Like a Maccabee: The Birth of a Book, Part 4

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Like a Maccabee: The Birth of a Book, Part 1
Like a Maccabee: The Birth of a Book, Part 2
Like a Maccabee: The Birth of a Book, Part 3

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I tried to remain professional, but there was a part of me that took this setback very personally. I felt that I should have known about this much sooner, probably even before negotiating the contract. I could feel the stress oozing through my body as I waited for Barbara’s response.

Fortunately, Barbara was checking her e-mail frequently and I received her reply only a half hour later. I half-expected to be fired, or to hear that she was experiencing regrets about taking her chances with a small independent publisher. (The big publishers aren’t immune to problems either, and theirs sometimes result in recalls, and lawsuits.) Setbacks like these are hard when you’re still establishing a solid reputation.

Barely able to breathe, I opened the e-mail message and nearly cried with relief. Her opening words were, “First, let me say this – I feel like we are in this together, and together we will find solutions to make this work.” I could have hugged her, half a continent away.

And then I realized that this is one of the perks of a small independent publisher. Not the setbacks, of course, but the fact that since we are small, we really do work as partners with our authors. Too many big publishers care only about the bottom line. I’d like Yaldah to come out ahead on this (as it is good for business, after all), but I refuse to do that at the expense of an author. I want books to sell well, and I want all of our authors to be happy. I don’t believe that’s unrealistic.

When I’d written to Barbara about the text setback, I’d sent some brainstormed ideas – questions mostly – that might help her lengthen the manuscript. “To that end,” I’d written, “I offer my completely unsolicited questions from rereading the manuscript. (Consider this a good thing: I feel like I really want to know the answers, which means I was really into the story.)”

I reviewed the timeline, including when we needed to send uncorrected galleys out for peer reviews, deadlines for prepublication reviews (book review journals that require books submitted 4-6 months prior to their publication date), time for final layout, cover art, printing, and so forth, and determined that if we could get the text completed by the end of March, we’d be okay. While Barbara said this was more “panic mode” than “relief mode,” she revisited Ben and Grandpa and got back to work.

As a testament to Barbara’s talent, by the very next day she had outlined several new chapters. I created a certificate good for a published copy of Like a Maccabee when it was released and donated the certificate to a local synagogue’s spring auction. Anita was making some minor changes to the illustrations based on Barbara’s and my input. Leslie was going to sit tight until the new chapters were written and then add her previous edits to the new ones.

We were back in business.

On March 3rd, less than a week after my somber news on the book’s length, Barbara e-mailed me the revised version. It was almost twice as long as the original! I read it and loved what she’d done with it. The length really added more depth and dimension to the characters and their lives. I had a few questions and suggestions for minor changes and sent those to her. Meanwhile, Anita had delivered the illustrations and a beautifully painted picture to be used for the wrap-around cover. I got to work scanning those in and creating a proposed front cover for use in prepublication promotional materials.

Exactly one week later, Barbara sent the “revised revision.” For those keeping count, and for those writers who sneer at revisions and rewrites, we’re now on Rewrite #4. And this is the fourth rewrite since the initial query. I imagine there were countless other rewrites as Barbara received input from her SCBWI writing group. Little did we know the manuscript would pass Rewrite #7 before we were through.

I forwarded Rewrite #4 on to Leslie for her perusal and meanwhile contacted every middle-grade children’s book author I could reach and asked if they’d be willing to read the uncorrected proof of Like a Maccabee and write a short blurb, in exchange for having their blurb, name, and title of their book(s) in our promotional material, on our web site, in the Advance Reading Copy (ARC – pronounced “ark”) that went to reviewers, and in the final book itself. I received eleven positive responses out of that inquiry. Pleased with the response, I sent hard copies where requested and PDFs of the manuscript as it was, with a copyright and under-contract notice, to all eleven.

Our paper child had made its first foray into the world, and did so in a big way: uncorrected proofs went all over the U.S. and also to Europe and Israel. It was very exciting for me, and I couldn’t wait to hear their responses.

And then disaster struck again on April 3rd. “I can’t find my earlier editing, comments, questions,” Leslie wrote. “You’re under a deadline. I’m horrified. Proceed without me or should I start over?”

Have you ever received bad news and felt strangely distant, surreal? My brain did not want to believe it, and I went from satisfied with the book’s progress to sheer panic. I wanted to get ARCs out to prepublication reviewers by May at the latest, giving them their 4-6 month leeway before the book was released in October. That meant getting the cover and interior to the printer in two weeks, which was plenty of time if the text was near completion. But if we had to start from scratch with the editing process? I wasn’t sure.

On the other hand, I felt very strongly that Leslie was the right editor for this book. I work with several book editors and I suppose I could have called one of them and asked if they could do a rush job. But whatever it was – intuition, gut-feeling, guidance from the Great Beyond – compelled me to send Leslie my reply: “Take a deep breath. It will all be okay! I do value your editorial instincts and I believe the book will be a better one for having gone through your scrutiny, so I would very much like not to proceed without you.”

Leslie, as a testament to her talent, finished editing the book in less than three weeks. While she and Barbara and I would all continue to work together making small changes, the majority of the editing was complete.

I imported the text into my book layout software and spent a few too many hours making the full-color cover near perfect. Several of those hours were during one crazy afternoon at the local print shop, adjusting the cover file’s color settings so that the laser printer’s printout matched Anita’s original painting as closely as possible. I was on a deadline to take advantage of a price break offered by the book printer, and I had to get the book uploaded to them by 11:59pm that night. It wouldn’t have been possible without a good friend watching my children while I tore my hair out (mostly figuratively) at the print shop.

I met my deadline and placed the order for the first Advance Reading Copies of Like a Maccabee to make their way into the world.

It may sound like we could see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the truth is, the hard work was just beginning.

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Part 5 now up!

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