The Library in English, here in Geneva, Switzerland, recently held its annual spring book sale. I picked up a small pile of books — who could resist?
Among my finds was a book called The Complete Works of Lord Byron:
It’s about as long as my forearm and as wide as my shin, a real doorstop of a book; hardcover, of course.
But the feature I’d like to talk about is it’s publication date: 1835.
1835! The book is over 1,000 pages long and includes an index. 1835!
I can’t stop thinking about all the labour that had to go into its publication.
Someone had to write out a clean manuscript from Byron’s scrawled copies and from previously published works.
(There’s a reproduction of one of his letters in the book; not only is his handwriting all over the place, but the ink is blotchy in some parts and thin in others; the whole is a transcriber’s puzzle of the first order.)
Someone might have copy edited the MS. Someone — possibly many someones — typeset, letter by letter by letter, the entire tome.
Once the galleys had been printed, someone proofread the entire thing and someone (the same as the proofreader?) created each entry in the index.
The index was typeset. Letter by letter by letter…
The book was printed. A new group of people had to bind it, including the reproductions of the manuscript pages (how did they do this back then? Some sort of early form of photo offsetting? A cursory Google search suggests they might have done it by using the technique of lithography).
It’s amazing to think that the work was ever completed in a reasonable time frame — and this is only one book! Hundreds, if not thousands of books (both new and reprints), were published every year by this time in England alone.
Which all leads me to the process of writing, typing, and printing (and cutting and pasting — and recovering!) we take for granted today.
Whether you use Word, Pages for Mac, some other software, or the best option, Scrivener, don’t forget that it is a massively capable tool, with many features. Learn as much as you can of its tricks, its abilities, its shortcuts.
Lots of people complain about their software. They lose their documents or the software eats their words or introduces indents and fonts that they never wanted and can’t fix, and so on.
But all of this can be controlled, and all of it customised, by you — with a fraction of the labour required by a massive printing machine, fiddly blocks of lead type, and paper that costs an arm and a leg.
The best part of twenty-first century word processing software is that you don’t need to think about it at all (especially Scrivener). Don’t fight the software, fight with it! Make the programme do what you need it to do, and then forget about it. Open a file, and start pouring out your ideas.
Here’s to the painless preparation of stories!