Editors and editing, a demented view
I’ve just run myself into the ground on SHADOWS, it’s after one o’clock in the morning and I haven’t started the BLOG yet. What a good thing I’m not getting up early tomorrow to ring bells. . . . *
I’m curious about the three drafts in a row. Knowing that the second draft was just delivered and immediately starting on the third, where does the editor come in? I sort of assumed that the second draft went to the editor to review and then once there is input from the editor you worked the next draft.
Good question. In an ideal world, yes, you turn in your manuscript more or less at whatever stage you want some editorial input** and then you wait till you’ve had your input and you consider it before you embark on your next draft. That’s in an ideal world. And some writers do work like this—indeed some want input from friends, colleagues, their agent, their editor, almost from the first sentence***, some want it when they feel stuck, some want it at a given stage—like at the end of a second draft—whatever. Whatever works.
Me, I don’t want it at all. Ahem. This is a character flaw. It’s all very arteeeeeeestic and romantic that I Can Only Listen to The Story, but it’s also a great big fat failure because I’m still only mortal and it would be a good thing if I could use more of what other (intelligent) people tell me. But mostly what other people tell me—even when they’re right—comes over as static on the line. SHUT UP, WILL YOU, I’M TRYING TO LISTEN TO THE STORY.
In my ideal world I don’t turn my manuscript in till I’ve done as much on it as I can, or anyway nearly. Even I recognise the need for someone else’s view of a story which I, by this point in the writing process, know too well or anyway from too close a distance. I need someone who doesn’t know the story as well as I do (including all the parts I decided to leave out, like the revolving door and the doorperson’s uniform) to tell me what I need to put back in. Or that the intensity of scene A needs to be balanced a little better by some relief of tension in scene B. BEAUTY’s editor asked me to shorten the beginning so that Beauty arrived at the Beast’s castle sooner. SWORD’s editor wanted a little more about Harry feeling dislocated or disoriented or homesick—she took to her new life a little too well. And so on.
Mostly I’m not edited that much. I am very lucky that—mostly—what I turn in as finished copy is acceptable. If I had to make huge changes to satisfy my publisher and get me paid . . . I probably wouldn’t be a professional writer.
The last few books I’ve had to hustle for one reason or another—mostly to do with scheduling and money. This puts a strain on my editor as well—is she going to have a book for this or that list or isn’t she?—and the compromise we’ve perhaps almost inadvertently reached (although Merrilee might whap me up longside the head for that remark) is that I turn in, for example, a second draft, so that she can judge if I’m far enough along to finish when I say I’m going to finish—and she can then hold a place in the schedule for it.† I may be a good writer who can (mostly) get away with a light editorial hand . . . but my sense of time sucks pond scum. And even if she does say ‘yes, you’re on’ (and please the gods she will about SHADOWS) she’ll send me some notes . . . which I probably won’t do more than glance at at till I finish the third draft. I listen to the story, you know? And then I’ll check that I’ve already fixed everything on her list—or not. If she’s found something I’ve missed—and she found stuff in both CHALICE and PEGASUS in recent memory—I’ll go back and tinker. I’ll be going back and tinkering anyway. But by the end of the third draft the story is stable. I can afford to listen to other people about it.†† It’s also busy hardening into its final shape—see: can’t make huge changes—but I can still tweak and smarten.†††
Mostly. Usually. I hope . . .
* * *
* This is actually dangerous. Heretofore having to get up at a (comparatively) respectable hour once a week has kept clawing me back toward some brief, glancing relationship to normal life. One seventh of my mornings looked rather like other people’s mornings. Now . . . I may split off from John Donne’s mainland and float away forever.^
^ After all, he was specifically only talking about men.
** Of course you don’t abuse the privilege. Any editor (and any agent) has lots of other authors they also have to respond to and work with, and we’re all big boys and girls and self-motivated and sensible.^
*** But see previous footnote
† Remember publishing is a business. And the widgets it sells are books. It needs x number of new widgets per season to produce its hoped-for sales figures.^
^ Of course books are not widgets and publishing is insane . . .
†† I can’t really explain this. Static on the line is as good a metaphor as any. Or it’s like walking a narrow path in a high wind and somebody comes running up behind you and gives you a shove. I know it’s not supposed to be like this. Intelligent thoughtful reader response should be helpful and welcome. Um. Well. —This is also related to my extreme aversion to reading reviews. I’ve talked about this before: very few critics are writing from a perspective that has any relationship to mine or is of any use to me in (for example) explaining why something doesn’t work and why I shouldn’t do it that way again. The good reviews tend to be pleasing but alien (I did? The story what? Oh) and the bad ones just make me want to tear my entrails out. (The bad ones that are factually incorrect make me want to tear the reviewer’s entrails out.)
Although a good review that also gets it pretty well makes my YEAR. And it does happen. Mmmmmm.
††† And given the time pressure, if she does decide we can cram SHADOWS through for spring ’13, I may receive final editorial notes on the third draft more or less simultaneously with the copyeditor’s queries. ARRRGH. This creates a brief, hair-raising, high tea-and-champagne-consumption period which includes bloodshot eyeballs, shaking hands and insomnia.
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