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Sunday, September 21, 2008

From Sale To Shelf: Part 2

So I have shipped off my baby. But that doesn't mean I'm satisfied. I've been immersed in it for a year or longer, and haven't had a chance to set it aside and get some distance on the story. Awaiting my editor's reaction forces me to do that. But I always find myself making lists: fix that scene where I glossed over the magic, make the romantic angle stronger. If this is the last book in a series, I have to be giving thought to what's next, as well, ie. writing a proposal. And if it is not the end, I'm already starting to write sequel. I should have plenty of notes to go on. But there's a lot of work yet to do on the current work!

Cover ideas:
As I'm waiting to hear what my editor thinks about the book, I work diligently on a small but meaningful task. I am not a visual artist. Though I have definite opinions about cover art, I have no desire to actually design a cover. Which is a good thing, as I, like most authors, have no say in my covers. Covers are considered the province of marketing folks who study what readers actually respond to. But what I do is offer ideas of key scenes (like D'Sanya at the siege of Avonar) or key elements (like the mask for Flesh and Spirit). And after several disheartening experiences with back cover copy that revealed plot secrets, I decided to offer sample copy. Though it is always modified (seems I use too many words and sentences that are too long!) I am gratified that they've begun to pick up my suggestions. The copy on the Lighthouse books is almost my words. I usually spend a whole day fooling around with these things.

But the Big Job is still ahead. Maybe three weeks, maybe six, after my submission, Anne will send me a revision letter. So what do revisions entail?

Editorial revision letters - at least the ones I've gotten - are not as scary as they might sound. You've got to remember that the editor's job is to work with you, the author, to make the book the best it can be. No one writes perfect prose, and the surest mark of an immature writer is saying "I'm not going to let anyone mess with my words" or "I don't want to be forced to change anything." My editors do not rewrite my words, but they certainly read them. Carefully. Thoughtful revision brings the craft of writing to bear on your manuscript, making your art and passion accessible to your readers.

The revision letter will list the things that bothered the editor, maybe one page worth, maybe ten pages worth. Some editors are much more detailed than others. My first editor was extremely detailed, and I learned a lot from her. Anne is more general in her comments, but I've learned to interpret her "symptoms." The notations might be as small as a word choice or phrase that is unclear, or as large as a scene or subplot that doesn't seem to work or fit in the overall arc of the story. Sometimes the issue is pacing or an action scene with unclear choreography. I have never been asked to cut a scene, change the plot, or add or remove a character. Nor have I ever been forced into a change.

Usually I agree with my editor's remarks. Having a new, experienced set of eyes looking at the work will always reveal holes! Sometimes I disagree, and that's ok, too. It's my book, after all. But I will always take a careful look. Sometimes the problem the editor reports is really a symptom of a different flaw altogether. If she says a particular scene does not seem to fit in the arc of the story, and I believe it does something important, then I probably haven't done a good job of bringing out the necessary details.

I usually have my own long list of issues by the time I get the editor's list. The idea of revisions is to make the book better and stronger and clearer to the reader, to enhance tension and conflict to grip readers from the opening page and draw them through the story. Of course, if the editor sees a major problem with story or, as sometimes happens, with the overall length of the book, negotiation is in order. Sometimes publishing requirements must be taken into account. But at no time is control of the story out of my hands.

I usually have six or eight weeks to do revisions, and I love the process. Having set the book aside for a few weeks gives me a more objective view. So the first thing I do is read it again, from start to finish. I listen for pacing and word use. I watch for ordering - making sure that each sentence follows from the ones before, that I haven't stuck the cart before the horse. I look at the development of my principal characters, making sure their growth and change is logically developed, and that their motivations are clear. Sometimes it just astonishes me that some particular piece "got by me." I watch for plot holes and logic errors. Sometimes I rewrite my pivotal scenes and find that now I understand characters and plot, the words flow much better.

By the time I'm done, I feel truly finished. When the deadline comes around, I send Anne a new printed copy.

Is it really finished yet? No way! Tune in for part three.


Anonymous said...

This is very interesting, especially because I did have an experience with and editor, which wasn’t very nice for me.
I was asked to plan a series of five books, a YA series, which was a fantasy series but with lots of historical implications. I wrote down the idea and basic synopsis of the entire series and handed it to the editor. She said she liked the idea very much and asked me to start writing.
I completed the first book in about one year, with looooots of historic and anthropologic research attached to it. Then, when I and the editor started revising, she told me that she had lots of ideas to improve the story and that, being a lot of these ideas her own, she should be co-author of the project.

Now, sorry if I’m speaking about this, but this story made me feel so bad. I tried to come to terms with the editor, but I wouldn’t agree to forsake my story and let her be co-author. I told her the story was formed on my idea, I had already worked two years on it, I had already wrote three drafts of the first book, all on my own, so I didn’t find it fair that I just gave everything to her like that.
At the end, I just pulled back, and the project died away.

This was the only experience I had with an editor. I’m not sure what an editor is supposed to be asking to a writer, so I’ve often wondered whether it was all my fault. I mean, maybe I should have been more cooperative? Maybe what she was asking for was only normal? Doesn’t look like it is, from what you say, but… I’m just not sure what to think…

carolwriter said...

No, what you've described is not at ALL normal from anything I've heard in the industry.

Yes, there are jerk editors, but this seems beyond the pale. The key point is - a contract. Once an "editor" indicates you have a good idea and encourages you to "start writing" on a project she has initiated, it is time to ask questions. You should get the terms of your agreement in writing, signed off by both parties (with agent or legal advice!) And you should get paid. If the editor is not offering you a contract, then you should only work on the project if it is something you want to do, and when it's done, you have every right to market it wherever you wish.

A work is ALWAYS your story unless the terms of a contract say something different.

If you are a first time author, very few houses are going to pay you before you have written the book, so write it and only then try to sell it.

Certainly after a contract is in place, the editor represents the publisher and must ensure that the work is publishable. They may have to work more intensely with some authors to bring the book to a marketable package - but this is their job, and not something that implies co-authorship!

Sounds as if you were being led down a garden path by a predatory person, and that you did the absolute right thing in walking away. I'd advise following the Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware links to read up on the business. I think there is a Writer Beware discussion forum where you can inquire about deals that sound weird.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Carol for you time and advice. This is illuminating for me. I'll keep this is mind, should ever happen that another edior becomes interested in my work :-)

I also check the forum you mention.

Thanks again!