Saturday, January 5, 2013

Writing Time and Typos

My wife tells me I don’t spend enough time blogging. She’s probably right; she is about most things. Some marketing gurus tell writers that regular blog posts are critical tools for a writer to build his/her audience. Other people say blogs are a waste of time. Precious few are read by anyone beyond a writer’s immediate family and close friends.

This one draws only slightly more people than that.

But then I’ve put a bare minimum, if that, into building an audience for Committing Fiction. Truth is, I’d rather write a story than a blog post. The work is more interesting and the payoff is more immediate.

I’m fairly optimistic, though, that this post might be read by two more people than usually show up at this dusty outpost of the Internet. Two readers of my novels recently commented on my Jim McGill novels. The comments dovetail neatly from my point of view.

The first is a question that comes from Andy S.: “What is a normal, if there is one,  time frame to write a complete novel, like the Jim McGill book you will be starting, 3 months, 6 months?”

The answer is I never know how long a book will take to write. I can say that once I begin writing the first draft, I work seven days per week until I’m finished. I wish I could take more of a prima donna attitude and let nothing interrupt the work flow, but that isn’t realistic. I’m at the stage of life where my family obligations extend to both child and parent, and of course to my wife.

Family is the only thing that matters to me more than my writing. My mother and father both worked a lot harder than I do to make things right for my five siblings and me. My wife, as you’ll see below, also works very hard. I have to do what I can to hold up my end of the bargain. So, while I write every day to complete the first draft of a novel, the number of hours I have to write in a given day can vary greatly.

Then there’s the story itself. It might be complex or simple. The nature of a story determines its length. The longer the story, the greater the time it takes to tell. More words equals more pages equals more time needed at the keyboard.

I work hard at maintaining good health, so I don’t lose much time to sick days. Hardly any, really. But I’m not Superman. Toward the end of writing “The Last Ballot Cast,” I’d been at the keyboard so long, writing so persistently, that the fingers of my left hand started to spasm. That limited me in terms of the time I could spend working. This was very frustrating. I could see the end was close. I had all the words in my head. But if I pushed too hard my hand might have gotten really screwed up. I did what I needed to do; I pulled back.

Cost myself maybe an extra two weeks to complete the first draft.

There’s more to say about what happens next, but first I’ll mention the second reader comment.

Jeffrie F. posted the following comment on the Facebook page Friends of Jim McGill: “Love all 4 McGill Books. However, these last two books need a better KINDLE EDITOR. For such a great author, it is terrible to have the books not at its finest level. Way too many errors in the last two books.”

After I complete the first draft of a novel, it gets proofread, usually by five people, including me. We all find errors, often the same ones but not infrequently errors that one of us spots while the others miss them. Proofreading at a professional level is an exacting and uncommon skill. That’s why good proofreaders can charge handsome fees.

If I had hired a proofreading pro, it would have cost me $4,000-$5,000 to have a book the length of “The Last Ballot Cast” done. Sorry to say there’s no such thing as a Kindle Editor; you either do the work in-house or you hire an outside expert. The profit margin on most of my novels is two to three dollars. You can do the arithmetic to figure out how many copies I’d have to sell just to break even.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that TLBC suffered because two of my usual proofreaders were unavailable at the time. One was at summer school taking an extra course so she might graduate from college on time. The other was having back surgery. Life intrudes on everyone’s plans.

Besides what it might cost to hire an outside proofreader, there’s the matter of time it always takes to pick out at least most of the rough spots in a first draft. After I get back the corrections from my other readers and clean up those mistakes, I reread the manuscript again, polishing and making sure any continuity errors are corrected. More time.

Then the polished manuscript goes to my wife, Catherine, for formatting and page layout. Then Catherine and I have to come up with a cover design. Next, Catherine has to make the design computer ready. More time again. In short, a book’s ready when it’s ready.

Please understand, I hate finding typos in my work. So does Catherine. They make us cringe. Fortunately, e-books are infinitely revisable. If you spot mistakes we’ve missed and would care to point them out to us, please do. We will make the corrections and upload the cleaner copy.

In the meanwhile, we are looking for a sixth proofreader within the community where we live. We’ll also be checking the Net to see if there’s any good, reasonably priced software on the market that does more than check spelling. If you know of any, please let us know.

Perfection is never possible, but it’s always worth striving for.

One more thing, if you like the Jim McGill novels, please visit the Friends of Jim McGill page. I’d love to see a community of readers form there. I don’t always have the time to communicate one to one, but it would be great if McGill’s fans could start a dialogue among themselves.

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