snow around a frozen pond in a wood

The definitive proof

On Thursday afternoon, The Bone Dragon is going to be ready for publication. This might seen a long time in advance since it won’t be released until 2 May, but in the interrim it needs to be printed and distributed… and there may even be ARCs going out.

I have now learned that bound review copies are not the same as ARCs (advance review copies). Or not necessarily.  I’m still a bit shaky on the terminology but I think bound review copies and bound proofs are basically the same thing in everyone’s books (or should I say ‘for all books’?). They’re copies of a book that are produced from a relatively early proof. They’re printed and bound  like a book, but usually with a different cover to make sure that they’re not confused with the final publication version when it comes out. ARCs, on the other hand, are just copies of the book-as-published-for-sale (i.e. they’re printed from the final proof). Thething that makes them ARCs is that they’re sent out to people before the official publication date: they’re not actually different in any way from the books people buy off the shelves after the publication date.

So… the bound review copies have now been sent out. I am getting twitchy waiting for mine to arrive.

Meanwhile, the final proof – the definitive version of the book – will be done by next Thursday afternoon. It should include the final version of the cover (which I’ve yet to see). I’m just slightly excited*, though I know hitting send on my proof approval email will doubtless be as anticlimatic as handing over my PhD. (‘Oh, right. It’s done. Right. Um… Well, I guess that’s it then.’)

Sometime after that I’ll be able to share the cover (probably mid-March), and some sample material (probably  2 April) and… hopefully some reviews (no idea).

I can’t wait to see what you all think. I do hope you’ll like it.


* English understatement. Please translate appropriately.

Frosted fir branch


The final proofs are done (though there might be one last read-through). The review copies are being printed (I think). Next week the cover will be finalised. But right now there’s not a lot going on that I’m involved with. Since the start of December, I’ve been wading through the quiet pre-publication post-end-of-editing strange and trying not to gnash my teeth. It’s all about waiting, torn between impatience, excitement and terror… And, while I’ve never been very good at patient or waiting, I can do excitement and terror like a star so am spending much of time revved up to no purpose.

Soon we’ll have the cover reveal and I’ll get to see what people think. Soon there will be sample material available… and maybe some early reviews or at least informal feedback on the reception of the ARCs (advance review copies or bound proofs, as Faber tends to call them). Soon I’ll be having a meeting to plan the promotions and publicity work and after that there will be dates in the diary about events and activities and all sorts of things…

But right now it’s all very quiet. It’s less than 4 months now till TBD is published and it feels very strange not to be rushing about like a headless chicken trying to help the book find an audience… but I see the reasoning about how important timing is. Apparently things need to happen 6-8 weeks in advance tops because otherwise there’s such a lot of time between getting people’s attention and the book actually being available to them that it’s largely wasted effort. After all, I’m a debut author. No one knows if they’ll like my work yet so drawing out any anticipation that can be raised is unlikely to be productive. I see that… but it’s so strange for everything to have gone quiet.

I may soon wish for a little bit of the quiet back though, so I’m trying not to wish it away. After all, there are two other books to fill it with…

For now… Happy New Year!


ARCs, author’s notes and further research

The thing I’m learning about getting published is that it’s either dead-quiet or manic. There’s not much in-between.

This week the Advanced Review Copies are being printed. Apparently these are taken from the first set of corrected proofs, so I still have second proof queries to look at pre-Christmas. In the meantime, I’ve been asked to write a note for the bound proofs and am finding it surprisingly difficult. This is partly because there’s already an author’s note at the end of the book and I’m not entirely clear what I should say that’s different at the front. But I’ve had a go and produced two very different versions. One is a chatty, direct-to-the-reader thank you, plus potted history of the book. The other is a more formal bio-note.

The note at the end, by contrast, includes an aside about how knowing the common and Latin names of a particular plant changes the meaning of a key scene, some hints at how I came to write the book, and many, many thank yous. Never stint on the thank yous. A long list is something you should want to share because it demonstrates how generous people – including complete strangers – often are with their time and support when you say you’re writing a book. I’ve been very, very lucky, but I expect other writers are too. We need to flag this up as a happy reminder of how nice people are. Many are very willing to pause in their busy lives to help a writer, even though much of this kindness languishes in unpublished manuscripts or dusty, dog-earred notes. If you do get published, this gives you a chance to say how much you appreciated the kindness: make sure you take it. Readers shouldn’t be bored by thank yous. They’re the equivalent of the missing ‘happy stories’ on the news: evidence of people being good to each other.

The other thing I’m working on this week is filling out Faber’s publicity questionnaire. This is another thing I’m finding surprisingly difficult. But I’ll just have to give it my best shot and then ask the wonderful Laura from Faber’s publicity team to put me right if I’m wrong!

Finally, even though the book is now done and dusted, when given an opportunity to do some new research, I jumped at it. In the final stages of editing the book, I had to tweak the timeline of Evie’s adoption. I was fairly confident after the work, but regretted not having the time to do a little more research to be absolutely sure. So it was great to have an opportunty this weekend to chat to the most lovely, amazing foster parents about their experiences, how long various things take, and what the different stages in the process are. The book doesn’t deal with the detail of the adoption process – the necessary training and courses, the various stages of meetings and panels, and so forth – but it’s good to cement my understanding about these things so, if anyone asks, I can explain why I haven’t discussed certain things. I wouldn’t change anything in the book after this new research even if I could, but that’s why it was so useful: I’m now much more confident in what I’ve written and the choices I’ve made.

So, next steps… more thinking about publicity. I’m really looking forward to the one-to-one aspects of that: a professional excuse to spend LOADS of time talking to people, in person and online, about books and writing. It’s going to be such a hardship. <g>

Raindrops on roses

My favourite things: TBD has a new cover…

… Only it’s still a secret. Sorry about that. I know it was a little sneaky.

But I’m so excited about the cover I just have to write something about it, even though it is going to be very vague.

I’m not sure when the reveal will be but probably around Christmas/New Year. The wait will be well worth it. The cover is absolutely stunning. THE perfect cover. I opened the file and the design just clicked. “Ah!” I thought. “So this is what the book is supposed to look like!”

So what can I say about the new cover? Well, it’s clever, fun and full of secrets.

And completely different to the ‘old’ cover. Which I did really like too. The concept was something I’d thought from the start that Faber might pick and I loved the fact that it was a good ‘cross-over’ concept in that it didn’t appeal specifically to the YA market. But, for me, it was a bit weird to see the bone carving in such detail and so prominent. I quite like the idea of the reader being left to imagine that for him/herself.

The new cover… Well, it’s not that it doesn’t feature the ‘bone dragon’ of the title but it’s not that it exactly does either… Very helpful, I know. (Well, I never said I didn’t enjoy being a tease. :P)

In other news… Advance Review Copies (ARCs), as I now know they’re called, will be printed soon, so the proofs are nearly complete. No update on where we’re going with the breaking words over the line/text justification issue yet, but it is something we’re working on. Or rather my wonderful Project Editor is working on it. It was a very liberal use of the word ‘we’, there. But then I am being sneaky here… Might as well go the whole hog and be sneaky AND plural while I’m about it.

dragon symbols

Beyond the proofs

Somehow, we’ve ended up here, in October and my work on The Bone Dragon is nearly done.

The second proofs are being prepared. The big new thing is the addition of a special scene-divider symbol in place of the basic *. My wonderful project editor, Lucie, said she’d come up with several to discuss and I asked if – pretty, pretty, please – a dragon could be one of the options. The Wonderful Lucie sent me these.

dragon symbols

dragon symbol

I can’t wait to see the new proofs with all the dragons in them!

At this stage, it should just be a matter of checking through to be absolutely sure that no weird computer glitches have introduced errors since the last proof… and to double-check-squared that there aren’t any little mistakes. No other corrections are permitted. Which is a relief. I am ready to move on. I’ve done all I want creatively with The Bone Dragon. It’s time for a new project.

… Actually, it’s proven time for several. I’m re-writing several ‘old’ manuscripts and I’ve also started something completely fresh. But more about that in a separate post.

For now, I need to sit tight until the second proofs arrive and then check them as quickly as possible because after that… copies for early review will be printed. I was equal parts excited and terrified about this but all of a sudden I can’t wait for people to read my wicked little book. Whatever anyone else thinks or says, I’m happy with it. It’s even better than the book in my head – the first time I’ve ever felt that with a manuscript. It’s exactly what I wanted to write.

And of course I want people to love it, but I’ll be OK if they don’t so long as they’re not nasty about it. If someone points out legitimate flaws, then I’ll learn from that. If they just don’t like something, then fair enough. But if someone doesn’t judge the book on its own terms, I’ll find that really hard – mostly because reviews aren’t a conversation. They’re rhetorical statements: authors aren’t expected to reply.

So what do I mean by ‘judge the book on its own terms’… It’s easier to explain with reference to non-fiction. When you submit an article to a peer-reviewed journal, all identifying info is removed from the article and then it’s sent out to three or more specialists in the area to see what they think. They write a review to say whether the journal should publish the article. As a journal editor, I know all too well how often reviewers disagree – and disagree dramatically. But the thing I found hardest as an author wasn’t rejections based on flaws in my work, but the one review where the ‘specialist’ basically said ‘You like orange and I think green is better’. I was writing about dyslexia. It’s a tricky field as no one agrees on what dyslexia is. I was using one of the ‘industry standard’ definitions… But it wasn’t the one the reviewer preferred. The reviewer believed that dyslexia is a reading disability – I don’t agree. I believe dyslexia results in reading disabilities, but I see those as a consequence of more basic, cognitive processing differences.  Uta Frith has done some fantastic work about rhythm, sequencing and insensitivity to the frequency of vowel sounds as the root of phonological deficits.

Anyway, my research supported my views about what dyslexia is. Unfortunately, the reviewer wasn’t interested in the substance of my work. Instead of pulling apart my methods, results and conclusions to show how I was wrong and he was right, he used the review to criticise my approach to studying dyslexia – even though my approach was more inline with the bulk of the literature than his. I am still furious about the review because I didn’t feel like the reviewer judged the article on its own merits.

And that’s the one thing I’m really worried about review-wise with The Bone Dragon. But there’s one big difference between that experience and this. The article was rejected on the balance of that review. All the other reviews had suggested the article be accepted with corrections or revised and resubmitted (for further review). All the other reviewers made legitimate criticisms about the article, which I then corrected when I submitted elsewhere. Unfortunately, by the time that happened the research was in danger of getting out of date so I chose to submit it (now in the form of two linked articles) to my university’s online journal (read article 1 here and article 2 here). A lot of participants had given up their time to the research: I had to get the findings published, even if it wasn’t in my ideal choice of journal. The big plus side was that my work supported the launch of a new open access journal. I’m a big believer in open access publishing for academic work, though I do concede that finding sufficient funding is a real challenge: the EHRR, the journal I edited, was also open access, so it was nice to support that movement as an author.

The point here is that, even if I do get what I feel is an unfair review, I’ll be able to hold on to the fact that it’s a review of a published book. My published book.

And maybe they’ll be good. I love my wicked little book… And I now have an agent and publisher who love it too, so maybe – just maybe – other people will love it too.

But I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Fingers crossed! Wish me luck.

Whilte tulip stamen and petals close up

100% Proofs

So, it’s September 18th (we’re only a few weeks behind ourselves now) and I am working on the proofs, also called page-proofs. Basically, this is the bit where the author is given a print out (almost everyone works in hardcopy at this stage) of the manuscript all formatted for the printing of the book. So there are page guides at the edges of the pages since the book printing won’t be in A4.

The proofs for TBD are gorgeous. Completely gorgeous. I spent quite a while stroking the first page (my preciousssss, oh my preciousssss…) and wondering at the fact that my words were on that page. All over it. And the next page. And the page after that. And yet this was clearly a real book in the making. It was very weird. But very wonderful too. I think all writers should be allowed a ‘My Precious!’ moment when their proofs arrive. But then it’s on with the work…

The author’s job is to go through and check for errors, be they grammar or punctuation errors or formatting errors. There are often some of those, especially if the original manuscript is in Word. When working on the EHRR, Word to PDF conversion would regularly format random paragraphs into a different font size or font style, create large gaps in the text and/or repeat lines.

Actually, there was almost none of that with my proofs so I was even more impressed by how Faber is able to wrestle Word into submission. The one spanner Word threw into the works involved turning some of my long dashes into superscript ~ signs. Go figure. But there is always SOMETHING like this with Word. It’s inescapable.

All of that is pretty easy. The one thing that’s difficult for a writer is that you must try not to edit for content. At all. The only exceptions should be when you realise something doesn’t make sense. This should be at the sentence or phrase level only. There were a few things like that in the TBD proofs. At one point, someone was standing upright but hunched over. Pretty clever of them, really. There were also a few instances where the pagination meant that the way I’d chosen to punctuate something didn’t work. Sentence fragments often read fine when they’re on the same line on the same page, but they don’t necessarily do the trick when you have to turn the page in between ‘bits’. I also made a handful of cuts – single sentences or phrases – that didn’t make sense and that were more easily deleted than corrected.

Anyway, the key here is that this is not the time to edit for content. If you find a better way of saying something that does actually make sense, then you’re too late. The only content things you should change are things that just don’t work. And they should only be little, occasional things. If you’ve got more than one every 20-25 pages on average, then you’re in trouble. Or at least that’s the rule I applied.

There are official ‘mark up’ symbols for making corrections, but publishers don’t expect you to use them. Just be clear and clean with your corrections. And keep them to a minimum. But do use a pen, rather than a pencil.

Anyway, I was a good little author and tried to make as few corrections as possible as the manuscript was in great shape.

But I did have one query item to discuss… One of the things I really like about the proofs is that they conform to a lot of key accessibility principles. The lines aren’t wide. There’s lots of white space on the page. The font is a good size. While the text is justified (ragged right margins are generally better for readability), it doesn’t stretch and concertina, so it’s a fairly accessibility-friendly justification.

While there are some sentences in italics, there isn’t a good alternative for this as bold just looks odd and changing the font isn’t accessibility friendly anyway… At the end of the day, there aren’t a lot of italics so it’s not a major issue… at least not compared with the key things about font size and white space.

There was just one thing that I found a little tricky as a dyslexic-dyspraxic reader: there are quite a lot of words that are hyphenated over the end of lines. I find it really hard to reassemble words than ‘run over’ from one line to another.

So my query was about whether we could reduce the number of these and/or whether we could change where the ‘breaks’ happened.

Obviously, the fewer of these the better, but why the point about ‘breaking at the root’? It’s much easier for ALL readers, not just ones with special needs, to reassemble a word broken at the root, like ‘desper- [new line] ation’ as opposed to ‘de- [new line] speration’. That said, it’s critical for many readers with special needs to have these linguistic cues. For instance, it took me about 5 minutes (even though I *wrote* the book) to figure out what was meant by ‘grey-or [new line] ange’. Similarly, I spent a good two minutes staring at ‘at- [new line] tention’ before I managed to figure it out.

For dyslexics and dyspraxics it’s hard enough to get the bits of words in the right order without having the full word to work with. For visually impaired readers, and those working with screenreaders and other accessibility technologies, it’s hard work to fit two word ‘bits’ together into a whole word when you can’t work on recognising the word as a whole. It’s not impossible, of course, but who wants time-consuming hard work to figure out what a word is when you’re trying to enjoy a story? It doesn’t make for the best reading experience.

As a former professional researcher in the field of dyslexia studies, not to mention both dyslexic and dyspraxic myself, I try to bring general accessibility good practice into my work whenever possible. For instance, when I was appointed Executive Editor of the EHRR, I re-designed the website, writing the code by hand as, while html generators are getting much better, they still have a nasty tendency to use tables, blank spaces and blank graphics to fudge layout issues: all of these are terrible from an accessibility perspective. (The Moodle virtual learning environment is a fantastic exception, BTW, and generally produces code that adheres to accessibility principles.) Anyway, the point with regard to the journal was that, as a human rights journal, we needed to have an accessible website.

That said, it’s hard to follow every good practice principle – at least to the letter – and come up with something that is both effective and beautiful. It’s OK to compromise on some things if you’ve taken the time to think through what is most important and then made a concerted effort to do the best you can.

So what about the proofs? The issue for me is that they’re beautiful. Really, really beautiful. I couldn’t be happier with how the book looks. And the page-setting is really great from an accessibility perspective… with this one small exception where I think the balance needs to shift just a little. So I’m hoping we can reduce the number of broken words without altering the look of the book and also make sure that the remaining broken words split at the root. I’m not sure what will be possible, which is why I’ve put forward a query rather than a series of corrections, but at the very least we’ll have given serious thought to making sure that the book is accessible and beautiful.

At the end of the day, it’s about priorities. Lots of white space and short lines are much more important than the odd sentence in italics. And the odd split word, if split at the root, won’t be an issue. We’ve just got to strike the best balance possible. And the first step is to be aware, so we’re already headed in the right direction.

Has anyone had any negative experiences of reading to do with layout or formatting? Has anyone with children with special needs come across things like broken words that make reading so much harder than it needs to be?


Onto the proofs

Just for the record, you might like to know it’s now late August.

By now, there have actually been two ultra-fast stages of copy-editing (see Everyone should have a project editor). The first set of copy-edits came in on August 9th. I returned my comments in batches August 15th-17th. Further comments arrived from Eleanor on the 20th, returned same day.

At this stage, it works for me to have (self-set) tight deadlines. For me, there’s a real danger of agonising over tiny things to the point where I just can’t see the pros and cons effectively. Which is not to say that I don’t take a lot of care over the tiniest of tiny details… but there’s a point at which I’ve taken care through 10 drafts and now am sailing into obsession territory. And a tight deadline means there’s a point at which I’ve got to just make a decision. And that can be a Very Good Thing.

So, August 21st off the manuscript goes to be page-set and turned into a manuscript that actually looks like a book (why do I keep typing ‘good’ for ‘book’?).

… 13th of August the electronic copy of the proofs comes into my in-box. Hardcopy picked up on the Monday when I go into Faber to have a strategy session on how to promote the book.

As always, I am fed chocolate and everyone is lovely to me. If you’re looking for a publisher, I can gush over Faber for you. 🙂

This time we’re in a lovely airy room at the top of Bloomsbury House and there are glass cases with different editions of TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. I still call my cat a possum, though I’m not entirely sure that this was what Eliot intended with the title.

Anyway, the meeting is also a chance to meet Leah, the new Children’s Publisher at Faber, who is lovely (a running theme at Faber)… and also very kind about the fact that I’m in a frenzy of excitement. I suppose it’s good not to be getting in the least bit complacent, but it would be nice if some of the nervous energy of I’M GETTING PUBLISHED! would wear off soon.

It’s a productive meeting, with Rebecca, Leah and Laura, Faber’s publicity wiz, who organised my first ever book-related press clipping, all helping me to get my head around the next stages which will include…

(1) proofing the proofs

(2) printing a proof version to go out for early reviews (terror alert!)

(3) publicity things…

We also talk about the back cover blurb, online branding… and Twitter. We talk a lot about Twitter.

Twitter is a problem for me. First, because I’m a novelist I think in 300 pages about most things. Second, while I hope I’m not boring, I find it hard to believe that anyone but me cares whether I’m having tea. I don’t think my closest friends care… Well, unless they’re actually in the room with me (in which case the tea is important because (a) I am fueled by tea, (b) when I’m about to spontaneously combust with excitement (a fairly common occurrance actually), tea stops me from doing so because I know I’m clumsy so I stay still to drink the tea on the basis that then I will only spill some of it, and (c) when you might as well label me Beware the Beastie, tea restores me to being semi-human, which is as good as it gets).

Anyway, I find it hard to say anything short enough to fit into a tweet that I think will be interesting to other people. I suppose this will get easier as publication approaches and there are more snippets of ‘news’. But a friend (thank you Fiona!) has had a brilliant idea, that I think was mentioned in the Faber meeting too, so I think I may have a way forwards…

Does anyone else have the same problem with Twitter? How do you get around it?