We often encounter authors who want to revise their book after it’s been laid out. This is like deciding you need another bathroom, a study, and a second-storey, after the blueprints have been drawn and the house built.
So why does this last-minute revision occur?
Here are the main reasons:
Somebody gets in the author’s ear
It’s great to get opinions on your manuscript. Just understand that there’ll be times those opinions conflict. You’ll never be able to satisfy everybody. It’s up to you to work out what feedback should be addressed, what feedback clashes with your vision, and what feedback is nitpicky. The other thing you need to understand is this should all be done at the stage the author is performing their own revision – that’s right: before they’ve gone to editing.
Some novice editor expresses their opinion
You may know somebody who speaks English well. They may write beautifully. They might teach and study Shakespeare. That doesn’t actually qualify them to edit. We get a lot of novice editors who mean well, provide input, and do more harm than good. Don’t turn over your book to anybody for editing if they’re not an editor.
As publication nears, you become worried about the content. Is it good enough? Is it clear? Does it communicate your message or story? These nerves are common. What you need to do is learn the difference between meaningful and meaningless revision. Are your changes meaningfully improving the text? Or are they meaningless and don’t matter one way or another? You’ll find a lot of the time that nerves are motivating you to shuffle deck chairs.
You can feel rushed to get your book out, or that you’re rushed through editing. As far as the latter goes, we give our editors a timeline so that projects are always moving forward. But often this is to honour a pre-booked book launch – that’s right, a book launch is booked in before the manuscript has gone to editing, or before it’s even completed. You are in charge of your own timeline. Spend whatever time you need to get your book right. It’s worth it. Once it’s out in the world, it’s too late to make changes. Make sure you’re happy with the book you’re sending out.
You can lose your objectivity when you work on a manuscript long enough. You lose sight of what needs addressing. This is normal. Changing the presentation can reinvigorate your interpretation of the manuscript, because your brain is forced to process it (in its new format) like it’s seeing it for the first time. This happens often with authors once they see their book laid out. But you can generate this new outlook beforehand: change the colour of your font; change your font type; read your book on a computer you wouldn’t necessarily use for writing; print it out. All these options force your brain to say, Aha! I haven’t seen this before – I can see it again with some objectivity.
Once the book has been laid out, it’s dangerous revising. A designer spends hours balancing text, trying to keep it on the same page where required, eliminating widows and orphans, formatting headings and subheadings, inserting diagrams, setting-up where chapters begin, etc. There are so many elements that go into a book layout. Most people wouldn’t think twice about them. That’s what makes a design great – you unquestioningly accept the visual cues and let them direct your reading experience.
Inserting as little as a full stop can cause a domino effect. That paragraph that finished in four lines now takes up five lines. That paragraph that ended on page 22 now begins on page 23. Those six bullets that sat neatly at the bottom of page 23 are now split over the bottom of page 23 and the beginning of page 24. That image that just fit at the bottom of page 24 to close out the chapter is now halfway between page 24 and page 25. Fitting it onto page 25 is the only option, which now leaves a chunk of white space at the bottom of page 24. Chapter 5 had previously begun on page 27 but is now shunted onto page 28. Running headers that were set up to accommodate new chapters now all move. There are running headers where there shouldn’t be, and none where there should be. The contents have to be reformatted. Etc.
Yes, this is a worst-case scenario, but this is what we have to be aware of as designers, and why we often caution authors about revising at this stage. We’ve seen it happen. Some additions can be so disruptive that repairs to the layout become more prohibitive than beginning the layout again, because everything that once sat so perfectly balanced now has to be readjusted, and every adjustment creates new issues from that point on.
If you’re working on a book, do everything you can to make it as right as you can before you get to layout.