)

Carol Grace said...

Not to worry. Just think of what pleasure you're giving to those readers who catch the mistakes, what glee to have found an error in your otherwise fabulous book. And you might learn something valuable, as I did, that Big Sur is actually south of Carmel instead of north. Thank you readers!

Kathleen Ernst said...

Readers do catch these things! And you're right, it's good to thing of it all as a team effort.

M Pax said...

I have yet to read a book without flubs, especially lately. Don't worry about it.

Keith Raffel said...

Kathleen, maybe you should open a fact-checking service for obsessive authors. If you do, count me as your fast customer.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Geez, Keith, I'm stressed enough about my own ms! I'd totally freak if I took even faint responsibility for anyone else's.

However, my husband is the one who looked up "Scrunchie" to verify when it was first used...I'll suggest the service to him!