The State of the Manuscript: Heinlein Unbound

The year is ending and I am getting queries as to when the book is coming out. The answer remains “next year” but as that can feel “this year, next year, sometime, never…” I thought I’d give you a State of the Manuscript Report.

When Unbound accepted my book on Heinlein a manuscript existed of over 150,000 words, designed for another publisher who had some series based requirements, and which was also very definitely an academic publisher.

Unbound asked me to cut around 10,000 words, and I decided that as so very many of you are not academics, some of what would go was the academic “architecture” that can make a book feel stodgy. So we’ve made new decisions on how to do the citations, and cut some of the references to other critics which are there to show off that I’ve read everything even it if it wasn’t terribly relevant. We also have to check all the spellings and punctuation and even some of the grammar, because the original publisher was American and Unbound is British.

The editing goes in stages. I spent a week going chapter by chapter making cuts and line edits and generally trying to lose repetition, and where I had repeated things, deciding where the best possible place was to put something. I did all of this on paper. As someone who hates hand writing and barely picks up a pen for more than the shopping list, I still regard this as absolutely necessary. My preference is to print out on the left hand side of A3 paper, leaving the right hand side (the equivalent of an A4 sheet) to make notes. I also like to edit using Sarasa’s blood red gel pens. They stand out without reminding me of school. I end up with a full manuscript covered in hand writing. Then someone has to input it.

The someone—and I swear he is a hero—is my partner, Edward James. There is a thing in traditional academia where academic acknowledgements often reveal sexism and downgrading of wifely labour at startling levels. My favourite is “I would like to thank my wife for conducting and translating the interviews as I did not speak Japanese”. Er, sir? Are you sure that she’s not your research assistant, and how much did you pay her? When this comes up I always feel a bit embarrassed because lurking behind every one of my books is my partner. Some of it is because I’m mildly dyslexic, some is because one always needs a fresh pair of eyes, and some of it is because he is just more careful and pedantic than I am. So right now, as I write this, he is downstairs inputting all my corrections, cutting yet more material and popping upstairs every now and again to clarify issues, make suggestions and ask if I really meant what I wrote on that page. Again, this process will take about a week. He is being rewarded with acknowledgments and the past week’s experiments in gluten free and dairy free muffins (lemon and poppy seed last night, tomorrow cheese and onion souffle muffins).

Between Christmas and New Year the manuscript will land back on my desk again. I’ll go through every query left, make some final choices on possible cuts, and then read it once more to make sure it makes sense and we’ve not made hash of the meaning from the cuts. Then it heads off to Unbound.

Once Unbound have read it, it still has to be laid out, copy edited, proof read and indexed and eventually slotted into a schedule. It’s a long task. Realistically we are looking at autumn of next year. If that seems a long time be reassured that’s actually rather efficient.

So while you all wait, may I wish those of you who celebrate a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year.

Spreading myself a little thin…

I was recently asked to name a fault in working practice, and I had to admit, spreading myself a little thin is probably one of them.

These are my current projects:

In September I successfully crowdfunded my new book on Robert A. Heinlein. This is the first substantive revisit of Heinlein’s work since Leon Stover’s book in 1987 (the excellent book by Thomas Clareson and Joe Sanders published in 2014 is a general overview). On Monday I begin the final edit, with the aim of cutting 15,000 words. It will be delivered to Unbound during December and we all hope will come out next year. You can pre-order, and also sign up for notifications, here.

I’m working on the first draft of a book on Memory and the English Civil War as created in fiction for children and teens from the eighteenth century onwards. I know that’s a mouthful but I’ve yet to find a succinct way of expressing it. I also know that “War of the Three Kingdoms” is more current terminology but I’m having enough problems that if I just say “Civil War” my American readers think I mean theirs. You can find a list of the titles I’m working with here.

And because I am a glutton for punishment, in the new year I’ll be beginning my second novel, a sequel to Spring Flowering. It’s set in Birmingham in the early 1830s. And my heroine Ann and the coterie she is gathering around her, set out to investigate a cold case with roots in the Priestly riots. I’ll set up a page for that when I begin the research but for now, here I am talking about the first book at the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast.