Author notes in historical mysteries, and the spoiler problem

I love writing author notes. In fact I love it so much that I wrote 33 pages for The Ionia Sanction and had to do some extreme cutting to get it back to a mere 17 pages. Don't panic, the author note for The Pericles Commission comes in at a svelte 8 pages.

But there's a slight problem with the author note for any historical mystery. Because it's, you know, a mystery, where someone got killed, and someone did it, and it's pretty much impossible to write about the history behind a real murder without giving away some plot.

It never occurred to me, the editor, the executive editor, or anyone else, that the author note might need a spoiler alert, because it's right at the back of the book. Until no less than Steven Saylor himself pointed it out when he read the ARC. It turns out he and others like to turn to the back and read the author note first.

So at the last minute we inserted an alert in the first paragraph of the author note (at least, I hope we did...I myself haven't seen the final book yet). But the ARC doesn't have an alert, so if you're holding the ARC, don't read the author note until you've read the book!

14 comments:

Susanna Fraser said...

I also never would've thought of anyone reading author notes first, though I guess it is a way to check if A) the author is a lovely research geek like me who wants to include them, and B) the publisher is tolerant of such geekery.

Gary Corby said...

Susanna, yep, but that's how I learn about the writing biz, by making the odd mistake.

The first thing I wrote in the author note for Ionia Sanction was the spoiler alert.

Also, I must train my fingers to type alert and not alter as I constantly do.

Elizabeth said...

Then there are people like my mom, who read the last page of the book first, so they can decide whether they like the ending enough to read the whole thing.

(Mom likes happy endings. If a book is sad, she won't read it.)

Gary Corby said...

Well that's a serious spoiler! But at least it's knowingly self-inflicted.

Meghan said...

Interesting. In George RR Martin books (which are always full of surprises) the Author's Note is at the end. So you can't spoil things for yourself unless you actuallky flip to the back of the book. Is yours not at the end?

Gary Corby said...

Meghan, the author note is right at the end, but some people go there first.

RWMG said...

If the author says something that surprises me or makes me wonder whether something is real or whether they've made it up, I'll turn to the author note (if there is one and kudos to Gary for including one) to see how far I should trust them.

And what's wrong with 33 pages? Look at Colleen McCullough's author notes in her Masters of Rome series of novels. Eeach book has something like 200 pages of notes.

Gary Corby said...

Robert, a book is what you write so you have an excuse to do an author note.

But...er...200 pages? That would need a big book in front of it.

RWMG said...

I'm at home now, so from my copy of Colleen McCullough's "The First Man in Rome" (the first one in the series): 5 pages of maps, 3 page list of characters, 931 pages of actual novel, 3 page author's note, 116 pages of glossary (she calls it that with becoming modesty, it's practically a guide to Roman institutions and customs), 21 pages of pronunciation guide to people and places.

Gary Corby said...

Suddenly I have size envy.

21 pages of pronunciation guide? As it happens I just posted about how to say names. I'm afraid it's only a page (sob).

C. N. Nevets said...

I usually jump the author's notes somewhere through chapter one or chapter two, once I start getting a feel for the novel, so I can then check on how much is historical and how much is fiction, as it were.

Gary Corby said...

This experience has taught me a lot about how many different ways people can read the same book!

IHahn said...

Robert, but then McCullough has many more pages of novel! ;-)

Nichts für ungut, Gary!

Gary Corby said...

Es geht gut, Irene!

If a debut mystery novel were that long, it would never, ever sell. Good pace = concise.