Even faster than the speed of a horse

I know we’ve been here before on this blog, but a comment from Phil about manuscript submission prompts me to observe how fast things are changing even in the few years I’ve been involved this publishing game.

Not that long ago, sending the latest effort to the agent involved hunting round for a box to hold 400+ sheets of paper, lots of Sellotape and a chance to queue in the Post Office. Usually a stamped addressed postcard went in with it, so she could confirm it had arrived.

Even as recently as the second Ruso novel, the American editor pencilled her comments on the paper copy and sent them across the Atlantic by FedEx.

Not any more. There was some paper about  for the third book, but much of the copy editing was done on-screen, with little red and green notes and comments appearing around the typing. All slightly embarrassing, as it recorded every change of mind.

The first draft of Ruso 4 (including three chapters that are still just notes) has now reached the agent by email. She’ll be going through it on her journey to work. Not on paper, but on her e-reader.  I’ll be using the breathing space to do all the other stuff one does at this time of year, but in case there are a few quiet moments I’ve just downloaded ‘A Christmas Carol’ to read on my phone.

For someone who spends much of the day imagining the year 120, where every document had to be copied by hand and no letter could travel faster than the courier’s horse, it’s all rather hard to believe.

4 thoughts on “Even faster than the speed of a horse

  1. Hi Ruth,
    That’s pretty interesting. I hadn’t really thought about the amount of collaborative work that goes on between an author and an editor. Do you produce a PDF file that your editor marks up, or is there another file format that you use? I collaborate with colleagues on papers, and software development projects and we use Google Docs for most of that work since it allows two or more people to simultaneously edit the document, add comments, etc.

    Looking forward to seeing Book 4! Keep up the good work, and enjoy the snow.


  2. Hi Mark,

    At the moment I submit in Word. This seems to keep everyone happy although on American sized paper all the page numbers come out differently, which caused a lot of confusion till I realised what was going on. Maybe a pdf would be better, except…

    The UK copy editor (the one who does the detailed corrections and queries) now emails the MS back in Word with ‘track changes’ turned on to show his suggestions. I find this quite scary. The US edition is copy-edited separately, and last time I got a paper copy with changes neatly pencilled on in green – much easier to get to grips with.

    I really must try out Google Docs. Slightly off-topic, since you’re into software, have you run across Compendium? A friend of mine works on it and you can find it on the Open University site. When I get stuck with a plot I sometimes use it to arrange ideas.

    On reflection, there’s a lot more to this editing business than I realised. Maybe I’ll do a post on it. Thanks for the inspiration!


  3. Hi Ruth,
    I can see where change tracking might be a little scary. My birthmother wrote a newspaper article recently and was appalled to find that the editor had hacked up the article to the point that parts of it didn’t make any sense and spelling errors had been introduced. People look at the by-line and then think you’re the one responsible for that mess.

    I guess it would be scarier though if someone made changes and you couldn’t easily find them. At least with change tracking turned on you can accept or reject the change, which always gives me a sense of control over the document. I also like being able to quickly navigate changes using the Previous and Next buttons. It makes it easier to quickly find the changes that someone made in a large document. Since I use change tracking on proposals with customers, it also makes it easier to identify areas where I misunderstood what the customer wanted.

    Thanks for the info on Compendium. I took a look at the Compendium screencasts. It’s very interesting. I write software for the drug discovery industry, and we sometimes use this kind of “mind mapping” software to arrange complex collections of information such as data, reports, and academic papers. There’s a company called Prezi.com that uses this type of technology to create interactive presentations.

    It sounds like Compendium would be very useful when researching your books. You could create plot points, add links to background information and pictures from your summer excavations. I saw an episode of Castle (a TV show about a mystery writer who solves crimes), where the character displayed the plot of his book as a mind map on a large touchscreen surface. He could drag around plot points and information by simply touching the surface of the screen. Definitely something to add to the Distraction Room!


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