Production Issues

The archaeological career is varied, but in the end it is all about communication. Photo: Mark Keighley.

I’ve recently reached the end of a long process and I have been looking forward to this point. I have been working, flat out, on a new book. Actually, the process started over three years ago.

I published my first books in the early 1990s, so it is a process with which I am familiar. Nevertheless, there have been changes over that period. That is not surprising, one would be alarmed if book production had not evolved, especially given the technological changes that have taken place in that time. However, I don’t find that everything has got smoother, or easier.

At the heart of it, the matter of researching and writing a text remains much the same. It has certainly become easier to chase up references, figures, and obscure facts online, but the essential slog of composing and honing text will always be at the forefront of the work. Actually, that is the bit I enjoy. It is the stages after that, that have become more stressful. In the old days a publisher would send the text to readers, comments would be made, and edits follow. Today that process is, often, left for the author to organise. Of course, we all want to make sure that our texts are as accurate and useful as possible. And it is much, much, better to find out about any imperfections before publication! But you have to find readers who will be honest in their opinion of your work (and have time to read it).

Following on from that is the matter of copy editing. Copy editors were wonderful! Sadly, this, too, is now left by many publishers for the author to complete. Now, in my experience, it is almost impossible for an author to copy edit their own work, and the savings made when the publisher does not employ a professional copy editor can often turn out to be false economies. No matter how perfect you try to make your own text, small typos and errors inevitably occur. Some will be picked up during typesetting and proof reading, others when the index is complied, a few, I am sure, survive into production.

Other elements of publication that used to be covered by the publisher have somehow also ended up in the author’s hands. In the heady days of the early 90s (and until relatively recently), I had help from the publisher to cover the costs of illustration. Alas, those days are over. It is a sad fact that despite the proliferation of publishers and publications (actual and electronic), the process of authorship has, in my experience, become more stressful.

In many ways, it is a mug’s game. Writing archaeology is certainly not something that one can rely on for a living. The achievement is in the communication, not in bread and butter. This is all a bit negative, I realise. When push comes to shove, I have another title to add to my bookshelf. And I really don’t want to put others off producing their own masterpieces. It might be a while, however, before I feel ready to take on such an ambitious project again.

For now, do feel free to seek out my new book: Landscape beneath the Waves. Ask your library to buy it. Let me know what you think. I know that the title sounds specialized, but it is intended for those with no prior knowledge. Submerged landscapes are a new field for all archaeologists, but not one that we can ignore. They are of equal interest to anyone with a fascination for the past. I am hoping to alert everyone to their value, and help people to familiarize themselves with the basic techniques involved.