An Ultrasound of My Literary Baby

I’ve sometimes suggested that producing a book has some parallels to producing a baby (see my March blog). While I have first-hand experience of the former, I’ve been only an intimate observer of the latter. The similarities are probably more relevant to the period of gestation rather than the moment of fertilization or the hours of labor. So what about that in-between time?

Well, there’s the gradual expansion of the belly or the manuscript. There’s imagining what will happen after the arrival—the impending responsibility (for what one has brought into the world) and the immanent joy (for what the impending arrival means). And there’s the scheduled check-ups. As for this element of pregnancy, I’ve just received the ultrasound of Behind the Carbon Curtain.

For a writer, the galley proof is a book’s ultrasound. This document shows how the book will appear. It’s not the actual book, but it’s easy to see how the final product will look. An ultrasound isn’t nearly so clear, but it has the same effect. It makes what you already knew is there, “real”. Seeing the image has a visceral impact—and the same is true of the galleys. After all that waiting, the book is almost here.

The galleys show how the font and figures appear. You can’t really decide whether you “want to know” (assuming the little bugger cooperates). But seeing the page proofs is akin to peeking at the ultrasound and realizing that the baby-in-waiting is a boy or girl. The galleys take some of the mystery out of the delivery day, but what really matters is that your newborn is vibrant and feisty.

The magic of the ultrasound is how a lubricated magic wand passing over her belly, along with a technology that you don’t really understand, yields a picture of what you can’t otherwise see. You trust the expert. You could “do it yourself” (e.g., the shape of her bump indicates the baby’s sex, heartburn forecasts a hairy baby, and compulsive cleaning means an imminent birth), but trusting the expert seems advisable. And so it is with the indexing of a book. Sure I could do it, but I’ve come to rely on a professional who knows what she’s doing (Margery Niblock is my go-to indexer).

Okay, so I’ve stretched this metaphor to the point of needing a literary episiotomy. But hey, it’s MY baby!


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