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ISBNs: It's Your Job

Today I waited at the auto repair shop while my car was being smogged. I'm in California; we do this a lot. Two of the Parts technicians were helping a man who wanted a leashed gas cap for his wife's car. There was some confusion about which one would fit, several databases were consulted, and finally one of the technicians called the dealer and received the final word. Yes, this particular leashed gas cap with this part number would fit; one database had faulty information while the other was correct.

There's a great deal to praise about the transaction (customer service, persistence, attention to detail, general niceness) but what particularly struck me was their interest. Both the parts technicians were interested in the numbers, what they showed, why they didn't agree, and not only did they find a solution, they were able to explain all this to the customer so he became engaged also. 

Of course, this is their job. It was a pleasure to listen to them doing it well.

Right now, I'm a writer. Before I was a writer, I was a librarian. There are many number systems in the library world and I learned quite a few. It was my job and I enjoyed it. When I stopped being a librarian and became a writer, a few of those number systems remained relevant to me. They are part of my job, whether I get paid by a publisher or publish independently. Some numbers are so ubiquitous, so necessary to writers that I am always stunned when I find writers with multiple books to their credit who have no idea what the hell the numbers are. They have never heard of them.

I'm talking, of course, about ISBNs

It is a truism among writers that all writers are readers first. Now ebooks may be common but I don't think there is a writer in the world who has never picked up a printed book and held it in their hand. All books printed in the U.S., the U.K., and Europe have ISBNs in two places: the back cover and the verso of the title page. How can a writer not want to know what these numbers signify, where they come from, and most importantly what they do for the book? IT'S PART OF YOUR JOB. Google it, for heaven's sake. Figure it out. Ask questions.

Now Amazon, famously, doesn't care about ISBNs, particularly for ebooks. You can add them or not, they're indifferent. News flash: Amazon is not the universe nor the defining word on book publishing. They are one option. (Okay, a big, fat option.) And if the writer takes one step out of Amazon's enclosed world of ebooks, if they want to use Createspace or Ingram or Lulu or Smashwords or any one of the plethora of independent publishing choices, they must have an ISBN. If the service provides it or the writer does themselves, it makes a difference. So the writer is making choices and the more they know the smarter choice they can make.

With first-time authors, there is some excuse for ignorance. Some, not much. It does tell me a great deal about would-be authors when someone tells me they have a completed book ready to go—and no clue what an ISBN is. They don't read very much, to start with, and I have no time for writers who don't read. With an author who has multiple books published and who STILL has no clue about an ISBN, I don't even want to start a conversation. If a plumber came to my house and asked me how to shut off the water, I'd get another plumber. I expect the car mechanic to be able to open the hood.

Because it's their job.



Revisions and Editors

After three months of revisions, I sent the finished manuscript to a professional editor. My final version of The Dog of Pel is almost exactly 100,000 words, by Microsoft's Word Count. 340 pages.

For anyone interested in process:

I printed out the entire manuscript, went over it line by line, and wrote in corrections and notes to myself. Sometimes they were very detailed corrections to the text and other times said informative things such as "Rewrite!" or "Expand" or "?". Going to Starbucks was very helpful and caffeine was essential. Well, caffeine is always essential, but the atmosphere helped. The white noise of a coffee shop really aids concentration.

Then I went back to the computer and entered the corrections or changed the troublesome bits. The ending seemed rushed and weak to me. I have an elaborate world with rules and structure and the end as first written seemed a bit 'he waved his arms and magic happened' so I rewrote it.

I rewrote it three times.

Because these changes altered some of the earlier plot, I printed out the manuscript again and repeated the corrections process, trying to catch all the tiny plot details and achieve logical consistency. I double and triple checked the last 50 pages for flow and tone and whatever you want to call it so the characters achieved logical and emotionally satisfying ends, whether good or bad.

I spell-checked the whole thing twice. I also went through my List of Words I Overuse such as 'just', 'thought', and for some annoying reason 'nodded', and removed as many as possible. Sometimes I see my characters as bobble-headed dolls, apparently. I have never put a sentence into a manuscript that said: 'I just thought he nodded' but clearly it is only a matter of time.

I let the manuscript sit for a few days. When I returned to it I changed some sentences. Then I changed them back. Then I changed some more and changed them back. This is my "You Are Done" indicator.

I didn't use a professional editor for either Matcher Rules or The Bone Road. Whatever your opinion of either of those titles, I decided this time to move beyond the criticism and input of my friendly beta readers and send this manuscript to a professional. After some hesitation I chose a woman who I'd taken a workshop with some years ago. She's not a fantasy genre specialist, but she does edit genre. I felt my trust in her professionalism and competency outweighed the narrow confines of genre. 

I won't find out if this decision was good or bad until May 8th. She'll start on the manuscript on April 20. I sent it in early because I could not do anything else with that enormous lump of work and anxiety sitting on my desktop. So it's gone.

Now I have time to clean up a bit around here and work on some other projects. Also, I'm carrying around a notebook with the beginnings of the next book. So far I have a title, the first two sentences, about six character biographies and the beginning of an outline. This is my favorite part. All the possibilities of story, none of the reality of writing it down.


The Dog of Pel is Done

The first pass, anyway. Two and a half years of work mercifully not down the drain. It made a nice birthday gift from me to me.

Depending on how you count, it's either 94,000 words if you go by Microsoft Word or 80,000 words using the classic editorial 250 words per page. I prefer the actual Word count. I expect the final version will be over 100,000. There are some sections I need to expand and of course I need to edit, chop, change, clarify, and add more color and life and descriptions. I rushed a bit through the final 50 pages so I expect the last bit to need more work than the first. One of my villains, a nasty treacherous person of unspecified gender, had a very skimpy death scene and I certainly can't let him/her get away with that. More blood! More suffering!

I've a busy week ahead so the manuscript can sit and marinate for a while. The back part of my brain, the part that plots, wants to slide in another character even at this late stage. It's possible but I'm not sure it's necessary; I'll think about that.

In the meantime, have a Merry Christmas or whichever holiday is the flavor of your choice, and a Happy New Year!

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