Traditional Publishing — Blog Post #3
After a week or so, my manuscript returned in another FedEx envelope. As soon as I picked it up, I could tell something was different. I could feel a lump inside the envelope. I was sure this lump was not present when I sent my manuscript to the publisher, what could it be?
It was a blue colored pencil. Seriously, the publisher returned my manuscript with a colored pencil. I was writing my book using MS Word but, to get the manuscript copy edited, I had to print it out and send it to the copy editor. And that person went through the manuscript, page by page, and marked everything that needed changing with a red colored pencil. Now I had to go through the manuscript, page by page, and mark each of the copy editors changes, the red pencil marks, with my comments, using the blue colored pencil. As I reviewed each change, each red mark, I would make a note, in blue. If I agreed with the change I would make the same change in my manuscript in MS Word, if I did not agree with the change, I would make a note of that, in blue pencil, in the printed manuscript. I had to return the printed manuscript, with all my blue notes, to the publisher.
I couldn’t believe it. I was surrounded by computational power but for all the editing I had to send a physical copy of my writing and wait for it to return, and mark all changes with a colored pencil. I assume this is no longer the way this is handled. This was one of many aspects of traditional publishing that was anything but romantic. But, as always, I wanted to be published a lot more than I wanted to be ‘right’, it really was a stupid way to handle this, but, the published controlled the printing press so I did what I was told. In general, I encourage you to look at getting published like this: you can be published or you can be right.
My book about database administration didn’t have a lot of graphics, but there were some diagrams that I wanted to include and the Acquisitions Editor agreed. The publisher had a budget for my book and there was money to pay a graphic artist to take the diagrams and figures I had created in MS Word and make them look better, more professional. I was happy to have this task taken from me, one less thing to worry about.
As my manuscript was nearing completion, it was time to incorporate the work from the graphic artist. No problem. The publisher had hired a contractor, the work had been done, and all the artwork was on a disk to be sent to me. When I got the disk, I would simply copy the artwork into my manuscript and that would be that. The disk arrived on schedule, I loaded the disk into my PC, and, it was blank. No kidding, no files, nothing. I was pissed. I contacted the Acquisitions Editor and told him what I was seeing. I was told that they sent the disk using the lowest cost option available, the USPS, and that probably meant the disk was examined by some sort of scanner that erased the disk. I was stunned. This was a well known publisher of technical books, a name you would recognize, and they were copy editing with colored pencils and mailing computer disks without taking any precautions to prevents those disk from being erased.
I was about to get even better. Along with a budget, the publisher also had a schedule for my book. I was told that the money budgeted for the artwork had been spent, and the publisher wasn’t going to pay the contractor, the graphic artist, to recreate the disk. And, because of the schedule, there wasn’t time to pursue any other options, I would have to create all the figures for my book, and I had to complete them right now. I couldn’t believe it. But I wanted to get published, so I completed the required figures right away. I was grateful to have the opportunity to get published, but, dealing with an actual publisher had stripped away all the romance that most people associate with becoming a publisher author.
I got the artwork done, and I was pretty much over the incredible incompetence that I had to deal with. I wanted my book to have a great index, something I find most books do not have. I don’t know what the rules are for books in general, but for a technical book like mine, the index is very important. Remember, this was before ebooks or searching a PDF file looking for keywords. My editor agreed and encouraged me to spend time on the index. I learned how to use the indexing features in MS Word. I spent many hours over a six week period generating the index. I sent the index as a separate file to the publisher to be included with my manuscript, which had already been sent to them. In case you are wondering, I didn’t have to print my manuscript to deliver it to the publisher.
At this point, the publisher had my manuscript, with the figures I had prepared, and the index I had generated. The publisher then printed up a set of galleys, the pages of my book exactly as they would appear when printed and bound. I was excited to see the galleys as this meant my book was one step closer to being published. As I looked through the galleys, I thought the index looked different than I remembered. I checked and sure enough, the galleys had the old index that had been included with the first draft of my manuscript, not the index I had sent separately.
My editor told me there wasn’t time to redo the galleys, I had to accept the old index or my book would be delayed. The work ‘delayed’ was a code word, meaning my book might not get published at all. While the technical book market is not very exciting, it is very time sensitive. My book was all about the latest version of the database software that the vendor was selling, but, at any time, the vendor could, and would, announce the next major version, and my book would be obsolete. The publisher was right, there wasn’t time to redo the galleys. My six weeks of work on the index were simple lost.