Adventures in Editing: For Want of a Balloon

I suppose I’m spoiled by blogging: I have an idea. I type it up. Maybe, if I’m feeling ambitious, I proofread what I’ve written. I click the “Publish” button, and the world can see what’s on my mind. It’s the ultimate in immediate gratification.

By way of contrast, book publishing is a much slower process. It took me about seven years to get my latest project to a point where I was comfortable sharing it with people, and then came several rounds of revision before I sent it to my publisher. Then the publisher had some suggestions, and I did some more revisions. After that, it went to a copy editor, then to the typesetter, then back to the copy editor for one more look, and then to the typesetter again.

From time to time, I’ve been tempted to complain about how long this process takes: I just want to see my book in print, dammit! But ultimately I know that the slow pace of the publishing process is a good thing. Today, I found out why:

There’s a passage toward the end of the book in which the narrator, Charley Schwartz, who has a job that involves marching back and forth in front of a bank dressed as a giant dollar sign, gets assaulted by a gang of children who want a bouquet of balloons that’s tied to his wrist. The children knock him down, then proceed to kick him violently while pulling at the balloons. He’d love to surrender them, but he can’t because they’re tied to his wrist.

All well and good, but…

A few minutes later, the kids skitter away, and Charley has a chat with his boss. The boss asks Charley to assess his talents. He mentions that he’s good at holding onto his balloons. True enough, but when Charley subsequently shimmies out of his costume, there’s no mention of his balloons. Surely, they’d get in the way as he tried to slip out of the costume, right? But no — not a peep from our narrator about where his balloons have gone. They’ve magically disappeared.

And the balloons are a big deal. There’s a red balloon on the cover of the book, after all. And Charley’s relationship with his balloons is the kind of thing that I’m drawing the reader’s attention to throughout the book — only to have them disappear without a mention as the narrative moves toward its climax. Sloppy storytelling on my part — and I didn’t catch it until just a few days ago when I was reading the passage to an audience at Rosemont College.

Wait a second! I thought to myself. What happened to his balloons?

Fortunately, though, the publishing process does take a long time. This morning I received an email from the typesetter in which she asked if I had any last-minute changes to make.

Yes! I wanted to shout. Give Charley some balloons!

Of course, shouting wouldn’t have done any good, so I found the passage in question and filled in the missing information.

Curious about the specifics? Anyone who has a review copy can check out chapter sixteen. If you missed the detail about the balloons, don’t worry! It took me years to catch the error — and I had a whole team of editors helping me out. If you don’t have a review copy, even better. Just pre-order a copy of The Grievers today and rest assured that you’ll never have to worry about Charley’s missing balloons.*

*Yes, this post is just one more shameless attempt at plugging my book.

30 thoughts on “Adventures in Editing: For Want of a Balloon

  1. To your last caveat about shamelessly plugging your book I say BAH!!! While this does make me want to get a copy of your book now instead of waiting, it is a good and important point that writers need to hear. Editing and revising and the time it takes is important. I am in constant frustration of why editing is taking so long on my story. But I know it is an important thing and that the more I work on it the better my work becomes.

    Thank you for making such a great point. As always your perspective and thoughts on the process of writing is a great help.

    • I’m glad you found my point to be helpful! I’m continually amazed at how much work editing entails. 90% of the time, it’s stuff that seems so obvious after someone has pointed it out to me.

      • Exaclty. Once I am done with my first round of editing and revisions by myself I am going to hunt for a group of beta readers. That way I can catch that 90%. That is the plan anyway.

      • Good readers are a valuable commodity in this business! I’m lucky to have some really sharp ones in my corner. I flatter myself to think that the only reason no one picked up on the balloons was that my storytelling was so compelling as to distract readers from the petty details.

  2. This should be an advertisement for putting stories in drawers and revisiting them later with fresh eyes. A book that I ghost wrote was recently published. It had, of course, made its travels among myself, the author, and publishing house editors…subjected to the fine-toothed comb, if you will. Nevertheless, my mother called me yesterday to report typos. Unbelievable. How could all of us have missed them? Maybe it needed more drawer time.

    Great post with plenty to chew.

    My next task? Adding your book and its balloons to my reading list.

    • Yes! I’m a big fan of leaving stories in drawers for a while. Maybe I should have left mine in a little longer! Oh well. All’s well that ends goodly.

      (Hmm… Probably should have put this reply in a drawer for a while, too!)

  3. You could do what I’m doing, and post a chapter at a time. That way your readers help with the editing process. Of course, it helps to have an audience, which I don’t have much of yet. I’m ok with it though. I’ve spent far too long NOT writing a book. People waiting, few as they are, on what is coming next helps me to move it along at a faster pace. Good luck with your book and with future endeavors.

  4. Great post about the glacial past of publishing. I completely agree with the seduction of writing for a blog – instant gratification, especially with the stat counter and comment thread. It’s hard to move from that world to the world of print publishing, where the only instant gratification is the bottle of bourbon beside your typewriter. (Or maybe that’s just me?).

    Can’t wait to read your novel. I’m very intrigued!

  5. I remember a phrase from my days of studying literature … “If it’s in the text, the author intended it…”

    The missing balloons could have been seen as a sophisticated metaphor the showed how society…. (fill in your thesis statement here).

    You missed a golden chance here, IMO. A small sea of future graduate students are sighing at this correction.

    However, I bet you can sleep a bit better now that the change was made, right? And it is a nice plug approach.

    • Then again, I may have given genesis to a whole new sea of grad students who come back to this blog post and debate my true intentions! As I recall from my days in grad school, everything is fodder for the research paper!

      • Yes! And you’ll need to do another blog contradicting this blog… and then interviews where you contradict yourself contradicting yourself… and then… Don’t talk to the press for years—only to come back and complain that no-one ever got you and your work. And then contradict that. Perfect, endless fodder.

  6. Marc, I don’t think you gave yourself enough credit…nor enough of a beating. Get back up on that blog horse and put another shamless self-promotional piece up there and take yourself to task. Again.

    And Again.

    I think we’re game for it…. ;-]

  7. I remember when my book “In the Dark” came out in 2006. I’d read the thing countless times in manuscript form, read the page proofs twice, and thought for sure I’d caught everything.

    When I received my advanced copies in the mail, I discovered my last name was spelled incorrectly (“Reed”) on the “About the Author” page. My website address was also entered incorrectly. Too late to do anything about it. Doh!

  8. Marc, thanks for being honest about this… it’s an aspect of writing I find fascinating. More so because people tend to self-publish nowadays writing that is not on par with publishing standards and then think it’s ok. And here you are, a professional writer with a book about to be published and agonizing over this little detail (albeit it’s importance and logical assessment to your story, of course). What I’m trying to say is that this experience of yours should be used in a self-publishing guide book to writers as to what it entails to publish, rather than jump the gun due to impatience. It’s remarkable when I read some blog posts of the things people say or do when they self-publish: there can be whole chunks of things wrong with their story and they simply shrug it off as a learning experience for next time! Who does that? Such actions ruin the credibility of literature’s standards.

    Great post. I’m curious about your book.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Samir. I’d love for my example to be used as an example in a guidebook to self-publishing. Too much of the marketing for self-publishing services focuses on how quick and easy the process is. It would be nice to see at least one or two print-on-demand services asking potential customers (at a bare minimum) whether what they’re about to publish is a first draft or has been reviewed by a writers’ group, if not a professional editor.

  9. I just finished editing my coworker’s book for content and found a few of those errors. It’s easy to overlook details like this when writing, because you’re so focused on getting it done. It’s especially prominent when the book is almost finished. Also, being the author means you’re up close and personal with every word, which breaks the “flow” when reading.

    Working at a place that constantly slows down processes with mountains of paperwork, I understand how frustrating it can become. But I also understand how many times it saves mistakes that could be fatal, both figuratively and literally.

    Hope you find everything in your future writings!

    -Ryan

  10. Wonderful post and very timely. Patience is not a virtue of mine — I was never good at playing shrinkie-dinks. I am in the Complete Re-Imagining What I Had Written Before But No Longer Sounds True (aka total reworking of an idea that was a trilogy once but is aiming for a novelette in this twitterpated universe) and I needed to hear this. I’m getting to the Oh God This Is Work And Wouldn’t Watching Reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show Be More Fun part of the rewrite process. Thank you for sharing this. And, yes, I am up to Season 6 of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

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