The manuscript is back!

Posted on November 23, 2008 (Subscribe to Blog)

On November 5th, which in England was Bonfire Night but in America was just another Wednesday, I sent my manuscript to Ann Fisher, a Literary Editor in Marietta. Ann called the week before to say she was ready for it, and I rushed to finish the last chapter. I had a bit of a nightmare with Microsoft Word as it somehow removed all my italics throughout. This meant I'd have to go through the entire thing again and italicize those words and sentences that require emphasis. WHY I was using Word I don't know – it's not the first time I've had issues with formatting! I must remember to use something simpler next time, like WordPad or even a simple text editor. Word is good for final preparation – setting up page headers, auto page numbers, and so on. But in my experience I can only safely preserve formatting by using a simpler program.

Anyway, I finally finished Island of Fog. (Fanfare please.) It runs to about 95,000 words and 23 chapters – exactly what I expected. It took ages to print and my wife, Vanessa, called downstairs at one point and said, "What are you printing – a novel?" She thought she was being funny, but I had the last laugh. It printed to 295 pages at the required double-spacing, inch-wide margins, and so on. I packaged it up, wrote a check, and sent it via UPS to Ann on that momentous Wednesday afternoon, November 5th.

The manuscript returned two weeks later on November 20th. Prior to sending it back, Ann phoned me twice to let me know how she was getting on. The first call was when she got to Chapter 11, and at that point she seemed very happy with it overall. This was a huge relief, but I was still nervous about the second half. I hadn't put quite so much time into polishing the second half, particularly the last five or six chapters, and I also wondered whether the overall plot would come to a satisfactory end for an objective reader.

The second phone call came just before Ann sent the manuscript back. I was grinning as she told me she had enjoyed it immensely, and that she hadn't found an awful lot to edit. She said she'd done a "light edit" only, offering suggestions here and there as well as correcting typos and colloquailisms (I have a problem separating British from American these days!). All in all, she said the manuscript needed very little editing. There were no big scenes to cut, nothing major to revise; in fact she advised to leave it alone – just run through the light edits and send it out to agents.

The manuscript arrived back home with a very nice letter that started:

The good news is that I have no bad news, which is very untypical when it comes to evaluating a client's novel. In the case of Island, it is, first of all, in much better shape than you may have thought and, as we discussed on the phone, your "concerns" were minor. Very possibly because you are (as with most writers) too close to your book and not quite able to be objective enough, and even finding fault where there is none.

The letter is three pages long and very detailed, and the manuscript is littered with little red marks that suggest changing this to that, and so on. All of this I find extremely helpful, regardless of whether the comments or suggestions are positive or negative. Still, I was frankly amazed that most of the comments were positive. Since this is the first time I've had the novel appraised as a whole, and by an experienced literary editor no less, I was perhaps thinking expecting a wake-up call, to find that I'm a very long way from publishable! I do still have a long way to go yet, trying to find an agent, but at this point I at least feel able to move on to the next step – finding an agent.

Between now and Christmas I expect to run through the manuscript one last time and correct numerous small things. After that, probably as the New Year begins, I'll begin the process of finding and writing to agents.

Comment by FIONA B on Friday, December 12, 2008...

Aw, Well done! Sounds like you did a really good job with your writing. Good luck with your search for an agent, I'm looking forward to seeing the finished product!

Comment by JULIAN PARRY on Friday, December 12, 2008...

Keith, I'm surprised with what you say about Microsoft Word. For me, it's the best of the word-processing programs! I use MS 2007, and I am happy with it; as it presents no problems. What version is yours?

Congratulations on finishing your novel! :-).

Julian Parry

Comment by JULIE@OWLSDENE on Friday, December 12, 2008...

Well done, Keith, good luck with finding an agent who will take it onto the publishing stage.

Will it be available to buy here in the UK?
Best wishes — Julie

Comment by NIGEL ROWE on Friday, December 12, 2008...

Absolutely delighted, Keith — well done! I can't wait to read it, all the best with finding an agent.

Comment by MING on Saturday, December 13, 2008...

Hurrah, Keith!! As soon as the book is out I want a signed copy! Best of luck with finding an agent!

Comment by RALPH CORDEROY on Saturday, December 13, 2008...

If you've a favourite text editor, say one you normally use for editing HTML and code, why not use that? You can couple it with a simple mark-up language of your own choice or devising, or use an existing one like troff, , which has been used for many technical books over the years. I can think of little worse than MS Word. If you want to stick with a word processor then free and libre alternatives like AbiWord,, are worth a look; it'll happily read in your existing .doc file.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Saturday, December 13, 2008...

Thanks, all, for your comments! I'm happy (and a little surprised) to see that you're still checking in despite my lack of posts lately! Much appreciated! And Julie, you asked whether the book would be available in the UK... Well, first things first, let's see if it'll be available here in the US first! :-)

To Julian and Ralph, it's always funny to see mixed opinions about Microsoft tools. My own opinion is that Word is generally okay but only if you switch off all the idiotic functions (the help thing, and the auto formatting, and changing quotes to smart quotes, etc). The grammar tool is worthless. But Word is ahead of the rest on speed and because of its powerful search and replace tool, which allows me to search for and place HTML tags around words that are styled in a certain way (ie, italics). Not many word processors can do that. It's also useful because it has a good macro function, so I can save all my usual search and replaces as one simple recording — so I can convert formatted text into HTML at the press of a button (stripping extra white spaces, changing smart quotes and dashes to plain text, adding paragraph tags, and so on).

And before anyone tells me you can simply "save as HTML"... Don't! The result is the biggest mess in history. I've yet to find a "convert to HTML" function that produces what I call clean code! My hand-built macro is far better! :-)

Ralph, I've used AbiWord and the larger OpenOffice suite, and various others, and they're all fine. AbiWord in particular is a perfectly decent word processor (and free!). And yes, I've used my HTML editor for writing as well, but there comes a time when it needs to be "paginated" and styled correctly (one inch margins, double line spacing, etc) and while I can do the styling in HTML, I can't paginate it and other things.

I'll try AbiWord again though. It's been years since I looked at that. But if the search and replace tool can't find styles and place tags around them (eg, change any italic words into <i>any italic words</i>) then Word will remain my primary tool. No point having various different ones for different things.

Comment by RALPH CORDEROY on Sunday, December 14, 2008...

Hi Keith, the power of RSS means I don't have to keep checking for new posts. ;-)

As for the Word issue, I think there's two. An editor you like that you're familiar with and can do the things you desire, like search and replace. And turning you work into the desired format.

On the editor front, I'd have thought most text editors could do your search and replace, including not turning "many italic words" into italics. But if you're familiar with Word and its macros, that's fine.

But the key point of writing plain text with mark-up, and I'd have thought HTML-style mark-up is particularly noisy and interruptive to the flow, is that it can then be run through a program to produce the desired format. That might be HTML with one file per chapter, a properly laid out PDF suitable for publishing, including crop marks, etc., or a double-line spaced, big margin version ready for red ink.

Especially given that most novels require little unusual formatting compared with technical books, I'd have thought your own little mark-up language which you then turn into, e.g. troff input, and then have GNU groff turn that into PostScript, PDF, HTML, etc. would be suitable. If you don't like its HTML output, then it wouldn't be onerous to write your own little mymarkup-to-HTML convertor.

Comment by LIZ FILLEUL on Wednesday, December 17, 2008...

That's fantastic, Keith — good luck with finding an agent!

Comment by SUSHMITHA on Thursday, December 25, 2008...

great,Keith! congratulations, and the blurred eye mystery is pretty funny ... ooops ,sorry it's a serious problem. hope your novel will be available here in India... I just can't wait to lay my eager hands on it!

And by the way i just love Enid blyton!! my name is sushmitha but you can call me sushi!

thanks a lot

Comment by MARTIN on Sunday, January 11, 2009...

You could always self publish.


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