Tuesday, June 3, 2014

TUESDAY TIPS: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

NEWER NOVELISTS TEND to obsess over minutiae.
   When it came time to deliver the manuscript for my first novel, for instance, I made sure that it was printed out on archival-quality, 100-percent-cotton, 24-pound bond paper. And because I didn't trust the old rubber-band and shirt-cardboard method of keeping the pages neat in transit, I came up with a novel (pun intended) method of shipping the manuscript.
   Our family had recently acquired a FoodSaver: one of those vacuum-sealing systems for taking all the air out of food we were packaging for the freezer. And I got the idea of packaging my finished novel using the FoodSaver. Once I'd removed all the air from around and between the pages, the manuscript resembled an inch-and-a-half-thick hunk of marine plywood with a title page pasted to the top of it. It looked as if it was capable of protecting its bearer from small-arms fire ... well, the first round, at least. No additional protection was required; I tossed the vacuum-packed pages, a cover letter and an on-disk copy of the Word file into a manila envelope, and popped it into the mail. 
   Naturally, this surprised my editor when he received it. He told me he showed my plastic-wrapped, stiff-as-a-board  manuscript to the entire office, so I used the same technique to ship my next manuscript as well.
   Then I had the occasion to visit my editor in his office at the publishing house, and he showed me the file drawer in which he kept his current projects. Two hanging files held my work, included both of my original manuscripts. And they were still in their vacuum packaging.
   "You never opened them?" I asked.
   "Oh, no," my editor told me. "We hardly ever work on a physical manuscript anymore, and on those rare occasions when we need a paper copy, we just print one out from the Word file."
   After that, I never mailed another vacuum-packed manuscript. For that matter, not long after that, I ceased to mail anything at all.
   These days, my manuscript goes to my publishers as a Word file formatted in Times New Roman; if the publishers want a different font, I have full faith in their ability to reformat as needed. As for maps, drawings, or other images, those get sent out as high-resolution .jpg files. And the whole thing gets "shipped" either as an email attachment or (if the image files are too large), as a set of files sent out using a relay service.
   Advising me on how to go about my work, a sage editor once told me, "There are two keys to working successfully. The first is not to sweat the small stuff. And the second is to understand that most of what you encounter will be small stuff."
   I took his advice and decided to concentrate my time and talents on the large stuff.
   Like creating creating stories.
   And telling them as well as I can.  

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