All Over But the Proofing

My latest book is very nearly done. The book has a cover, which I love. There’s something austere and desolate about that long wake receding toward the horizon. It’s a very appropriate image, especially given that the book’s title, Dead Wake, is a maritime term that describes the fading disturbance that lingers on the surface of a body of water long after a vessel (or torpedo) has passed.

I’m almost through the proof-reading phase. I’ve already read, and tinkered with, the first-pass proofs and second-pass proofs, and am now awaiting the third. These I am not allowed to tinker with. I am to look for errors. That’s it. This will be hard. Tinkering is a writerly compulsion. Every successive proof, when read afresh, looks and reads differently than the one that came before. And just this morning an idea came to me for a passage that I would love to insert. I will resist that urge.

Once I finish reading the third-pass proofs, and once my editor and a proof-reader sign off on them as well, the book will be done. At last. All of which underscores the fact that it’s expensive to publish a book well. Expensive, also, to market the book, so that people know it’s available, and so that it reaches the shelves of bookstores and gets offered in the e-book catalogs of online sellers. When you buy an e-book, by the way, what you get may seem ephemeral, but is in fact the distillation of a nine-month publishing process that embraces the creative efforts of dozens of souls.

For me, the next really big effort is a book tour, already planned and scheduled, that will include visits to bookstores and talks to large audiences on behalf of libraries and civic groups, in cities around the country. It’ll be exhausting, and, since I’m a paranoid flier, mostly terrifying, but, really, a book is like a child: You want to give it the best possible shot at life before you send it on off on its own.

Over the next few months, I plan to post items associated with my travels during the research phase of this book—a journey that at one point put me on the Queen Mary 2 in a Force 10 gale, and into a reading room at the University of Liverpool where I was given the rare, and moving, opportunity to examine morgue photographs of some of the Lusitania dead. (I agreed, by the way, not to photograph these images.) So if you wish, please check in here from time to time, or visit me on Facebook ( and on Twitter (@exlarson).

Good luck and safe travels in the new year.

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Erik Larson is the author of six previous national bestsellers—The Splendid and the Vile, Dead Wake, In the Garden of Beasts, Thunderstruck, The Devil in the White City, and Isaac’s Storm— which have collectively sold more than twelve million copies. His books have been published in nearly forty countries.

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