Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Playing Jenga with my book

By Joe Moore

There’s a great game called Jenga. It’s comprised of lots of wooden blocks from which you build a tower. Each player in turn removes one wooden block from anywhere within the tower. The object of the game is to game1not be the one to remove the block that tumbles the tower into a heap of rubble. After all, each block is connected, touches, or relies on the others. The tower must remain structurally stable and strong to keep from falling and breaking. It’s fun to play, but you know that if you pull the wrong block, you can cause a chain reaction that brings the tower down. Once it falls, the game is over.

This week, I’m deep into the editing of the galley proof for my upcoming thriller, THE PHOENIX APOSTLES (June 8). It’s one of, if not the most critical stage of the novel writing process. Up until now, it’s been all fun and games: playing “what if”, outlining, researching, writing, discussing the plot with my agent/editor, sending out portions of the manuscript to my beta readers, rewriting, changing and shifting plot and characters, panicking that I won’t meet the deadline, turning in the manuscript on the deadline day, waiting for the initial feedback from my editor, strategizing with the publisher’s publicity department, seeing the cover art for the first time, worrying, and waiting. A treat arrives in the mail in the form of an ARC (advance reader copy) that my editor snagged for me. I get to see the mockup of the book and cover, and hold it in my hands, and show family and friends that there really will be another book, and I really am a writer, and the first four books weren’t just flukes. So up until now, it’s been tons of fun.

Suddenly, I get an email from the copy editor. The galley proof (the entire text printed as it will appear in the final version) will arrive on such and such a date, and she needs my corrections back on such and such a date to meet the “to-press” date. And she includes the statement that causes all warmth to drain from my body to be replaced with bone-crunching Arctic fear: this will be my final opportunity to make changes.

I’m about to play Jenga with my book.

OK, I can handle it. After all, everyone who read the manuscript loved it. Sure, there’s going to be a few typos that even the editor and proof reader missed. Hey, we’re all human, right? I’ll just whip through this baby, catch a few minor flaws, and get it back ahead of time.

Note: one big advantage here; I have a co-writer, and she’s got her own copy of the galley proof, and she’s going through the same exercise I am. So we figure it’ll be a quick read-through and we’re done. Then we can get back to the fun stuff, right?

So far, I have 5 pages of changes, mostly small items, but a couple of plot issues that need a great deal of thought before we commit to a change. The reason is, one small change, even a word, can break stuff all over the place. Pull the wrong block and the book comes tumbling down.

“This will be your final opportunity to make changes.”

Most of the changes going back to the copy editor are small stuff. But if I stumble across something that needs to be clarified and that clarification causes something else to be changed, and that change causes a major . . .

You get the idea. Editing the galley proof is like pulling blocks in the Jenga tower without it crumbling down around me. It’s not fun, and you don’t get a second chance. Who said writing a novel wasn’t dangerous?

How does this stage of the process go for the rest of the writers out there? Do you love it or hate it? Do you play Jenga with your book?

THE PHOENIX APOSTLES, coming June 8, 2011.
”Leaves the reader breathless and wanting more.”
– James Rollins


  1. Like my children, I love every part of writing the same. Some for one reason, some for another. It's the non-writing parts of this thing we have that I don't care for.

  2. Hey Joe--Jenga, huh? Fun post. I actually am scared to see those words too - LAST TIME TO CHANGE - but the galley is when I get to read the book without my author hat on.

    Yes, there is a hat. More of a beanie, actually...with a propeller, but I digress.

    I actually enjoy the galley stage. So far, my thriller publisher has never made this stage terrible for me. It's my last chance at typos. And I will say that after the galley, I NEVER READ MY BOOK AGAIN. Once it's in final form, I never want to find that hidden typo that everyone missed, so I've never read my book cover to cover after the galley.

    What about you? Do you read the final book? That's one of my phobias.

  3. John, I enjoy pretty much all the parts of a writer's life, too. But the galley stage is the point of no return for me. That's scary.

    Jordan, I do read my books, but I wait a long time--usually a couple of years. They say you can never go home, but rereading my book is one way to do so.

  4. At that stage I only correct typos--anything else would seem too risky. I'd be afraid of introducing new errors, in the typesetting if nothing else.

  5. You're right, Kathryn, it's a house of cards.

  6. You make it sound like a frightening experience to go through galleys. I hope one day to enjoy it myself.

  7. This is the dicey stage so I try only to correct typos but still the urge is there - but as I am not very good at Jenga I am very careful about plot tweaks!

  8. Good post. BTW, Joe, have you ever heard of a game called Bandu? It's very similar to Jenga with one major difference: No two pieces are alike. :) Normal shapes dominate but there are also bizarre pieces including eggs, half cylinders, trapezoids, etc. Anyone that likes Jenga should give it a try.

    But I digress...

    The part about writing that I most dread is the rewriting. So, to minimize rewriting, I'm very careful to maintain 'flow'. My in-progress debut novel has ~13,000 words spread over 8 1/2 chapters. And despite my best efforts at pre-planning, I've already gone back and forth moving this and tweaking that - and then deciding to put it all back! Grrr!

    The strategy that has been most useful to me is saving periodic drafts. I'm currently on draft 19. After each 'chunk' of changes or additions, I save a complete copy of my WIP in another folder. It serves both as a backup and a way to trace the development of my novel. The main benefit is freedom from worrying about losing my current wording. I can take risks knowing that I can always get back to the original. My manuscript is all the better for it.

    I also feel it's best and easiest to make changes early rather than later. Therefore, Ive also chosen not to turn off my inner editor during this process. (I know, I know.) It may cost me more time, but I believe I'll have a far better product in the end. I'm also learning craft as I go which wouldn't happen if I tried to power through. As a teacher I know it's best to learn correctly the first time in order to avoid lengthy un-learning and relearning stages later.

    When I finally get to that final galley stage my goal is to be like Kathryn and only have typos and maybe small wording tweaks.