Trade Secrets Part 3: The Final Furlong
Once I’ve read a book I always jot down my thoughts about it. This was a habit I got into at grammar school, thanks to an English teacher who insisted that his class think about what they had read and learn to articulate their opinions. It struck me as good practice for someone with literary pretensions, to assess what you liked and, equally important, didn’t like about a work of fiction, and so I’ve been doing it ever since. As a result somewhere about the house – in Word files, in notebooks, on the backs of cereal packets etc – I have thoughts on between four and five thousand books that I’ve read over the course of the past forty years. And yes, possibly this is a form of OCD.
When the time comes to start work on Case Notes I use these thoughts as first draft reviews, and work them up into something that I am happy to see in print. In the main this process consists of cutting back on plot synopsis (no spoilers for the reader) and elaborating on my feelings about the book. As a rough guide, I think one third plot summation to two thirds commentary is the right mix, but emphasis on the ‘rough’: the plot synopsis element of a review should always be expressed as economically as possible. I also try to ‘tart up’ the writing a bit, inject some humour where appropriate, so that the review can be read and enjoyed in its own right, regardless of how the reader feels about the book under discussion. I prefer this ‘double jeopardy’ method of reviewing, allowing for the immediacy of the reviewer’s first impressions of the book, filtered through a period of time which enables the reviewer to see what ‘sticks’.
The featured author section and ‘cluster’ reviews are a priority, and the files incorporating interviews and any sidebar columns are forwarded to Andy as and when completed, so that he can get into contact with publishers and authors for whatever he needs in the way of cover images and photographs. The remainder of the titles constitute what I refer to as ‘standalone’ reviews, those that don’t fit under any of the sections, and I arrange them in what I consider to be the order of priority (e.g. books by authors whose work has appeared in Black Static are put at the head of the queue). Usually we manage to include all the reviews, but if there’s any overflow Andy will conform to my ‘ranking’ unless there are compelling reasons not to (e.g. if he has a 300 word space to fill, it won’t matter how relevant I think a 600 word review is – it won’t fit). We waste very little though, and reviews that get pushed out of one issue are often first in line for the next one, or if the review is of a hardback, we can retain it for use when the paperback edition comes out. It’s always good to have a few reviews in hand.
Andy sends me PDFs of the various sections of Case Notes as they will appear in the magazine, and I proofread these, comment on appearance etc. Occasionally some editing is required, as when he needs me to add or reduce the word count of a particular review so that it will fit the space he has available.
At some point prior to publication Andy will send me a full PDF of the Case Notes section, showing any amendments. Once the magazine comes back from the printers and starts to mail out to subscribers, I forward these PDFs on to the publishers and any authors whose contact details I have, and then I sit back and wait for the brick bats and bouquets to start arriving, or not, as the case may be.
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