No sooner had I come off a month of family visits and working on a short story last week, than the copyedited manuscript of The Spirit Lens arrived.
First task? Do a complete read-through without looking at the copyedits. Well, OK, I could have done this the week before the copyedits came, but...did I mention family fun? Short story? A little bout of summer surgery? Updating website? Actually, I wanted to wait until the last possible moment to maximize my distance from the words.
The purpose of a readthrough is not just to "get a feel for the story" again in preparation for final edits. This is the last chance to make any substantial revision. So I want to read carefully, looking for places where the logic doesn't work, getting a feel for the pacing and ferreting out plot holes. I watch for bits that got left out (or duplicated) in the revision process. Yes, I needed to make sure the dark incident in Portier's past was made clear, but maybe I overdid it, put in too much too soon, or some such. I hunted unresolved issues, eg. did I ever mention what became of the haunted guard captain? And I wanted to make sure that the resolution of The Spirit Lens was rock solid, ready to lead in to The Soul Mirror.
So what did I find?
It is amazing how your perspective changes after not looking at the mss. for two months. I found myself pleased with what I was reading. All the warts that I saw when up to my eyes in the details of revision had faded out because of the enforced breathing space. I found that my doubts about whether I had really laid out the chain of events clearly and whether I had belabored certain bits of history overmuch were laid to rest. And indeed, I did not miss those 10,000 words I cut out of it in the least. Nor had I left five thousand ragged edges where I'd pulled them out. It all seemed to work.
One of the best parts was reading those pieces I really labored over during revision. Mostly these were the pivotal scenes, the big changes in direction and emotional upheavals that MUST make sense, and yet only come clear once you've gotten to the end of the story. All of these pieces were much more improved than I remembered. I think the grand mystery - for, as I've said, The Spirit Lens is at heart a murder mystery - unwinds clearly and logically. And I think my three investigators' relationships - which form the primary emotional arc of the story - do the same. Whew! I really expected to need some continued revision, but all I found that needed doing were some word and phrase improvements and some very minor paragraph reordering. I even cut out a sentence here and there - bits I'd clung to, but suddenly stood out as wholly unneeded.
So now it was time to take a look at the copyedits.
[To review what the copyediting cycle is all about, take a look at From Sale to Shelf: Part 3.]
First thing I had to do was get set up. For the first time, I was going to be dealing with electronic copyediting and not a paper manuscript marked with varicolored pencil. OK, technology doesn't bother me. And even though I was given only a week to get the manuscript turned around, I didn't expect any problems, especially given my feeling that the book was pretty clean. That was before I looked.