Friday, October 7, 2011

Surviving a Book Edit

The title of this blog post may have drawn more readers if it read “Surviving a Shark Attack” or “Surviving a Tsunami” but, though it may lack the same drama, I hope this particular musing will be more useful for the would-be book writer.

I have been working on my book (shameless plug alert!), Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance, since March 2009. From its genesis, it has gone through multiple metamorphoses, with entire chapters re-written and axed, new sources discovered and integrated, and days spent at the Churchill Archives Center, the National Churchill Museum,the Harry S. Truman Library and other archival treasure troves.

When I first settled on September 1 as my manuscript submission date, almost nine months ago, it seemed a lifetime away. After all, I’d already put hundreds or even thousands of hours into the project, had what I thought were five complete chapters (of 11) on my hard drive, and was rolling along with the remainder.

However, the deadline that once seemed so far off soon appeared right before my nose, like the knights caught unawares by Sir Lancelot in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Liz Murphy, archivist at the National Churchill museum, came across a batch of pertinent Churchill letters just days before, and I was still hurrying to incorporate this new material. I was also hastily acquiring rights for photos from the Potsdam Conference and Churchill’s 1946 visit to the U.S., while trying to cut bloat from certain chapters. Arrggh! I thought I had this under control! How did it become this mad panic?

Anyway, I got the manuscript and images away a couple days early, and took a deep breath. Two weeks later, my editor mailed back a Yellow Pages-sized packet of paper, with red pen to indicate her first read comments and blue pen to show comments from the second pass (how is she so fast and efficient - I have no idea!). The first eight chapters were smooth sailing, but numbers nine and eleven were anything but – too much detail, too long, too everything other than ready to go to print. So I spent an entire day cutting away, and eventually, after four and a half days of hard work, sent back my response to her comments. In the midst of cutting almost 20,000 words, re-formatting a chapter and putting my pride to the sword, here’s what I learned:

Click here to read the full post on the blog of The Historical Society

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