Thursday, September 19, 2013

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, READ THE DIRECTIONS

I blogged a while back that I had sent the final manuscript of my latest book off to the publisher. I thought I had finished and could move on from  Abraham Lincoln's Almanac Trial to my next project--the Lindbergh Kidnapping Case. I was wrong.

When my kids were young, I used to spend Christmas Eve putting their toys together with my hand-dandy tool kit. I took it as a point of honor not to look at the directions unless it was absolutely necessary. With this attitude, I created far more work for myself than necessary. If I had only stopped to read the directions, I would have gotten much more sleep on Christmas Eve. Before GPS, I was the same way about driving directions. I never asked anyone for directions until I was hopelessly lost.

I brought this same attitude to the writing of books. I want to write the book without reading the editorial requirements, and it has caused me countless hours of rewriting. I never seem to learn. When I wrote The Last Murder, I did the first few drafts of the manuscript using the wrong citation form. When my editor pointed that fact out to me, I redid the citations without reading the directions for the citation form they wanted me to use. Then I bought a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), read the directions, and wound up having to completely redo the citations again.

When I wrote the manuscript for Abraham Lincoln's Almanac Trial, I "knew" what the requirements were, so I merely skimmed over the manuscript specifications without studying them in depth. Not a good idea. Two days ago I got an email from my editor saying that had left out some necessary sections and that I needed to get them sent in. Oops. He also asked me to do a bibliography for the book. The last book I did for Praeger, I was told to dispense with a bibliography, but to do full form citations in the endnotes. I had taken it for granted that's what they wanted for the new book, but experience should have taught me not to take things for granted.

No problem, I thought, I can whip out a bibliography in short order. I got the bibliography done quickly, but then I had another problem. I was now 2,700 words over the contractual word limit. I told my editor about the problem and promised would have the manuscript trimmed down to the limit by Friday of next week. Since my wife Lane has been up in Ohio helping our daughter recover from foot surgery, I have had trouble sleeping. So last night, I pulled an all-nighter trimming the manuscript to get it under the word limit.

I decided that the best way to trim words without trimming content would be to use the CMS short citation form in the endnotes. With the short form, you fully cite the book the first time you mention it in the endnotes and give an abbreviated citation afterwards. The abbreviated citation should be full enough to guide the reader unerringly to the full citation contained in the bibliography.

A full citation looks something like this:

Ida M. Tarbell, The Life of Abraham Lincoln: Drawn from Original Sources and Containing Many Speeches, Letters, and Telegrams Hitherto Unpublished and Illustrated with Many Reproductions from Original Paintings, Photographs, Etc., Volume 2 (New York: Lincoln History Society, 1907),  65, http://archive.org/details/cu31924092901077 (accessed December 17, 2012).

The same citation in short form would look something like this:

Tarbell, Life of Lincoln, Volume 2, 65.

When you're dealing with books which have multiple authors and long titles, you can save a lot of printer's ink using the short citation form. I didn't get to bed until well after midnight, but I got it done. I trimmed almost 6,000 words from the manuscript simply by shortening the citations. This afternoon, I got an email from my editor. He said that he had talked our word-count problem over with the higher-ups, and they had okayed the overage--no need to trim anything from the manuscript. I wrote him back and said "Too late. I've already trimmed the manuscript."

If only I had gotten the directions straight at the outset, I could have saved myself a lot of wasted effort. I'll do better on my next book. I'll read the editorial requirements before I write the book. Yeah, right.