The Frustrations of the Large Book Writer

At some 170,000 words The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom is a long book. I can remember when writing a 10,000-word essay at college was considered a massive undertaking; they gave us a whole year to write it! I did not set out with that intention. In fact, the only target I have when I start writing a book is completing a logical beginning, middle, and end. I do have the figure of 70,000 words at the back of my mind, however. This is the average length of a modern novel. It is not my target but my guide. If I have started writing the conclusion to the book at the 50,000 word point then something might have gone wrong, or I have written a novella by mistake!

The word count is just a useful tool. I have known writers who seem to use it an absolute sense. They have read some research somewhere that suggests that 60,000 words, for example, is the optimum number for a successful book and so constrain themselves accordingly. Maybe it works for them? I know that it does not work for me. My style of writing just does not seem to work with a closely delineated process. It works with a blank Word document and my hands poised above a keyboard.

Mesozoic is the shortest novel that I have written to date, which made it the easiest to edit. QMK is up there with Eugenica for being the longest and the editing is a much more frustrating process. I carried out a thorough re-read of the manuscript. Going from line to line I spotted many of the typographical errors that crept into the prose. I also took this opportunity to improve the grammar. When I had finished I did it again and found some more sneaky little typos that had evaded me the first time. I know, hiring an editor would be a good idea, and I agree, but I just do not have the money available to me at the moment. After the second bout of editing I felt ready to publish and so I did. The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom is now available to read on Amazon.

One of the other things I like to do is turn my Word manuscript into a PDF file, send it to my tablet, and then listen to it using a text to speech application. I have done this with all of my novels to date. I have found that hearing even a robot voice speak the words that I have written gives me another insight into my books. It has helped me consider rephrasing certain passage or doing some further editing. Occasionally, it has alerted me to an as yet undiscovered typo! When I played QMK this week I discovered an awful lot of typos! I have to admit that I found it a little disheartening. Fortunately, the text to speech engine that I was using highlights the text that it is currently reading so it is relatively easy to find the little typo-buggers in the manuscript and put them right. Of course, then I have to upload an amended version of the manuscript to Kindle Direct Publishing again.

Very often, when a reader does write a review of a book, they criticise the discovery of typographic errors. I understand why they do this. They bought the book and it is not 100% perfect. The amount of work that went into the book is not always obvious. This includes limitations like not being able to afford an editor even though you would very much like to as an author serious about writing. I also think that readers forget what reading actually involves. Reading is a very complex activity. It involves the decoding of symbols to understand their meaning. It utilises both the brain and the eyes to process information at an impressive rate. This is often done without relying on a complete recognition of all the words that are written. Our brains intuitively know what each word that has been read previously means, so it can process the information very quickly by presuming the word to be what it looks like and move onto the next one. I have seen it referred to as a kind of ‘muscle memory’. For a reader this is a wonderful thing, but for an author or editor it is not so great. Most typographical errors go undiscovered not because a writer like me is lazy, it is because while editing the manuscript the brain goes into reader mode and automatically renders even misspelt words into what they are supposed to be.

Here is an example of what I mean:

“He wore a suit of amour that, to Hak’s professional eye, appeared entirely impractical for the battlefield, but then it was intended to impart the man’s regal stature and ability to defend his people.”

Now, I had read this sentence many times, but it was only when I heard the text spoken that I picked up on the misspelt word. In my mind I knew that I had written armour, so every time I read the passage that this sentence is from my mind had already decided on what the word should be before my eyes got to it. Again, another good reason foe employing an editor. The spell-checker never picked it up because it was not actually misspelt, which illust\nrates the danger to a writer of two words that are almost identical, except in meaning.

That sentence constitutes just 34 words from the total of some 170,000. Percentage wise, the majority of them were spelt correctly and arranged in a grammatically correct manner. Although that should be considered an impressive achievement, at least I think so, the fact is that it is the mistakes that most other people recognise and remember. In the past I have actually used editors and some errors still appeared in the manuscript. I noticed this with Eugenica, which I have recently revised, and that was read by two editors before it was finished. I sometimes wonder if typos breed while no one is reading?

I still have some time before I do a big release day for The Queen of the Mountain Kingdom, so if I discover any more errors then I can correct them before the first reader rips my book to shreds for discovering one misspelt word out of the 170,000 written. In truth, although it may sound like I am complaining about others I am really just disappointed that I wrote those errors into the text myself. I know how they got in there, I type fast and rely on picking up any such errors later. I always feel like I have let myself down when someone else does though.

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About petercwhitaker

I am an author and lover of life!
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2 Responses to The Frustrations of the Large Book Writer

  1. Gary says:

    It’s amazing how you see what you think is there and not what is actually there Peter. On a few of my books, I used a professional editor. There were still typos….. I wish you lots of luck with the new book. I just bought the last 1066 book and will look forward to a good read shortly.

    Like

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