I’ve decided that, next time I write a book, I’m going to put everything on page one and make some obvious errors as well. I’m not convinced that it will actually do much to make the book any better, but it will save the reviewers a lot of headaches. And probably make it easier for the publisher too.
To understand why, let’s explore the typical sequence of events for a work that’s complete to first draft and ready for review. There are several things that you can almost guarantee will happen:
- Reviewers will notice that some almost insignificant detail is missing from the first paragraph that describes some complex technology, and will insist that you add a note about it. As every reviewer will find a different insignificant detail, you’ll end up fully describing every aspect and usage of the technology in the first sentence of the paragraph where it is introduced, irrespective of whether it’s relevant to the current context.
- Your schematic that shows how the technology can be used in a specific scenario will be criticized because it’s too simplistic, so you’ll add in the extra details that were requested. The next reviewer will tell you that the schematic is too complicated and makes it hard to understand what the technology is doing. The third reviewer will mention that you have missed out of the schematic several related things that the technology can also do, and the fourth reviewer will tell you that they don’t like the layout and there are too many arrows.
- Reviewers will review only the chapters that directly interest them, and will tell you about all the things that you forgot to mention (which are, of course, in earlier the chapters). But then, when pointed to the relevant earlier chapter, will suggest restructuring the content because it is split up and hard to find.
- If you make a really good job of the content, avoid any spelling and grammar errors, and cover every salient point, reviewers won’t easily be able to find anything to comment on. However, (and I know this because I do my fair share of reviewing of other people’s work) they won’t want to submit it with no review feedback – so they’ll work extra hard nit-picking to find something that needs to be changed.
- After all the review cycles are done, and you hand your magnum opus over to the copy editor, you’ll discover that the name of the person or company you used throughout the book is not on the approved names list, and you need to change it. You’ll also discover that somebody decided to change the name of the technology on the day after you finished slaving over a hot keyboard. Strangely, search and replace doesn’t seem to work on the myriad screenshots that contain the offending names.
Finally, when all the writing, reviews, and edits are done, you sign it off and it disappears into the bowels of the production department. In theory you can wave goodbye to it and get on with the next one. Or maybe not. I was recently party to a series of meetings related to creating a detailed specification of the publishing process. The list of tasks that have to be accomplished was nearly as long as the book itself, and several seem to have ended up being allocated to me.
I suppose the saving grace is that I’m pretty hardened to all this after the years I’ve spent involved at both the input and output ends of the process. I even try to behave myself when I’m being a reviewer rather than a writer; and I tend to be fairly relaxed about seeing my finely crafted text come back with a review comment every third word and a plethora of Track Changes from the copy editor. I wonder how they managed all this in the days before word processors!
Still, now I’ve seen what the production people have to do, and experienced the joys of reviewing other people’s work even more regularly, I’ve decided that I’ve actually got the easy job…