“Books aren’t written. They’re rewritten.” Michael Crichton
I’ve been a little quiet on the blogging front over the past few months, partly because the first term of the academic year has been as mad as ever, but mainly because I’ve been very busy writing two books. One, on the classic BBC TV series Tenko, is an ongoing project, but I’m very pleased to say that the other, snappily titled Personalising Library Services in Higher Education: the boutique approach, see how it trips off the tongue (!), which I’ve co-edited with Elizabeth (Libby) Tilley, and written several chapters for, has now been submitted to our lovely publishers: Ashgate.
I don’t use the word ‘lovely’ lightly, I became a small press publisher myself as a result of poor treatment at the hands of publishers who displayed neither courtesy or understanding, so to discover that a big commercial publisher like Ashgate has people who have been as interested as they have been responsive has surprised me no end. What is more we have been allowed, nay encouraged, to produce the book that we wanted to write/edit.
We only missed the initial deadline by a month or so, which reminds me of my favourite writing quote: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by” Douglas Adams.
So what did I learn from the experience. Well, as it happens, quite a lot:
1. Editing a book is categorically NOT easier than writing one by yourself. If anything, it’s more work as there’s more liaison, more checking, more difficulty achieving coherency and consistency, more compromise. More everything basically! Definitely not the easy option.
2. If you’re going to write or edit a book with someone else you need to get on incredibly well with them. I have a pretty good imagination and can see all too clearly how horrendous the last year would have been had I spent it working alongside someone who didn’t pull their weight or who felt differently about the process and the end goal. Libby and I have been startlingly on the same page throughout and this may just stand as the most evenly split 50/50 effort project I’ve ever had the good fortune to be involved with. We’re not about to pick out curtains (we’re both happily married) but, boy do we get each other.
3. Some passages you will rewrite a painstaking number of times, others will be right first time. I thought I knew this already, now I definitely know it. This is just the way it always is when writing it seems (for me anyway).
4. Sensory recalibration (get me!) We humans automatically correct mistakes in sentences more than we realise. We even forgive the absence of words in sentence. Honestly this phenomena has amazed me while writing this book and has reminded me why my wife is the proofreader rather than me. It’s a skill I just don’t possess. Is her sensory calibration-ometer on a lower setting? (Did you spot the missing word?)
5. References are easy (if you do them properly). You would have thought we librarians would have had this down, but those good intentions really bit us on the bottom! I shall bear the scars for some good time yet.
6. Get your co-editor to do all the formatting. Result! Again, consistent formatting not my forte, but remember that 50/50 split? I did all the referencing.
7. Dropbox IS the best thing since sliced bread. We just couldn’t have done without it. To be technical about it: approximately a gazillion times better than GoogleDocs.
8. It ain’t over until it’s over (and by that I mean ‘right’). In order to end up with a hopefully coherent manuscript we suddenly had to do some ‘seat of your pants’ writing. We didn’t want to have to write more at such a late stage -we’re talking a few weeks ago -but the book really needed it and we realised we couldn’t ignore its plaintive cries for help.
9. Keeping the magic alive (!) I guess a bit like a PhD student and their thesis, the topic of which they spend so long with, you have to be passionate about the content. We are both still champions of the approach we advocate in the book and the process has strengthened our resolve not diminished it.
10. Theory into practice. You can’t write about something without putting your money where you mouth is. Well you can, but it would have made us feel distinctly uncomfortable. We didn’t want this book to be an academic treatise, we wanted it to be practical and applicable, offering ‘top tips’ along the way. As we say in the final chapter we suddenly realised that we needed to put more of our ideas and suggestions into practice in our respective workplaces. Once we did that we discovered that they really do work in practice. And we’re not finished yet – next week we’re running a workshop for our teams on personalised customer service.
I should add before I close that we are indebted to our wonderful chapter and case study authors and several other Important People who will be properly and fulsomely acknowledged in the published work.
Now that Ashgate are busy readying the book for publication (July this year we’re told) I’m able to devote my full writing attention to the Tenko tome (cast pictured below) in which shipwrecks, suicide and Singapore slings abound. A world away from librarianship, unless your library is way more interesting and exotic than mine!