On Monday I turned in what in the publishing world are called “first pass pages” of The Magician King. That’s when they take your semi-final draft, copy edit it, lay it out like it’s a book — with proper typography and headings and colophon and everything — export it as a PDF, print it out, and give it back to you for a few days. Then you — meaning me — take a red pencil and scribble on it.
This is a “special time” in the life of a book. You’re seeing it fresh, with new eyes, the way readers are going to see it. You see things you never saw before. Sometimes they are terrible, terrible things. Pacing is one thing in a Word doc, but it feels a lot different when you’re actually looking at words on a typeset page.
When that happens the red pencil strikes. I worked on a travel guide for a few months after college. Not an edifying experience, especially, but it made me fluent in proofreader’s marks — triple-underline to capitalize a letter, etc. etc. Handy.
Oftentimes you realize things are missing, or off somehow. There’s whole pages in there that are crossed out and rewritten on the verso. (Hey, what if that horse were a talking horse? What would it say?) I’ve been reading Kate Atkinson and Jennifer Egan. They’re a good influence on me. There’s a contractual limit on what percentage of the book you can change in first pass pages. I’m pretty sure I hit it.
(By the way, if any of you out there are — unlike me — lucky enough to have a galley of The Magician King, you should know that it’s based on the copy-edited manuscript, not the corrected first pass pages. That’s a really rough draft. You’re not getting the full Sensurround experience. You’re watching in about 1.5D. There are serious problems in there that are fixed in the finished book. Read away, but please don’t review the book based on the galley. If you do I will find you and go all Candyman on you.)
I reread/rewrote the book three times in two weeks. It’s a relief to take a break now, and by taking a break I mean showing up for my day job.
After that: second pass pages!