I just handed the copy-edited manuscript of Victory Square to my friendly neighborhood Hungarian Fed Ex man, and it’s beginning its two-day trip to New York. Like many of the previous copy-edits, I had to rush my way through these, clocking 100 pages a day to make my post-return-to-Budapest 4-day deadline—even so, it’ll arrive a day late.
Luckily, it was a clean manuscript, with occasional exceptions. I tend to overuse conjunctions at the beginnings of sentences, particularly when I’m on a roll. I get inconsistent on things like capitalized nouns, and in one chapter the Russian character’s name is different than it is the rest of the book—he went through one of those last-minute search-and-replace name changes that didn’t quite take. And of course I sometimes get historical names and facts completely wrong.
But it’s out, gone, and I won’t see it again until the proofs arrive—those big pages with big margins and, in the center, the text as it will appear in the final book. Those are nice. I really like classy typesetting.
By the time I get hold of these later versions of what I once knew only as a Word file on my computer, I’ve gained a little distance. Months have passed, and I’ve become more excited about that next book, which, theoretically, will blow the previous one out of the water. Then I sit down and read the manuscript, full of colored-pencil scribbles someone else made, and start to see it for the story it is. Not just the sentences that could’ve been structured better, or the poor word choice, or the lack of description in this or that scene—I start to see it as, hopefully, the reader will—as a story unto itself, disconnected from those months of hard work and unbearably early drafts.
It’s as if the story’s no longer mine.
During the more exciting sections, I even asked myself, “What happens next?” and occasionally surprised myself with passages I’d forgotten. A few times I fretted for characters’ fates, and sometimes thought, “Wow, where did that come from?”
Each evening, my girlfriend asked the same question: “Is it still good?”
I shrugged, nonchalant. “Yeah,” I said. “I mean, I think it is.”
However, there was something in the manuscript to back up this opinion. The copy-editor, among the general notes s/he scribbled on the front page, added, “And thank you for writing such an enjoyable book!” This has happened only once before, with my first book, the oft-nominated one. So does that mean anything? Probably not, but it’s nice anyway.
At this point, though, the book is beyond repair—that is, I can’t rewrite it anymore. What’s done is done. However, my trepidation is stronger this time around, because this is the finale to my series. In this book lies the final chance for my series to achieve mass market success, and this was something I was aware of during the whole composition.
If this book does remarkably well, there will be a natural resurgence of the earlier volumes’ sales. But if this book does poorly—does, for instance, the kinds of numbers Liberation Movements has been showing—then the whole series will fade slowly away. Everything really does hinge on this last book, and there’s no longer anything I can do about it.
But really, that’s the good news. Because we all need to be stopped at some point and told to just give it up already. Either by our editors or by the simple need to get that on-delivery check from the publisher. Otherwise we’d be like Professor Grady Tripp, writing and editing for years without ever really knowing if we’re making the story any better.
Besides, if you don’t let the present one go, you’ll never know how great that next one is going to be. And that just might be a damned shame.
(Originally posted at the Contemporary Nomad)