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« 20 days until Great Powers comes out | Main | GP: the lost chapters »
3:51AM

Director's Commentary on the Preface of Great Powers

The first version was far more first-person in tone--very voice of God, and it didn't have the quick run-down of the chapters.

That version reflected Mark's preference for prefaces: more grab-you-by-the-throat and truly set apart from the text.

Neil Nyren's philosophy, which Mark and I are getting used to after three books now, is more the overarching sale plus the preview. To say Neil is fussy on the preface understates it by half. I don't know how he handles other authors (after all, I bring my own editor in Mark), but Neil's main inputs on my books (once approved, mind you, and he structures that process a lot--to say the least) have been structure (which chapters live and die) and the preface--as a rule. Neil will rewrite the preface himself (PNM) or tell me exactly what he wants (BFA), or he'll--if I get it reasonably close as I did here--tell me how to change tone and what must be included in terms of preview. Mark and I always shake our heads a bit, given our philosophical differences with Neil on what a preface actually does, but we likewise always give in, because Neil's the man when it comes to making books work, and you don't argue with the man.

I was actually quite proud at how little we needed to change the preface this time around, feeling like I was finally getting the Neil method down pat. Again, the more aggressive tone was my call with Mark, but we saw Neil's argument of making it connect more organically to the tone of the rest of the book (just like his decision to kill the proposed "eulogy" scenario projection in the conclusion-that-never-was--instead proposing the coda). I had no problem making the book preview work. Either Neil's actual edit on the text was light or we've just gotten to the point where I don't notice it because we work well together, but this one was easy to process in terms of editing. I just got Neil's edit back and said, "great!"

We did go back and forth a bit on the asterisk footnote linking to the glossary. I wanted some quick rundown of Core-Gap etc. in the preface, but Neil said--in effect, Don't worry, the link will be enough. Trust your audience.

The only real addition after Neil's original corrections was the para that sits atop page 4--the one that links the book to Obama's election and the financial crisis. I just had to have those entered up front, to make sure anyone skimming the preface didn't come away with the impression that the book was somehow dated by those two intervening events (I mean, I wrote the book with Obama or Clinton in mind, sensing I'd be in opposition with McCain given the whole "league of democracies" approach, and I wrote--roughly a year ago--about America as the "insolvent Leviathan"). My first attempt on that struck Neil as too catastrophic in tone, and thus out of step with the rest of the preface's tone. I then did a quick rewrite and he and Mark said it worked fine then.

Looking it over now, I really love it. Neil has said the same (thus his initial fears of ruining this "perfect little preface" by sticking in the Obama/crisis para). It simply sings and does exactly what it should do (see, I am converted). Like an overture to a musical, it reveals, through subtle notes, all the themes to come. Plus the H.G. Wells reference dovetails with the coda nicely, creating a bookend effect. I've read the preface maybe 50 times and it makes my heart race every time. I am simply proud to be associated with those words. It is the very tone I want to achieve with the reader--the very effect of imparting perspective and, on that basis, both a sense of hope and responsibility. And in that sense, it is a very accurate preview of coming attractions.

Both the preface editing and the chapter cuts came and went with real ease this time around, making me realize what a tremendous team the three of us are in making these sorts of books happen. I owe that package primarily to our fourth wheel, Jennifer Gates, because she talked me into using Mark and going with Neil, sensing the wisdom in both choices.

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