Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Walter White Wednesday 44

The dreaded red pencil!
We're in the midst of multiple deadlines right now, so it seems like a good time to give you an update on the actual "nuts 'n' bolts" of co-writing a book on a deadline.  

Review:  First up, be careful with whom you choose to collaborate.  Technically, I'm an academic and Ensley's an academic in training.  Therefore, you'd expect us to work with an "academic publisher" and we both have.  Now, academic books have a different market - those publishing houses primarily aim at college/university libraries rather than mass-market booksellers.  Small publishing runs are the norm and money is not your chief objective (seriously - I've run the math on my first book and if you divide the royalties I've received by the amount of hours I spent bringing that book forth, I'd have made more cashy money by picking tomatoes.  Not kidding.).  Writing an academic book (or chapters in several edited collections) is an important feather in your cap if you're prepping for a tenure review, but neither of us are.  Wanna Cook? is far more mass-market, meaning that it is intended to reach a different audience and that it's written in a different, less jargon-y style.  We needed a publisher who would let us write the way we wanted to (after providing them with samples, of course!) and who also understood the market we're trying to reach as well as having the resources and contacts to get us there.  We're very happy with ECW on all of those scores.

Side note:  If you're co-writing (or co-anything), be careful!  We've both heard, if not outright horror stories, unpleasant stories of folks who can be quick to snip at students with late work but have a hard time making their own deadlines.  At multiple points in a project like this, you have to trust your co-author to get their stuff together.  Deadlines shift and we've had to sit down with calendars more than once in the last year and map out when we reasonably thought we could get chunks of this project completed - and it always takes longer than you think it will, but at no point have I fretted that Ensley would leave me high and dry.  Nor, I think, has he fretted that I would.

Speculation:  You write a book like this in chunks - each episode has its own entry and each entry has its own parts.  You watch, you annotate, you double-check, you draft, you read each other's parts, then you edit and repeat.  Then, when you have a season drafted, you send your baby off into the cold, cruel Canadian world.  Then you wait.  And sometimes you wait more.  But don't worry, when your editor wants you to kick it into a higher gear - you'll know!  We're in that weird place now of not having all of the seasons drafted, yet working on refining and polishing early season drafts after they've gone through the first round of edits, and not knowing how the show will actually conclude its run, so we may need to go back and point out little things that bubble back up in the final eight episodes.  You sometimes need to remind yourself of what day it is.  

You also worry that you haven't caught everything - rest assured, you haven't.  That's one reason a co-writer is a good idea - you get a new set of eyes.  Ensley picks up on things that ride right on by me and I do the same for him.  But you also have to accept that there's some readerfan in Peoria who is going to see something that you both either flat-out missed or that you saw, but had to cut for length.  Deal - in the case of "you missed it," well, that's what makes Breaking Bad such a good show - there's so much there.  In the case of "too long, cut it," well, it's a guide, not a scholarly treatise and your publisher is serious about the word count.  If you keep "A," "B" is probably going to have to go.

Underline:  Don't forget to have fun.  Yes, this is work and yes, there are deadlines and yes, people expect you to put the emphasis on the first syllable of that word "deadline."  But it should also be fun - writing a book (ANY book) takes a tremendous amount of time and that's time that you could be spending on anything else - so make sure it's worthwhile.

That's where we are today.  Season 4 needs some attention and we plan to have that drafted and off to our intrepid editor by the end of the month.  We've line-edited season 1 (and boy! Is it eye-opening to see how our approach has changed from that first short season!) and will probably get season 2 for the edits by the end of the week.  Busy, busy time.

Don't forget to check in here every Wednesday and also make a standing date to check out my co-author Ensley Guffey's "Meth Monday" posts!  This week features our first ever guest posting as physicist and Breaking Bad fan Shimon Lerner explains some of the deeper meaning behind Walt's non de meth, Heisenberg.  It goes in some very interesting directions!

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