Friday, January 31, 2014

My Long Day's Journey Into Night

I have whined about this before but my long day’s journey into night is about to end: the book I've been producing is finally going to print. O’Neill’s long journey is a drama in four acts. My long day’s journey had plenty of drama and about 100 acts. But it’s near the end and I am consoling myself with the soothing idea that I've learned some valuable lessons. Here, I will recap.
Some are the fairly obvious ones. Coming to mind are the generic ones like things always take more time than you originally plan. I wonder if that is the one I’m most beating myself up about. I should have known better. Yes and No. My problem was not knowing the person who was going to have the last word on the changes. Had I known his approach beforehand, I would never have taken up this project.
It wasn't his newbie status—we all start someplace. My problem is that he started his learning process of trial and error—with me. And learning on the go wouldn't have been so bad if he wasn't a slow learner. I don’t think that he was always a slow learner. I think he just couldn't focus on what was important. To him everything was important. I usually give my difficult decisions and tasks priorities. I may procrastinate but at least I know what is important.
To paraphrase some good philosophy from the movie, “The Incredibles” when everything is important, nothing is important. Since everything was a huge deal to him, there was no real order to tackling his tasks. It was like building a house of cards from every direction, not just from the bottom up.
From all this whining you would suppose I would emphatically decide something like “I’ll never work with him again.” That’s not true. I would work on another project with him the day after the book gets released. What I would change is that I wouldn't accept his manuscript until it was in a form ready to be published. Now, my writing friends would chime in that’s nearly impossible since they've had their manuscripts rejected over and over by agents and publishing houses.
I am reminded that if had been a sitting agent and the first manuscript from my friend came in the door as it came to me 18 months ago, I would have returned it to him (after I stopped hideously laughing and was strong enough to pick myself off the floor.). And I wouldn't scrawled on the cover letter “alas, not for me.” (don’t you love that rejection?) For argument sake, let’s say I first received it after the five re-writes that I personally did. I open the package start reading and I realize that this still really needs more re-writing.
What I mean to say is that you can re-write something 20 times and I guarantee that if you pick it up a month later, you’ll want to re-write parts of it again. But, in this case, the readers of this book will not care. The story and the facts are so germane to them that short of hand-crayoned paragraphs they will get wildly into this book. Would I recommend someone outside of this interested community to buy this book. Um…that would be no. Change that. It would be NO or NO WAY, or FORGETTABOUTIT.
This book is written for alumni of my Alma matter who are interested in the basketball program. People who are die hard basketball enthusiasts would find parts readable and amusing. It is chock full of old timey photos and strange rules and goofy gyms. People from the other colleges the college played in the old days would find it interesting. Maybe not interesting enough to plunk down hard cash immediately when they could wait for the paperback or the inexpensive eBook.  Another interested party would be the guy who has every basketball book ever written. Buying this would save him years searching for that rumored small-market college tome. 
But getting back to working on the book. I did learn a number of valuable lessons. I found out that where I am employed in publishing I am in a branch that has very easily fixed problems. We've been doing it so long and the format that goes to my printers is so uniform that thousands of pages are published each week with the minimum of production hassle. Every week I send out sometimes 3 or 4 publications of about 1,000 pages with nary a ripple, a change, a mistake, or even excitement. Seriously, I’m handling about 80 publications a month without a hassle. And here, one book is killing me.
I must say as I got towards the back of the manuscript I came across a few instances in the manuscript where an editor’s note to the reader said that a particular point would be discussed more in depth in Volume II. For a lot of the aforementioned reasons, that piece of information wound up on the cutting room floor. Over my dead body was I going through this again and that might have been accurate because, again, this book is killing me.
Probably another frustrating point is that I work in the New York City environment where there is only one speed—lightning fast-get out of the way—I’m coming through and you’re in the way, fast. Anything else is plodding, glacial, foot-sucking quicksand walking pace. New York is the tip of the America iceberg and we’re American and that means we get things done, done now, against all odds, and on schedule if not early.
So here I am, bludgeoned and bloodied a few tweaks away from that happy moment when I click send on the files to the printer’s FTP site. I have to have the cover manufacturer inspect the file I just finished that to make sure the silk screening will work with the fine details. The last little double checks are being done – are all the footnotes accounted for, does every photo have a correct credit in the appendix. You can only find so many tiny punctuation glitches, like my personal favorite, the apostrophe that curls in the wrong direction. This is digital, those can be fixed in the second short run, no biggie. I consider it like one of those stamps with the biplane flying upside down—you have a collector’s item.
I can now return to making the agent-requested changes on my novel. My editor must surely must have been smiling to himself when I told him I was working on this project. I remember him saying the industry had a name for it. He called it a “Hell baby.” I think that he was just being kind. I think it was more like a black hole, sucking all forms of energy into a dense area from which nothing escapes.

But the book is done. It is magnificent for what it is. The small narrow market of people will actually think this is the best thing since sliced bread. I've met some wonderful people and made some fine contacts doing this. I tell myself that the good outweighed the bad. But most importantly, it is over. Now where, exactly, did I see that “SEND” button.

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