Every book you read has an acknowledgments section, usually thanking agents, family, friends, etc. I wanted to do something a little different this time, so I made my acknowledgments a kind of mini-essay on how a book is actually put together. It's a bit long, but here it is (or you can read it at the back of the book!)
All right savvy readers. I know that no one ever reads these Acknowledgements (except for relatives who want to make sure they are included. Hi Mom!) but this particular back page thank-you list is going to contain some worthwhile advice. I promise.
A lot of people think writers work alone, that a book is the end-product of one person’s effort and creativity, a story born from the crucible of the tortured artist’s brain, sweat and pain.
This is total baloney.
A book is a team effort and these acknowledgments are going to serve as a roadmap (of sorts) for how a book goes from an idea in my brain to the book you are holding in your hands.
So yes, it starts with me having some idea of where Neil and his gang of friends are headed to and what enemies they will face. But then I start to do research so that I know what the world will look like. In this case, the world is London.
So I buy guidebooks. I visit London (if I can) and take pics, write notes, etc. I rely on the amazing research done by Shakespeare scholars, mapmakers, dictionary writers and (yes) Wikipedia.
BIT OF ADVICE #1 – Do research! Even a fiction book needs to be real.
Only then do I start writing a first draft. I should take a moment here to thank everyone who makes fair trade coffee available at my neighborhood supermarket as well as the musicians who’s music inspires me while I’m sitting in my attic. For this book there was a lot of Gogol Bordello, Justin Rutledge and choral music from the Tallis Scholars.
I finally get through the first draft, which then gets reviewed and ripped to shreds by my first team of editors – my wife Laura and my incredibly smart daughters Erin and Emily. This might be BIT OF ADVICE #2 – always get someone to read your work who will rip it to shreds. The most useless advice you will ever get is “I liked it.” Ugh.
Then I do spend a lot of time BACK in my attic working and reworking the plot and characters until I think they are ready to submit to my amazing editor Julia Maguire.
BIT OF ADVICE #3 – Your first few drafts stink. They do. Everyone’s do. Writing is about carefully rewriting over and over.
Julia then goes through and points out the big stuff – the plot points that don’t actually make any sense. Round one of the editing process doesn’t even touch the (many) smaller mistakes in speliling, grammmer and uther stuf.
I go back and rewrite the book again and sometimes againandagain until we get the large issues worked out, and make sure the book works with the rest of the series, and then we do a final edit.
BIT OF ADVICE #4 – See #3, rinse, repeat. But also don’t lose heart. And don’t get angry (hard to do). Each person at each stage makes the book better.
Then the book gets sent to a copyeditor who goes over everything we’ve gone over with a proverbial fine-toothed comb. They always find dozens of mistakes. Some in spelling, some bigger. For this book, Kaitlin Sevrini did one of the best edits ever, and I am thankful.
Many institutions are cutting copy-editors from their budgets. That’s because they are idiots.
Of course, I also do the images for my books. So the biggest shoutout goes to Laurent Linn, who is simply fantastic at taking a rough idea from me, and pushing me to rework and rework it until it’s worth putting on the cover or inside the book.
Then there are the people who lay out the book, make the paper, the glue, the ink, bind the book, package the book, transports the book and on and on.
(There are so many more, my agent Michael Levine who talks to the big guns and Simon and Schuster, people such as Jon Anderson and Justin Chanda, to arrange contracts, marketing and so much more.)
Then there are the librarians and booksellers who get my book in the hands of readers who will get a kick out of the goofy adventures of a cocky chef who solves crimes and occasionally does his homework.
So, yes, in the end it’s all about you, the reader.