From when I first sat down to begin drafting Aerovoyant to the day twenty-six months later that the final version went to the copy editor, the story had been rewritten a total of forty-two times. It had been revised and expanded, cut and tweaked, edited and massaged.
It didn’t get there overnight, of course. On the second or third draft, three months into the project, I dreaded the thought that five or six drafts might be needed before I was happy. Draft six blew by, and the story still needed work. When draft ten rolled around, I was convinced the story was great. I sent it to readers.
Someone emailed back straight away, “Not bad, for a first draft.”
I stood in the kitchen and cried into my husband’s shoulder.
Onward. I slogged and tweaked and revamped and tightened and embellished and pruned. By the twentieth draft, there was no way the story wasn’t perfect. Surely any agent or editor would love the flow, the themes, the characters—the whole thing. Craft books littered my nightstand. Excerpts had been critiqued by writing groups all over town. Heck, all over southern California. I’d hired developmental editors and writing coaches. I’d read new authors, old authors, bestsellers and obscure titles, learned what I could and applied the lessons. My manuscript was ready.
OK. Turns out it wasn’t, as demonstrated by the lack of excitement from literary agents. I received a few personalized rejections, which they say is a good sign, and a few requests, but clearly my writerly glasses were still too rosy.
They say you’ll write a million words before you craft a publishable piece. When I hit draft number twenty-three I’d shot way past a million. They also say every writer eventually grows sick of their story, because as “they say,” writing is re-writing. Forty-two rewrites in this case. That means I’d read my story forty-two times.
In September 2019 I declared the story done, for better or worse, and ready for self-publication. Sent it to the copy editor, who returned edits a few weeks later. I read through those and incorporated the changes (forty-three), then sent the “Final, no really, this is the final copy, see how shiny it is?” version to my formatter.
Turns out new mistakes enter at the formatting stage. Who knew? Not me. The formatter said to read the story again, after she’d formatted it. (Forty-four.) And yes, details had gone awry. We went back and forth like that for seven more rounds, with her saying after every iteration: “Read it.”
In November, the formatting done at last, I uploaded everything to Amazon, near tears at finally seeing a finish line before me. I ordered a proof and when it came in the mail, the novel I’d now spent twenty-eight months preparing, I cried again—this time in joy from the weight of it, the feel of the cover, the shushing sound of flipping the pages. How well the map turned out. The appendices. The typography. All of it, real, in my hands. The proof.
The formatter had cautioned me to read the proof before hitting ‘publish’ in case anything looked funny. So I did. (Fifty-two). I caught a bad apostrophe, a wrong attribution, that sort of thing, and sent these nitpicky errors to the formatter to correct.
She corrected them. “Read the new copy,” she said.
And… I didn’t. (This will be a mistake, but I didn’t.) I made sure the typos were fixed, but I didn’t read the 413-page book again. Because, I thought, there comes a time when you choose to trust the universe, knowing you’ll never have all the details under control. Control’s an illusion. A person cannot read their novel into infinity looking for misplaced commas, incorrect capitalizations, and whatnot. I was exhausted. I trusted the universe. If a new mistake had come in, it would be so small, so trivial, no one would notice it. Any such mistake, I reasoned, would actually appease the gods, as some traditions suggest doing.
I uploaded the PDF and hit publish, rejoicing that I’d never need to read this book a fifty-third time. Sales started the next day, and more the day after.
I’d crossed the finish line after forty-two drafts, fifty-two reads, and twenty-eight months. I slept the sleep of the just. I’d done my best.
Eighty-seven print sales later, a mail appeared from a critique partner. “Did you know,” it said, “that the pages feed into the spine backward in the second half of your novel?”
A curling twist of dread crept up from my gut. That couldn’t be right. I’d checked all that. True, not on the final copy, but on the proof of the second-to-last one. For the pages to go backward? That would be a huge error. It couldn’t happen. It wouldn’t.
I stumped across the house in a floaty sort of disassociated state. I picked up one of my author copies and tried not to think of the eighty-six identical copies out in the world.
And of course, my writing partner was right. Somewhere in the final, final formatting stage, a page number had gone astray and all of the pages after were… backward… relative to the spine. The grip was too wide, the gutter too narrow, the page numbers in the middle of the book instead of on the outer margins.
This was no appeasement to the gods. This was embarrassing—it was horrifying.
Of course, I knuckled down and fixed it, that very afternoon, within the hour, uploaded a corrected PDF to Amazon and tapped my fingers impatiently waiting for two days for the right copy to appear online. Which, it did.
There are eighty-seven incorrectly-formatted copies of Aerovoyant in the world, and I don’t know what to make of that, not after the sweat and aches of twenty-eight months, forty-two drafts and
fifty-two fifty-three reads. But, done is done. Who knows? Maybe someday those eighty-seven copies will some sort of collector items. One can hope.