There's nothing quite like the moment when you open a box and see your book for the first time. Somewhere, deep inside, you know this proof copy will have errors, and that you're just beginning the process that will eventually put the book into readers' hands. But for that first moment, it's perfect. It represents months of hard work and self-doubt, hours at a keyboard, tons of red ink, multiple drafts. Now it's real.
Then that reality sets in. Now it's your sole responsibility to see to it that the book readers get is the book you want them to have. And that means going back to work with a vengeance. The arrival of "Second Mouse" comes at an awkward time--just two weeks before Christmas. My first thought was that if I sat down right then, checked the whole book, and found no errors, I could give the "go ahead" to the printer and have copies ready before Christmas. Sure I could. I could win the lottery, too, but it's not likely to happen. Instead, I've come to realize that a whole new set of rules govern my actions from here on. This book talks about my publishing experiences, but it does not include what happens on Day One of "Proof in Hand." So here's a new set of rules, perhaps ones to include in the next volume!
1. Pay attention to Copyright Date. Right in the middle of contemplating how fast I could get this book to market, I remembered a warning I read somewhere a couple of years ago. It asked why anyone would bring a book out at the very end of a calendar year. Suppose I get everything cleaned up and "The Second Mouse" comes out on Amazon by the end of next week. Its date of publication is December 23, 2011. In just ten days, it will be "last year's book," stepping back and making way for a whole new set of volumes published in 2012. I'd much rather wait a few more days, take my time reading over this proof, and put a Copyright 2012 label on the finished product. That means it will be "this year's book" for a full year.
2. Walk the Talk. I've written and preached about the need for close editing and attention to detail. Now I owe it to my readers to do a thorough job of proof-reading. (That's why they call it a "Proof" after all.) I spotted my first error, and thought, "I can live with that." Then I spotted a second flaw, a straight apostrophe rather than a curly one. "No one will notice," I rationalized. Then came a missing period, and I was only on page 8. Yes, this step of the publication process is going to take some time. One read-through will not be enough, and I need to trot out every trick I've ever learned about proof-reading, like reading backwards. I urge perfection on other writers; I must exercise that same standard on my own work. If beta-readers and fine-tooth combs mean that I'll need to see a second proof, so be it. Taking time now saves embarrassment later.
3. Remember What Really Matters. Still I hesitate, wanting to plunge ahead and get the book on the market. Then I look around. It's mid-December, and there are very few signs of Christmas around here. We have a tree, but no one has had time to decorate it. The Christmas cards are still in their boxes. Not a single cookie has come out of my kitchen. Even my professorial friends who are chin-deep in exam-grading at the moment are further along in their holiday preparations than I am. It's time to put the new book in perspective. Holidays, family members, traditions -- none of them will wait until it's convenient for me to get into the holiday spirit. If I miss Christmas, there's no way to get it back. But the book? It can wait. It's not going anywhere, and the final product will be better for a cooling-off period.
Lessons learned. New Rules firmly in place. Pre-ordered books will arrive in January. Now I'm off to hang a few ornaments and find that Christmas list.