Posts Tagged ‘editing’

“Getting it right”; or: “One man’s fine-tuning is another man’s nit-picking”?

(This post continues At the negotiating table)

Assalamu alaikum.

When we left the publishing process at the end of the previous post, it was June 2010 and – to my mind – the script was finally ready to become a book. Presumably it would just take a few weeks to get some pictures drawn, and maybe a month to have a few million copies (!) printed?

Er…no.

In fact, the first task to arise after this point was to come up with fourteen chapter titles. This was a simple enough process: I suggested some, the editor approved or improved them, and we settled on these titles. And then…

…then…

…exactly why did it take twelve more months for The Victory Boys to be released?

Well, first of all, as I subsequently had it explained to me, the publishing world does not move quickly. This can be incredibly frustrating, especially if one is not aware of the reasons why there should be any delays. In my situation, there was an added complication: the editor with whom I had been working, quite reasonably took up employment elsewhere, meaning that the publishers needed to recruit a new editor. Enter Brother Yosef, who contacted me in January 2011 with great enthusiasm regarding my manuscript.

I had already learned a lot about myself (and the limits of my patience, astaghfirullah) during the preceding months, but now that I had been paired up with a new editor, I saw no reason to endure any further delays. I remember insisting to poor Yosef over the phone, “It’s ready as it is; I don’t want any more changes… it’s just waiting to be printed…”

Quite understandably, coming from a position that I could not fully appreciate at the time, Yosef must have seen things slightly differently. You will often hear the effective football manager/team coach being praised for his “man-management” skills – usually demonstrable when the team’s  (hitherto) off-field hellraiser suddenly takes to turning in match-winning performances – and I think this bodes well for Yosef should he ever fancy himself as the new Saleem (you’ll have to read the book to get that reference!)

Check out the professional (and soothing) tact and diplomacy in this email:


As I have already alluded to elsewhere, Yosef’s input in fine-tuning the text (and pulling out some blatant errors that I had not spotted) was invaluable. In a few instalments we tinkered with the text, sent it back and forth to each other, and eventually arrived somewhere we were both satisfied. This was not always without an element of compromise and reasoned explanation, as can be seen in this excerpt of the edited work-in-progress (click to enlarge):

Yosef and I discuss a point using the MS Word 'comment' function

At the same time, work had begun on commissioning some pictures for the book (Eman Salem the selected illustrator). You might recognise this early sketch of Hasan (those who like to play ‘Spot the Difference’ are free to point out how this picture evolved by the time the typeset version of the book was complete!)

Ultimately, and after an out-of-house designer had been recruited to produce the (very striking!) front cover, the book was finally ready to become a reality. As Yosef put it, in his email of 21st April…

Alhamdulillah!

(Not to be continued this time… but comments very welcome!)

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At the negotiating table

(This post continues In pursuit of a publisher…)

Assalamu alaikum.

In the preceding post of this series, I alluded to some negotiation regarding the book’s content. In this instalment I shall go into some detail regarding the general dialogue shared between myself and the publisher.

One of the weaknesses of my manuscript – bearing in mind its purported target audience – was that quite often the frustrated reformer/sociologist in me leaked out through the character of Imam Munieb. Thus, scenes of youthful exuberance from the boys would sit alongside reflective outpourings the like (but not the quality) of which might be found in Atif Imtiaz’s ‘Wandering Lonely In A Crowd‘ which reduced the poor beleaguered Imam to a vehicle for those thoughts. This was all too apparent to the outgoing editor and her panel of reviewers. Not surprisingly, this was one of the first features to be lost from the script, and with my full blessing!

The Imam: one-time carrier of his author's baggage

There were also some minor issues regarding the Imam’s speech, which was an interesting topic in itself. For one thing, notwithstanding the genuine uniqueness of Imam Munieb (at least in my experience), some of his characteristics, including his speech, were based heavily on brothers known to me (not imams, I hasten to add!) It was probably due to the fact that these personality traits were not based solely on any one person that I inadvertently allowed his speech quality to fluctuate. One finds that even after the imam’s verbal makeover, he is a genuinely articulate speaker in his second language, but that his word choices and/or grammatical structures are occasionally limited. Furthermore, the Imam (prior to editing) had a greater propensity for slang than the, er, ‘reformed‘ Imam.

The main aspect upon which I dug in my heels related to the book’s ‘prodigal son’. I will not elaborate too much on this because it is central to the plot, but I shall outline at least the nature of the suggestion and my (polite) objection to it. It was simply this: that one of the characters undergoes a (positive) transformation – he is by no means the only character about whom this could be said, but his development is particularly poignant because it describes a movement towards his Lord. It was suggested that this character should publicly reflect upon his transformation so as to put the reader in no doubt as to its significance. However, I felt that understatement was the appropriate pitch to aim for, and that the character’s development – whilst overwhelmingly positive – was more promising than complete. I also felt that the engaged reader would be up to the challenge of inferring my characters’ states; I have read a great many books that virtually instruct the reader about characters and situations, and leave nothing to be surmised.

Without giving too much away, there was also an issue of family dynamics, and I felt that the proposed (somewhat) fairytale ending was not in keeping with the family I had described in the book. Sometimes we take baby steps though we know running to be superior; nonetheless, for one reason or another, we do the former.

I was extremely pleased that the editor, Sister Fatima – who is vastly more experienced than I in this field – was open to my arguments and indeed agreed with my reasoning on these points. So, after a tidy-up here, a rewrite there, the momentum was building. I’d even signed a book contract by June (2010), so surely the book would be out any moment… wouldn’t it?

(To be continued…) (once again!)

 

The real Imam Munieb… er, sort of.