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Adding Something to an Already Full Book (and Life)

I’ve been working on Schlock books this week. Longshoreman of the Apocalypse will be heading to print in about a week. I’ve also been working on Massively Parallel, which will be the biggest Schlock book we have ever made. The page count is 256 pages in the preliminary layout. It was really important to lock down the page count so that Howard could have a firm number of pages to plan for the bonus story. It is a sad day when Howard has written a ten page bonus story and the book only has seven blank pages. It hasn’t happened to us yet, but I’ve been afraid of it often enough that I started working layout early and nailing down the basic layout before telling Howard to start writing.

I knew that MP was going to be big when I started working. In fact both Howard and I were afraid that it was going to be much bigger. We worried about spine strength and whether we ought to split the story into two books. So my driving focus as I began to put strips into place was “waste no space.” In most Schlock books I’m very careful not to split up a multi-row strip across pages, even if I have to add white space to do it. For MP, I broke that rule some. I still tried, particularly in dramatic story moments, but I leaned toward taking less space. Then there we were with 256 pages and nineteen of them were awaiting a bonus story. Then I talked to Howard about my process. He agreed to the necessity of splitting multi-row strips across pages, but asked that I go back through and make sure I wasn’t splitting them across page turns. I knew that I had and we certainly had enough spare pages to re-shuffle. But how many pages would it take? Every page added meant a white space created for which Howard would have to draw margin art.

I was surprised then when the very first added page had a cascading effect through the following thirty pages. I shifted strips around, placing for dramatic effect and to keep multiple rows together. At the end of thirty pages, I was staring at a blank page. I had just majorly improved the book and not reduced the number of pages available for bonus story. I went through the whole book that way, optimizing for story instead of space preservation, and I ended with a 256 page book that had 13 pages available for bonus story.

It is counter-intuitive, but there are times when adding a thing does not result in less for all the other things. In January we added cello lessons for Patch and horseback riding lessons for Gleek. These things combine to use up at least four hours of my time per week. As packed as my schedule gets, it does not seem I can spare those hours. Yet these things slipped right into our lives without even a ripple. If anything, I’ve seen a reduction of stress and an increase in productivity. That was unexpected. I’m thinking about this because there is a writers group that I’m considering adding to my life. Logically it is going to use up some time that could be spent on other things, but I hope it is going to do that magic trick where it just enters my life without diminishing the time and energy that I have available for all of my other things.

1 comment to Adding Something to an Already Full Book (and Life)

  • I do something very similar to your layout work twice a week — if on a much smaller scale. I’m usually trying to fit on to just three or four sheets (12 or 16 2-up pages). My two pieces of advice are 1) layout something that is too long first and make it smaller, 2) work form back to front.

    I actually like this part of my job a lot. It is not simply mechanical, there is an artistic sense of where page breaks work and how important it is to keep content on the same page, but it is also puzzle-like, a fun game to see if I can make three sheets this week instead of four. I am just jealous that you have the luxury of Howard to fill your white space with pretty pictures. Mine just stay sadly empty.

    Thank you for sharing. There are precious few people in the world who can write and interesting post on page layouts.