Adventures in Editing: For Want of a Balloon

I suppose I’m spoiled by blogging: I have an idea. I type it up. Maybe, if I’m feeling ambitious, I proofread what I’ve written. I click the “Publish” button, and the world can see what’s on my mind. It’s the ultimate in immediate gratification.

By way of contrast, book publishing is a much slower process. It took me about seven years to get my latest project to a point where I was comfortable sharing it with people, and then came several rounds of revision before I sent it to my publisher. Then the publisher had some suggestions, and I did some more revisions. After that, it went to a copy editor, then to the typesetter, then back to the copy editor for one more look, and then to the typesetter again.

From time to time, I’ve been tempted to complain about how long this process takes: I just want to see my book in print, dammit! But ultimately I know that the slow pace of the publishing process is a good thing. Today, I found out why:

There’s a passage toward the end of the book in which the narrator, Charley Schwartz, who has a job that involves marching back and forth in front of a bank dressed as a giant dollar sign, gets assaulted by a gang of children who want a bouquet of balloons that’s tied to his wrist. The children knock him down, then proceed to kick him violently while pulling at the balloons. He’d love to surrender them, but he can’t because they’re tied to his wrist.

All well and good, but…

A few minutes later, the kids skitter away, and Charley has a chat with his boss. The boss asks Charley to assess his talents. He mentions that he’s good at holding onto his balloons. True enough, but when Charley subsequently shimmies out of his costume, there’s no mention of his balloons. Surely, they’d get in the way as he tried to slip out of the costume, right? But no — not a peep from our narrator about where his balloons have gone. They’ve magically disappeared.

And the balloons are a big deal. There’s a red balloon on the cover of the book, after all. And Charley’s relationship with his balloons is the kind of thing that I’m drawing the reader’s attention to throughout the book — only to have them disappear without a mention as the narrative moves toward its climax. Sloppy storytelling on my part — and I didn’t catch it until just a few days ago when I was reading the passage to an audience at Rosemont College.

Wait a second! I thought to myself. What happened to his balloons?

Fortunately, though, the publishing process does take a long time. This morning I received an email from the typesetter in which she asked if I had any last-minute changes to make.

Yes! I wanted to shout. Give Charley some balloons!

Of course, shouting wouldn’t have done any good, so I found the passage in question and filled in the missing information.

Curious about the specifics? Anyone who has a review copy can check out chapter sixteen. If you missed the detail about the balloons, don’t worry! It took me years to catch the error — and I had a whole team of editors helping me out. If you don’t have a review copy, even better. Just pre-order a copy of The Grievers today and rest assured that you’ll never have to worry about Charley’s missing balloons.*

*Yes, this post is just one more shameless attempt at plugging my book.