Shipping Cartons

Today, Tuesday, as requested, my email box filled up with shipping carton reminders. Thank you one and all. And it’s appropriate that I write about those today since the last cartons of autographed books went to Mostly Books this afternoon. If you wanted a personalized book, you’re a day late and a dollar short, but you can still get ones with autographs only from either Mostly Books in Tucson or Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale.

The cover of Unfinished Business is lovely, well except for the handcuffs. But the background color is a shade of turquoise known as Bisbee Blue, which would make it entirely appropriate for a Joanna Brady book. Turquoise is found inside veins of copper, and a lot of it was high-graded out of Bisbee’s underground mines over the years. (FYI, high-grading is the process by which chunks of loose lying turquoise ended up falling into miner’s lunch buckets and being carried to the surface.). Jerome, a few miles up the road from High Noon Enterprise’s headquarters in Cottonwood, was also once a copper mining town, one where operations ceased in 1953. At that point, many of Jerome’s miners migrated to Bisbee. So no doubt there’s some Jerome-specific turquoise out there in the world as well. In my mind’s eye, it’s probably much the same color. So let’s just say the cover color on Unfinished Business is Jerome Blue rather than Bisbee.

But I digress. Back to the shipping cartons. As I was signing and loading the remaining books today, they fit in the cartons perfectly, twenty books per box. It’s a snug fit, and there’s a reason for that. If there’s any extra space, the books rattle around inside the box during shipping, and rattling around is bad for book covers. It leads to battered corners and ugly tears.

So this morning, while I was signing the new book, I’m still working on the next Beaumont, Nothing to Lose. At this point, I can tell you that I’m exactly 73.49% done with writing the book. By the way, I don’t say to myself I’m almost 75% done, because I’m a hard grader and I don’t round up. I can also tell you that I just stepped onto the banana peel of the book, and that’s a really good feeling!)

But how do I know that exact percentage? I count the words every day. That’s the only way I can see if I’m making any forward progress. As Gilbert F. Lawson, the agency manager from my life insurance days used to say, “Know the score; keep the score; report the score. The score will improve.” In the solitary life of wilting books, counting the words each and every day is my only way of keeping score.

I know from the start that each book is supposed to be 100,000 words long, but the publishers will give me 5000 words of slop in either direction. That means, when I start out, I aim for 95,000 words. During final editing I sometimes find loose ends that need tying up and words tend to come and go at that point in the process. Even if I finish writing a book at 95,000 words, I may end up with 100,000 by the time everything is said and done. So far I’ve never gone over 105,000. What would happen if I wrote an 85,000 word book? It would look like it was double-spaced, and readers would feel cheated. What would happen if I wrote a book that weighed in at 110,000 words? Readers of a certain age who need larger font sizes would not be happy.

I told this story at a book signing once, and a lady in the audience wanted to know if I was offended that my creativity was being dictated by the size of the cartons. I told her at the time that I wasn’t the least bit offended, and I’m still not. Here’s why. In the year 1508 when Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the artist didn’t take a look at the job and say, “Hey, couldn’t the chapel be a little larger or a little smaller?” No, the Sistine Chapel was the size it is, and standard shipping cartons are the size they are, built to hold twenty 100,000 word books. If painting inside the lines was good enough for Michelangelo, it’s certainly good enough for me.

So the next time you purchase a new book—any book, not just one of mine—take a look at the outside of it. If the dust jacket hasn’t been ripped to shreds and if the corners of the cover aren’t bent and bruised, you’ll know that the author in question is also abiding by that 100,000 word guideline.

We’re all busy harnessing our creativity to keep it inside those standard shipping carton lines, and I trust readers are happy that we do.

Thus endeth the epistle on shipping cartons.

19 thoughts on “Shipping Cartons

  1. I always look forward to your new books! And, I liked hearing that you were “almost 75%” done with the Beaumont book! Yay! I’ve pre-ordered Unfinished Business and will be waiting to read it!

  2. It is exciting to read that Beaumont is on his way back!!! THANK YOU!

  3. Another advantage to ebooks. Your creativity cannot be stifled by the word count due to space limitations in a box.

  4. When I had a toy store, one toy line was Playmobil. They must have had a dozen sized boes, but they were all designed to completly fill their shipping boxes, no matter what the assortment of toys was.

  5. I never associated turquoise with copper mining, but it makes sense. I love the color. My sister in Tucson had a nice collection of it in various items of jewelry. She knew someone who lived and worked on a reservation. He designed beautiful things.

    I’m ready for Beau, too. Have been reading about Henry VIII. He had a few wives, too.

  6. As always, I love the diversity of the weekly blogs.
    Since retiring a year ago March, I have had such fun getting to know “JP”, Johanna, and I’m halfway through the “adventures” of Ali Reynolds.. (All purchases, but the way.)
    I love the settings- Arizona, specifically Bisbee , Jerome etc. and I find myself transported mentally to those areas.
    I must confess, however, as I’ve devoured these wonderful adventures I’ve never once thought about the shipping cartons that have transported them to their “points of sale”. Nor, I might add, have I even been dissuaded by the number of words contained in the books.

  7. My husband was employed by Phelps Dodge back in the day. Because of that, I had heard about Bisbee on many occasions and information was also included in company newsletters. Imagine my delight when I found that Joanna Brady lives there! Because of my knowledge from PD, Joanna’s background really comes alive for me.

  8. Your shipping carton story reminds me of a story that my high school biology teacher told many years ago. He once jokingly told a class that he graded papers by weight. I’m sure you can guess what happened. He got papers that were triple spaced and had empty pages throughout. I guess he must have told that story when we were assigned a paper. What the paper was about or even if there was a paper, I don’t remember. I just remember the story.

    • Have been anxiously awaiting the new releases. Looking forward to “meeting” up with JP again, soon. I’ve missed him. I so enjoy bouncing back and forth between JP, Joanna, and Ali’s adventures.
      Got quite a chuckle out of the Michelangelo reference. In my mind’s eye I can just see him sizing the place up.

  9. Your explanation solved a mystery on the mostly uniform size of hardback books. Thanks!

  10. Many art forms have an established size so it’s not surprising that your books do. They are generally the perfect length, neither seeming to be cut short or needlessly padded out – just right, as Goldilocks said.


  11. And that explains why the James Patterson books look OK, but why it take 4 pages to write a page and half chapter. The chapter starts half way down the page, goes a page and half with a blank one on the other side of it. Then the next chapter starts again half way down the next page. The stories were great, back when I could still read real books. I quit simply because I felt I was being cheated on content but paying full price. I had always figured he wrote with other people and they spent their time parsing out the sparse pages.

  12. I watched the video with Barbara Peters of The Poisoned Pin Book Store this morning. Very interesting. Love your bright red nail polish.

  13. Love the books featuring Arizona. Stayed in Sedona and visited Jerome several times and considered moving to Cottonwood. I always enjoy what you have to say!

    • I considered moving to Tucson as had two sisters living there. However, the first time I visited the temperature at the airport was 103. I decided to stay in CT.:)

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