There’s an aspect of the publishing process that I’ve been obsessed with and it has to do with the editing work I did with my editor/publisher. I’m not talking about the copyediting (which was also interesting) but the type of editing where serious reshaping of the book can happen. Let me elaborate…
Wait. First, here’s my quick book update:
I’ve been schmeckel deep in book publishing matters and I haven’t had time to keep up with much else. (More on that later, when I have more perspective on it.) In any case, I’ve started an events page where I plan to put events as the book release approaches. Still a bit premature for book release information but I wanted to get a few known events on there. By the way, the novel will be released on August 14th. It will also be available in various digital formats in mid-July.
OK. Now let me elaborate on my editor/publisher obsession:
My publisher has already committed to publishing my book. They’ve already paid me the advance. We’ve signed the contract that assures me (as I understand it) a lifetime of riches. They’re in it. At the same time, they need the book to be as good as it can be. They’re a small publisher and they can’t fuck around with second-rate books. So my editor at the publishing house is willing to kick some ass to make it better. No hand holding. No hugging. (Definitely no spooning, though I’m tempted to ask again.) Just make the damn book better. This of course doesn’t mean that the editor has to be an asshole. But it means that he needs to be brutally honest, at least where it counts. For instance, him criticizing my baldness will (most likely) not help the book. But if he doesn’t think the ending delivers on the promise of the story, then he better help me understand this problem so that I can work like hell to fix it.
It turns out that this is a pretty productive place to be: to love a book but also to be viciously committed to smacking the thing into the best shape possible.
When my editor told me that he didn’t really like the end (and by ‘end’ he meant the last 1/4 of the damn book!), I had a few serious days of moping (read: drinking). And then I got back to the table. Actually the work happened all over the place – not just at the table… on the toilet (which obviously won’t surprise any of my readers), but also while walking around, while driving to work, while reading other books, while unloading the dishwasher… I had to retool my schedule as much as possible to accommodate a tight deadline – four weeks to incorporate hundreds of edits in addition to fixing the flawed ending. (I should clarify that my gut instinct was that he was right in his feedback, even if it took some time to digest it.) Perhaps I’m not able to judge how successful I was, but I believe the book is far better because of this experience.
And now I wish everyone could get this experience – not just when working with a publisher on a soon-to-be-published book. It probably takes a certain kind of personality and certain kind of experience to truly look at your own work with an eye like this (I usually can not), but it is easier to look at a fellow writer’s work with this mindset. Now if you hate the other person’s writing then this of course won’t work, but I’ve worked with many writers who have writing that I really like, but that also needs some real attention.
If you’ve already got a great writing group or writing partner, then you’re on the right track. But it’s more than that… I think very often writers don’t use this mindset to approach another writer’s work… I think we writers need this kind of loving yet viciously honest (and focused) feedback as much as we can get it. (I added the word ‘focused’ in there because I think it’s essential that the feedback deals with the most important problems first. I don’t want vicious feedback on my comma splices if my narrator is an intolerable schmuck who makes a reader want to throw the book across the room in frustration after 12 pages. Then again… that would be a pretty cool reaction.)
How about this way of summing up the publisher’s mindset: If you’ve already bought the rights to publish this person’s book with a limited budget and now you must work like mad to make it better where it counts, how would you approach the situation differently?