Monday, March 19, 2001

American Gods Blog, Post 24

Hard work doing the US galleys. They were waiting for me when I got up Saturday morning, went off first thing this morning (Monday) and I didn’t do anything else over the weekend, except go and eat some nice sushi.

Someone’s done a lot of find and replaces -- NEVER a good idea in galleys. Dave Langford put something in Ansible recently about how on the galleys of my novel Neverwhere someone Found-and-Replaced all the flats to apartments. People said things apartmently, and believed the world was apartment.

None of these were quite that bad – they were subtler...

F’rinstance: All instances of the word round have become around. Fine for walking around the lake, less helpful for the around glasses, the around holes in the ice; blonde has uniformely become blond, and so blonder has become blondr; for ever has become, universally, forever, and for everything thus became foreverything, and we also got foreveryone, forevery time and so on. Each had to be found and caught.

Little things – the icelandic þú became , which won’t bother anyone who isn’t Icelandic. Blowjob had inexplicably become blow job again. (I think a blowjob is a unit of sexual currency, whereas a blow job is something you can get -- or indeed, give --instead of a wrist job, a sleeve job or a window job.) And once again every damn comma gets scrutinised. And I changed an Advertise to an advertize which was nice of me.

I changed the copyedited ‘vast hall of death’ back to ‘vasty hall of death’ which was what I’d originally written; it’s a quote from Matthew Arnold, which was in its turn quoted by Roger Zelazny, and I think that people can get the idea that vasty’s an archaic form of vast.

Not sure of the logic that has people talk about a “motel 6" or “drive down Highway 14" but also talk about “Comparative Religion One-oh-one”. But I just put a query next to it and left it.

I am, having read my book three times in three versions in the last three weeks, checking everything, finally feeling very done with it. Noticed some sloppy sentences this time through, ones that Fowler would have tutted at. If I could fix them with a word, I did; if they needed to be completely rewritten, I left them, figuring that perfection can wait. Maybe for the next book.

The first of the blurbs is in. It’s from Peter Straub, who says, in an e-mail to my editor, Jennifer Hershey...

Dear Jennifer --

Many thanks to both you and Neil for sending me the early galley of
AMERICAN GODS. I think it is a terrific book, clearly Neil's best to
date, and am very happy to offer the following quote:

From his first collection of short stories, Neil Gaiman has always been
a remarkable, remarkably gifted writer, but AMERICAN GODS is the first
of his fictions to match, even surpass, the breathtaking imaginative
sweep and suggestiveness of his classic SANDMAN series of graphic
novels. Here we have poignancy, terror, nobility, magic, sacrifice,
wisdom, mystery, heartbreak, and a hardearned sense of resolution - a
real emotional richness and grandeur that emerge from masterful

Will that do? It's a wonderful novel, and I congratulate both you and
Neil for bringing it into being.

Peter Straub

Which has me happy as a sandboy. (What is a sandboy? Why are they so happy?) I guess because I really wanted American Gods to be a book that had the power and scale and resonance that Sandman did (and which, by their nature, and not necessarily to their detriment, neither Neverwhere nor Stardust could have had -- they were intrinsically smaller, lighter things). That it’s done that for one reader – and that that one reader is a writer of whose work I have been a fan since I read Shadowlands at about 16 – makes me feel like the last two years of hard writing really had a point.


The permission came in on the Tom Waits song Tango Till They’re Sore, and I got the first word from the Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood people, and I sent them the follow-up fax. Waiting on e.e. cummings still. But the permissions should be done VERY soon.


And an e-mail in from a correspondent who shall remain anonymous:

I've looked at some of your journal and I'd never realised the actual effort
and workload that goes into it AFTER the book is 'written'. Nor why it took
so long between concept and hardback appearance - until now that is. Is
your brain "American Godded Out' or still on an enthusiasm roll?

Dear Anonymous of New Zealand. I’m still enthusiastic. But I’m very pleased I don’t have to read it again this week.

And I’m pleased that some of the mechanics of taking a book to publication are coming out in the journal. People know that authors write books, and then books appear on the shelves. Some of them are bestsellers, and some aren’t. But that’s all most people know. One reason I liked the idea of doing this journal was being able to explain the stuff that happens between handing in the mss and publication. (That there are no authorial grumbles about either the UK or the US book covers is very unusual -- I’m happy with them both and they both look like covers for the book I wrote.)

Someone on The Well asked. Why don’t writers just edit their own books, kinda like musicians who produce themselves?

And the answer to that, Bill Clintonlike, is probably, it depends what you mean by Edit.
Edit means so many things. Editors do so many things.

In the US they like to get more involved. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. Michael Korda once told me it all dated back to Jacqueline Susanne, who wrote books that were readable, but all typed in upper case in something that didn’t have a lot to do with English; so editors began getting their feet wet and getting involved in the writing process, making suggestions for things to cut, rewriting where they had to, and so on.

It’s certainly true that UK editors tend much more to look at a manuscript, ask themselves “is this publishable?” and if the answer’s yes, they publish it.

(In my case, the best thing an editor can do while I’m writing something is to keep cheerful and encouraging, say nice things, and keep getting words out of me by hook or by crook. I’ll sort out the problems for the second draft.)

Then there are copyeditors. Most editors now are too busy to actually spend 30 plus hours reading a manuscript with a blue pencil scrutinising each wayward comma. But, they figure, somebody has to do it.

In each case, the main thing an editor is meant to do when they do their jobs is to make you look good. I think the analogy is much less a musician producing her own records, and a lot more like an actor doing his own make-up and wigs, or an actor in a one man show doing her own lighting. Sure, you can do it yourself, but it’s much easier, and you’ll get a better look, if you get another pair of eyes and hands in to do it.

Editors make you look good. That’s their job. Whether it’s by pointing out that the relationship between the lead character and his father was never satisfyingly resolved, or by pointing out you’ve changed the spelling of the name of the landlady between her two appearances. Like the lighting guy, they are another pair of eyes.

And I always like another pair of eyes. If I’m writing a short story I’ll send the first draft out to a bunch of friends for feedback; they may see things I’ve missed, or point out places I thought I’d got away with something that I hadn’t. Or tell me the title is crap. Or whatever. I listen, because it’s in my best interests to listen. I may listen and then decide that, no, I like my title, and the relationship between the protagonist and his father is just what I want it to be, or whatever, but I’ll still listen.

(Something I learned ages ago. When people tell you there’s something wrong with a story, they’re almost always right. When they tell what it is that’s wrong and how it can be fixed, they’re almost always wrong.)

Of course, there are authors out there who are not edited. This is not necessarily a good thing. I read a bestselling book by a bestselling one of them. He had a flashback scene in which one of the neighborhood kids was wandering around, twelve years before he was born. An editor would have put a pencil mark beside it and said “Do you mean this?” and the embarrassed author would have admitted that, no, he wasn’t thinking, he just mentally thought of the names of some of the kids and forgot that one of them would have been minus twelve in that scene, and fixed it. So I don’t plan to become one of the great unedited.

I would say that when you find a good editor, you stick with them; and when you find a good copyeditor you stick with them as best you can.

(Often, in the US, they won’t tell you who the copyeditor is. They are more anonymous than taxmen. Apparently, there have been too many occasions in the history of publishing of overstressed authors ringing up copyeditors at 2:00am and screaming “I’m going to kill you, you bastard – how dare you change my noble and beautiful forgot to an inspid and lustreless forgotten?” that you are actively discouraged from talking to them before, during or after the copyediting process. This makes it hard to know when you got a good one, and harder still to keep them when you did.)

We’re very close to posting the details on the signing tour. Honest.

And, whew.

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