The book editing process: Toughen up, princess...

Yesterday I received the telephone call that I had been both longing for and dreading over the last three months – the one from my publisher revealing her thoughts about my second novel, The President’s Lunch.

Delivering the manuscript for this book was difficult. For the year it had taken me to complete the manuscript I had immersed myself in the world of 1930s and 1940s Washington DC. I had travelled to the USA and traced the footsteps of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his family and colleagues.

Farewelling the characters I had grown to admire and love was trying, but I believed the completed package was fantastic. So I waited in nervous anticipation to hear the opinion of my publisher. She will love it, I told myself. It is perfect!

When the call finally came at 2.10pm yesterday I was deflated. As she outlined the few points that troubled her about the novel, elements that needed some work, my heart sank and tears welled in my eyes.

“Can’t you see that is the only way to end the story?” I howled internally.

“Why do I need to work on that character? She is brilliant as she is,” I thought.

Once my publisher had summarised the negatives she went on to say that the book was stunning and that she had adored reading it, that what I had achieved was amazing. But of course I didn’t hear this. My inner wails of protest drowned out her words of praise.

Now I have had time to sleep on her comments and have perused the structural edit I realise many of the points are truly valuable and I’ll take them on board. Similarly, many of the cuts that have been suggested are ones I will probably go through with, however harrowing this might be.

This is the editing process, I suppose, and it's a team effort. It is no reflection on me as a writer. Publishers and editors are attempting to balance my work with what readers want and with what will actually sell.

But as an author this is a very challenging part of the process, when people that have created amazing books for decades tell you what is wrong with your own. It’s not easy, but hopefully my skin will grow thicker over time.

Media coverage - the good and the bad

I was told quite a while ago that you've not really made it as an author until you receive your first bad review. Well it took a little while, but as of this weekend I have finally made it!

Reviews of Perfect North so far have been overwhelmingly positive. But this weekend a reviewer in Spectrum, in a very short piece that really just summarised the book's plot, ended by saying that the story was intriguing but the writing was "wooden and pedestrian". I must admit that when I first read those words I was quite hurt. But not everybody is going to enjoy the style of every book, I reminded myself.

Then I read all of the other reviews and stories that also released this weekend (see below) and my mind was once again put at ease.

A novel is an artwork, no matter who writes it. It is an enormous undertaking that requires much energy and emotion and if it is published then that indicates that it is of great value to at least a segment of the reading public. But as with any artwork, it will also draw negative criticism. All you can do, I guess, is hope that most coverage is positive, as it has been for Perfect North.

Bond's debut novel, Perfect North, has been described as ''strikingly original''. It's a book that is essentially a work of the imagination but one anchored in fact. It takes the expedition, draws out the characters, and presents a work that's both fascinating in its detail and intriguing in its storyline.
The Canberra Times
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To a list of accomplished debuts by Australian novelists this year, we can add Jenny Bond's recounting of public events and fictionalising of private ones in Perfect North.
Sydney Morning Herald / The Canberra Times
See full review
Books that changed me: Jenny Bond
The Sun-Herald
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Perfect North review from the Swedish Ambassador to Australia

Several weeks ago, on the launch day of Perfect North, I was honoured to be invited to morning tea with Mr Sven-Olof Petersson, the Swedish ambassador to Australia (there's a pic of he and I below).
Mr Petersson recently finished reading Perfect North and came back to me with this email:
"Dear Jenny,
Invited to Christchurch by the Kiwi government last week I brought your book. I must confess that it was hard to let go of it once I started reading. I understand completely why your publishing house asked to have a second book written by you.
Of course it was good fun to read about Stockholm and the streets I walked so many times. But what I see as your greatness as a writer Jenny, and what I loved so much in your book, is your ability to describe so well the different characters in the story with complicated, deep and wonderful personalities. As human beings are, they're full of untold feelings and always – as with all of us – have frequent second thoughts!
Thanks for a wonderful book. I would love to see it translated into Swedish!
Kind regards,
Sven-Olof"
I'm humbled and thrilled by the opinion of a person who is not only so well-read, but who also knows so intimately the city that sets the scene for much of Perfect North!


Abbey's Bookshop review of Perfect North

"ABBEY'S BOOKSELLER PICK - This assured and compelling debut novel is based on real events. In 1897 at the height of the rush to reach the North Pole, a Swedish expedition set out to conquer the distance - by hot air balloon. One of the members was a young man related to August Strindberg, part of an accomplished and talented family, and engaged to Anna. When the expedition disappears, and as nothing is heard from them, she too vanishes.

Decades later, the remains of the balloon are found on a remote island, and the newspaper which originally sponsored the attempt sends a journalist, Kurt [sic] Stubbendorff, to the scene. There he finds the body of Nils Strindberg, and a cache of love letters. Moved by their contents, he decides to track down Anna and return them to her. But Anna had her reasons for disappearing, and as Kurt discovers, sometimes secrets need to be kept…

I found this to be a wonderful read, with an interesting narrative structure, psychologically rounded characters and passages of quite beautiful writing. Very satisfying, and very much recommended!"
See review

Perfect North has a German publisher!

We're very excited to announce that German publisher DuMont Buchverlag has, after a small bidding war, purchased the German-language translation rights to Perfect North.
This means the book now begins its international journey that we had so hoped for.
Representatives of Hachette Australia also took Perfect North to the Frankfurt Book Fair this week to speak with other international publishers, so we'll keep you updated with any news.

Perfect North reviews are in!

Awaiting media reviews after a book's launch can be a stressful time. Wondering whether reviews will come through at all and, if they do, whether they'll be positive or not can feel a little bit like holding one's breath!

Fortunately my concerns have been put to rest with a series of very positive readings of Perfect North, including the following...
 

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"This book is so unassuming it could easily slide under the radar of the entire book world. I am telling you now not to miss it ... Perfect North is beautifully told, and I picked it up after being informed it would appeal to those who liked Burial Rites. There are atmospheric similarities, particularly in the fact that some things can most certainly not be undone and must therefore be lived with and each situation made the most of. I loved this book, and it is a privilege to read such great quality work. I'm looking forward to Jenny Bond's next book, The President's Lunch. What will it be like?"
Mercey Valley

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"I have been looking for a new author whose work I can fall in love with. I like the idea of supporting an Australian author but was not overly interested in specifically Australian stories. This book hit the mark in every way possible. It's a beautiful piece of writing but not too highbrow. The story, set in Sweden as well as smaller parts in the UK and USA, is one of adventure, love, loss and mystery - but I won't give away any of its several twists. Actually, the true part of the story is fascinating, but the entire novel is an unbelievably intricate and well-planned tale."
Booktopia

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"It was absolutely thrilling. I genuinely thought the manuscript of Perfect North would never see the light of day but to have three publishers enthusiastic about my story … I was absolutely floored."
Culture Street

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"Perfect North is a fictional account of one doomed expedition to the North Pole in 1897. Three Swedish adventurers set off for the North Pole in a hydrogen balloon but never returned. When their remains are discovered decades later, a young journalist sent to report on the tragedy discovers a journal of one explorer, filled with love letters to his fiancĂ©e. Perfect North is Jenny’s first novel, but the manuscript scored her a two-book deal with Hachette. Her second novel will be published in 2014 and she is currently working on her third."
Writing Bar

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Canberra Weekly