As you may know, at the start of my forthcoming book The Crow Folk our young heroine Faye Bright finds a book left to her by her late mother. In this book are spells, recipes, incantations… and a recipe for Jam Roly Poly (translation for non-British folk: Jam Roly Poly is a much-loved pudding that has the same density as a sock stuffed with pastry, but filled with jam and tastes lovely with custard).
I am delighted to announce that the recipe featuring rationed ingredients from 1940 is finally available for lovely subscribers to my newsletter. It was compiled by Miss Burgess, a baker of some repute in the village.
What are page proofs? And what should an author do with them? In this quick and easy video, I’ll show what I did with mine when they arrived last week. You’ll learn what they’re for, why I read them out loud, and why I back them up to a master document.
TRANSCRIPT: Hello folks. I’m Mark Stay. I’m an author and a screenwriter. And in the run up to the publication of my new book, The Crow Folk, which is coming February 2021, I’m gonna be posting regular updates here. There’s stuff about the book and the story, but also behind the scenes stuff about the process of publication and particularly all the fun stuff that happens in the run up to the big publication day.
And just recently, I got my page proofs from my publisher. So I’m going to talk about what I do with those and how I review them for my publisher. We’re a little over three months away from the publication of The Crow Folk and the proof pages were sent to me as a PDF. This is how the printed book will look on the page. They used to come as a big wodge of paper, but now, for various reasons – economical, environmental – they’re sent as a PDF. I did look into getting them printed locally, but for a 352 page document, it would’ve cost about 35 to 50 quid, depending if I wanted it one-sided or or two-sided.
Now the proof pages are an author’s last opportunity to really spot any errors and make any changes. Not big changes, either. This is not an edit. The edit is done. This is not the time to decide to move that pivotal scene in Act two into Act One No, no, no… What you’re looking for are typos, formatting errors, clunky sentences. And that’s about it. I read them out loud. Why? Well, when I was at Orion — I worked for the Orion Publishing Group for many, many years — the audio director, Pandora White, said she wished all authors would read their proof pages out loud. And the reason is that by the time they came round to recording the audio book, the proof pages had been done and sent off to the printers. So if they ever spotted any errors — and they often did — it was too late to do anything about it. So y’know, that’s why I read it out loud. I know authors who use speech software to have their computer read it back to them, which is a good way to spot typos and clunky sentences, but you miss homonyms. So y’know there are at least two I can recall from this book: draft and draught, and hole and whole. You miss fomatting errors. You can’t hear when the formatting is wrong, y’know. So I had a question mark slip off the end of the line and end up at the beginning of the next line on this ones, so I was able to pick that, so to catch that. So I read out loud. I make the words as big as possible on the screen, because I’m one of those people who tends to speed, read and skip ahead, and that’s how you miss stuff.That’s how you miss the little tiny details, and you can’t make that mistake when the words are so huge. When I read, I do so in a soft voice and try not to make it too dynamic or dramatic. You know this process can take as long as a week, and I need to save my voice. There’s a fine line between a soft voice and monosyllabic.
I mark-up the pdf as I go. I read for about an hour a time, and then I usually take a break, do a little bit of housework or something just to get the circulation going again. I generally find I can only read in the mornings. I’m just too drowsy in the afternoon and I miss stuff.
At the end of each session, I go back to my original document, which is a Scrivener document. You may use Word or similar, and I go and make those changes. All those mark-ups that I’ve made. I go and make them in my original document. And I did that for the edit, and the copy edit: any changes go back into a master document so that I have a master doc with all the updated changes. You’d be amazed how few authors do this and that’s not unreasonable. Why should I do this? The publisher is making those changes and putting it out there. But at some point in the future, you may need that document. You may part company with your publisher, you know, authors get the rights back to their books, and I may want to self publish it in 20/30 years’ time or whatever. And the last thing I want to do is have to go through this process all over again. And also, you know, you can’t just ask the publisher for those files. They’ll charge you for them. They spent money creating them, and they will charge you. Sometimes it’s hundreds of pounds, and if you got a whole series that can really, really add up so, you know, create an archive, back it up, get into the habit of creating an archive. So that’s it. That’s reading page proofs.
So, yesterday someone asked me for screenwriting advice. Never mind that I have no movie credits to my name (yet), but the news that I’ve co-written a script that’s going into production was enough to send a 22 year-old I’d never met before, pelting down three floors of our office building to seek out my sage wisdom.
I was flattered to say of the least, and my ego puffed-up to full as I prepared to dispense pearls of wisdom to this young neophyte. But, as I opened my mouth, I realised that I was one microsecond away from becoming a pompous Robert McKee type, and managed to stop myself.
The truth is I don’t have a bloody clue. I managed to piece together a chronology of how I managed to get where I am today, but anyone can do that, and everyone’s story will be different, so what use that is, I have no idea.
The only vaguely useful advice I could give was, “Er… Write, keep writing, and eventually you get better at it, and one day people start to take notice of it, and maybe you’ll get some work.”
I also urged her to meet and befriend other writers. Not only are they fun, if slightly mentally unhinged, but we all have the same doubts and fears and share them on Twitter when we know full well we should be working to a deadline.
Then I started reeling off lists of podcasts I listen to (and I’ve shared them below), because this has been a big part of my education in writing in the last few years, and these guys all know a lot more than I. And that was it, really. I was all out of advice.
I’m collaborating on a new script with a new writer. It’s his first, my umpteenth. And the thing I must not do is start telling him how to write. I have more experience, yes, but to tell him how to write is tantamount to telling him how to think, and that’s how cults and religions and very bad things start. Why do you think they call them script gurus?
MY FAVOURITE PODCASTS:
You can get all of these on iTunes for free, but it’s worth having a look at their related blogs, and do follow them on Twitter too.
What sets these guys apart from the Syd Fields and Robert McKees of this world, is they’re actually working as writers in the film industry, so they can talk with authority about how the industry works. This one covers everything from writing techniques, to agents, managers, lawyers, the WGA, writing software, and even fonts (John August also develops apps). It’s been running for a couple of years now, and it’s worth dipping into the backlist, though you can jump in at any time. This is a very American podcast, but if you’re thinking of working in the States, this is very useful.
Scriptwriting in the UK with Danny Stack and Tim Clague:
Danny has one of the best UK scriptwriting blogs out there, and, in this monthly podcast, he and Tim Clague talk about writing in the UK.
Danny is clearly smart, professional and knows his stuff. Tim now seems to mostly write for games, and never fails to mention that he once won a Bafta for a short film he made years ago (and, to be fair, neither will I when the day comes). Not as zippy or slick as the US podcasts, but invaluable for insights into the UK film and TV industry.
Jeff gets an amazing roster of writers talking at great length about how they started, their careers and their latest film. This is American too, but he gets loads of British writers on the show. These are often recorded after a screening, and the audience get to ask questions.
He previously presented the Creative Screenwriting podcast, which no longer seems to be on iTunes, but I’m sure you can find it if you go digging online. They were terrific, essentially the same format, but presented in association with the magazine Creative Screenwriting.
Not a podcast about writing, but these guys love popcorn movies. They watch them on Netflix (which can skew what kinds of movies are available) then get together over Skype to dissect them. They’re really good at pointing out tropes and plot holes, which is invaluable for a writer. I’ve lost interest recently, as they don’t seem to be covering movies I particularly like, but the earlier episodes on films like Superman and Wrath of Khan are outstanding.
Probably the best film show on radio. It goes through phases of being overly self-referential, but Kermode really knows his stuff (even if he never shuts up about bloody 3D), and Mayo keeps him in line. Hello to Jason Isaacs.
I bloody love Empire, and this podcast is huge fun. Their reviews tend to be more forgiving than, say, Kermode’s, and the interviews are always good. The hour long specials are wonderful. The Terence Stamp one is a gem. And Helen O’Hara should have her own show.
*Okay, so I’m not exactly Jabba the Hutt, but I have a bit of a tum, and boy, do I love to eat.