After completing a first draft of a river book, months pass as my editor and I rework the manuscript of twenty pages. Finally the story is ready to type into a computer in Honesdale, PA, where Highlights for Children has its main office.
A book designer scans fifty photographs into the computer. Some of these photos are ones I've taken from my journey. Others are historical photos that go along with the text. Once the text and photos are in the computer, the designer then fits the text (which is still being cut and reworked and checked for factual errors) with the photos, then prints out various designs. The editor and I consult with the designer at this stage and make comments. The design phase goes on for a month or so.
When the cover and the book are finally designed, page by page, the whole thing is sent to the printer in Hong Kong, overnight mail, and a few months later the color proofs come back to the publisher. At this stage the photos are checked to see if the color seems right. The text is not changed at this point, but corrections are made if the photos need changing, and the corrections are sent with the disk back to Hong Kong.
Now the printer starts to print something called F&G's, the Folded and Gathered galleys. These pages look like the final book but are not bound together. Essentially an F&G is an early version of the book, which can be sent out to book reviewers for comments (favorable, we hope). Meanwhile orders are now coming in from bookstores and libraries and schools, and perhaps five thousand copies are being printed and shipped across the ocean.
Finally, two or even three years after I had the idea for this particular river journey, a FedEx truck rolls up my driveway. My dog Daisy barks at the truck because she hates the sound of those FedEx truck wheels. The FedEx lady gives her eight dog biscuits, which keeps her quiet while I get my package.
When the truck drives off, Daisy barks once again. I open the package and look at the finished book for the first time. What a feeling! To see something I've worked hard at, and which has taken so long to produce, is exciting.
But the truth is, by the time that truck rolls up my driveway with the book, I've already taken my next river trip and am working on a new manuscript. So I move on to the next journey, always keeping a notebook for future ideas.
It's a good life: researching river journeys, taking river trips, writing the drafts and producing the books. I'm one lucky dude. Mostly I love to learn about the people and history and geography of each river, so different from the one before it.
Have a look at my river books: Amazon, Hudson, Everglades, Yukon, Erie Canal, Rio Grande (soon to be published), and Mississippi (next year's book, now in the editing phase). See how different each one is. What are the differences? What are the similarities?
for Global Environmental Education