Photo credit Andrew Neel on Unsplash.
Once upon a time, I was a reader, a peruser of books in shops, an attender of literary festivals, a babe in the woods. I’m still the first three things, but as for the latter, because I’m an author now too, the scales have fallen from my eyes. In my former incarnation as a publishing innocent, I presumed that the new hardcover releases on the shelves, in their pristine, gorgeously designed dust jackets, had been completed by their writers only very recently. Not the previous week or the previous month, mind you – I wasn’t so naive as to think that the wheels of traditional publishing spin that quickly – but I reckoned that if the author turned in fairly ‘clean copy’, the time period between submission and publication would be short – mercifully short, from the vantage point of any author eager to see their work in print.
I don’t do drafts. Does that sound pompous? Before you judge, I’m not claiming to be some sort of Mozart. (Remember that famous scene in Milos Forman’s film Amadeus, where Salieri – having been assured by Mozart’s wife that her husband doesn’t make copies – is desperately rifling through reams of his rival’s scores, dumfounded, seeking and failing to find any evidence of corrections? It’s not quite like that.) What I mean to say is, I edit so stringently as I go along that my first version is always very close to the finished, accepted product. While some scribblers can pull off ‘free writing’, bashing out words and saving the painful business of editing for a later date, I’ve never been able to manage that. I wish I could, for the notion of being able to write freely is utterly intoxicating. Instead, I have to get the first sentence, the ‘way in’, absolutely right. That unlocks the next sentence, which must also be perfected until it, in turn, unlocks the path to the third sentence. If that sounds painfully obsessive-compulsive, you’re right. It is. But there’s a payoff at the end: the manuscript is virtually ready to go.
Ah, but as it turns out, that’s not how it works. Self-publishing is gloriously instant gratification, but in traditional publishing, no matter how ‘clean’ the copy, no matter how happy your editor might be, no matter how much the writer is chomping at the bit, there is much to do between submission and publication. The authors’ information from Little, Brown, my publishing house in the UK, says that one’s publicist and marketing team are assigned after submission, about nine months ahead of publication. That’s right. A human pregnancy and the “gearing up” period for a book’s publication take about the same amount of time – and if, like me, you’re a woman that’s given birth, you remember how long that felt.
All the Ghosts in the Machine: Illusions of Immortality in the Digital Age has been a fascinating book to write. On one hand, it’s directly focused on death, digital death, and digital afterlives. On the other, these topics are merely lenses, a pair of spectacles that I’ve donned to more closely examine identity, privacy, relationships and grief; our rapidly changing social mores; and the ethical, moral, and legal dilemmas posed by our modern digital existence. Death in the digital age is important to consider in itself, but it’s even more important because, looked at in depth, it really helps us think about how we’re living now. I’m an impatient sort of person anyway, but I’m particularly impatient now, because I can’t wait to share it with you.
All the Ghosts in the Machine: Illusions of Immortality in the Digital Age is out on 25 April 2019 from Robinson/Little, Brown UK.