Joe Abercrombie On Finishing

It’s the last of our week of guest blogs from the marvellous Joe Abercrombie . . . and so what better topic than that most magical moment:


Once the manuscript has been edited we’re on the home straight. The content of the book is probably 99% the finished article. At this stage, bound proofs of the book may well be prepared and sent off to readers, so we can nibble at our nails for the rest of the process in fearful anticipation of their responses. But, while nibbling, we have still a few important tasks still to do. Most important, the copy edit.

Copy editing is a strange and sinister art, a bit like dowsing or tarot. Commas feature heavily, both added and removed, as do hyphens, spaces, capitals, and other forms of punctuation and arrangement. The strange thing is that, consummate professional though I of course am, I am still occasionally baffled by some of this stuff, and indeed at the highest level, it becomes once again often a matter of opinion. Consistency is the key thing. But a good copy editor is also making sure of consistency in any dates, names, numbers, distances, directions, and so on, trying to make sure the whole thing is as concrete and accurate as possible.

I usually take a final pass through somewhere around this point during which I expand the text really big on my screen, so one page goes all the way across, and try to fine tune the language and make any small additions that should occur. As well as making you feel big and powerful, since when you type it comes up massive, this actually gives you a slightly different feel for the detail of the text which I sometimes find helpful, maybe providing a valuable new perspective. I find writing to be a little bit like pouring cement, though. When you first put a paragraph together it’s liquid, ultimately malleable, movable, cuttable. But with each passage of revision it starts to set harder and harder, until making even the tiniest of changes seems like a huge and worrying undertaking. I start to reach a point when I can’t usefully do much more. It’s never perfect, of course. It’s never anywhere near perfect, but by now production are probably baying for a final manuscript to set and in due course print, and you have to let your baby go, wave it off tearfully from the front door and allow it to make its own way in the world. It’ll visit, a few weeks later, for a proof read, but that’ll be just a nip here, a tuck there, a sentence cut, a word changed, a mistake amended, and we stare upon that finished, set and professional set of pages and think, ‘can it be our humble hands that fashioned this awe-inspiring masterpiece?’ And we put up our tools, and we are finished. The book belongs to you, the reader.

Now we can crack the champagne, slap backs, celebrate completion, post cover art, tell happy tales of book tours and marketing plans and sales forecasts, consider taking a break – reflect briefly on the profound sense of emptiness we feel without this mortal enemy to struggle with – and instead slink off to the work room to start planning the next book . . .

Joe Abercrombie is a full time writer and occasional freelance film editor who lives in Bath with his wife and three children. You can visit his website for more information, check out the cover for Red Country here, or follow the link to watch the teaser trailer for Red Country. You can pre-order your copy here .