22 February 2011

Killing the Sacred Cow (metaphorically speaking)

I finished the layout for Steven George & The Dragon yesterday and sent it off to the printer for a proof. That should give me just enough time to get copies in hand by the March 25 release date. Whew! There are some interesting things about doing your own layout. I’ve been on both ends of this. I’m a layout artist and a real stickler about letter spacing, line lengths, widows and orphans, and ligatures. I use good professional grade tools to handle the typography. But when laying out my own work, I have another tool that I learned back in my days of publishing magazines: Write to fit.

If I’m laying out someone else’s work, I have to make it look good based solely on the typography. But when I lay out a page of my own work and there is a “-ing.” sitting by itself on the first line of the next page, I don’t have to go back eight pages to pick up an extra line of type and crowd the letters in the offending paragraph to suck the suffix into the previous line. I can also look at the whole paragraph and say “I really don’t need ‘that’ in this sentence.” Voila! cut the word and close up the space needed. I was surprised at how often I edited a little something in the text in the layout application to gain a line or improve the layout.

But those were all pretty meaningless edits. The copy was just as good or sometimes better after the edit than before. It was in the last pre-layout edit of the book that I killed the sacred cow. From the time I started writing this book back in 2007, I had the idea that there was a confusion between Steven George and Saint George based on similar abbreviations in old manuscripts: Stn vs. Ste. It was a clever conceit that allowed me to treat Steven as though he were the one the stories of St. George & The Dragon were all about. I was proud of this cleverness and explained it in the first paragraph of the book.

In the last edit, I killed it. I even changed the name of the book from Stn George & The Dragon to Steven George & The Dragon. The truth is that people don’t need to have that little cleverness explained. No one can miss the connection between the two and the cow had to be sacrificed.

Sometimes I wonder how many other sacred cows I carry around in my life. There could be steak for dinner.