AKA: Author Brains, Scrambled Eggs Edition!
Hi! Welcome back to my den of perpetual misery. Erm, wait. Wrong post. Starting over. Hi! Welcome to a resource for intelligent, well-constructed posts about the author lifestyle! Better? Yes. Better. My Rice Krispies are telling me that this is a MUCH better opener. More engaging and . . . erm. Shut up, Krackle. Nobody asked you. You’re such an doucherocket.
As you can tell, things are progressing well in Hillaryville, the land of revisions and happiness. Or revisions and weeping. Or revisions and maniacal laughter while Herself is running around the house topless and licking her windows. Okay, the topless part is an exaggeration, but the window licking is pretty much spot on, and doesn’t that just make me the popular neighbor. I have discussed author crazies before, namely here (when I talk about how we’re just batshit crazy period) and here when I talk about how to care and feed your author when she’s drafting. This time, I’m going to talk about a very special time in an author’s life. It’s the “Are you there, God, it’s me, Author” portion. It’s when an author goes from author-in-her-childhood-happiness phase to a quasi-adult-shit-got-real author.
The Edit Letter.
This is one of the toughest parts of the book process. Here you have this starry-eyed artist with her book deal in hand. She’s hugging that contract and showing it to everyone – the bank clerk, the grocery store guy, even the homeless dude who drinks Turkey Hill next to the post office. It doesn’t matter who she’s talking to, she wants the world to know she did it. She made it through the trenches. She wrote a book, she queried until her fingers ached, she got an agent, her agent subbed her, and after what felt like an interminable wait, a publisher really, truly wanted to make an honest book of her manuscript. The contract is the manifestation of years of effort. It’s glorious. Let’s photocopy that sumbitch and paste it all over our office walls.
This is the honeymoon phase of being an author. It’s when you can skip through fields of flowers and sing Kumbaya and act out all your annoying, hippy fantasies. The thing is, what the author doesn’t know? Is something vile lurks on the horizon. Something wicked. Something that will pull the rug right out from under her feet. The Edit Letter cometh with the fury of a thousand Bieber fans. The editor is about to SMASHY SMASHY the author’s bliss.
Mind you, one of my besties is an editor. He’s a great guy. I talk to him daily. I’d give him a kidney if he needed it. Maybe. If it was Tuesday. But, point being, I know for a fact that editors are not bad people. There might be a few turdmongers among them, but I really don’t think they got into this business to crush dreams. I think they do it for love of books. And when they purchase a book from a starry-eyed author like yours truly, their goal is to make that book as good as it can be before the masses get their grubby hands on it. The thing is, to do that? They sort of have to erm. Mangle it a little. Sometimes a lot. They have to take this amorphous blob of words and pummel it and stretch it and pound it until it looks vaguely booklike. They do it as kindly as possible for the most part, but at the end of the day? There’s really no gentle way to go about reconstructive surgery.
So now picture this author doing her naked bongo drum thing by the bonfire, and then here comes the edit letter, and suddenly your cheerful little author is weeping into a pile of hemp sandals wondering where she went wrong. DO NOT PANIC, AUTHOR. Instead, do the following:
No, seriously. I got my edit letter, saw all the things WRONG with my book, but the reality is and was? There was a lot more right with it than wrong. It’s hard to see that when you effectively have a list of WRONGS in front of you, but it’s true. So breathe and tell yourself, “the bones of my book are there, it’s the flesh that needs help.” And instead of bugging out and going on a spree of pantsless author rage, breathe. Inhale, exhale. Repeat until the red haze of crazy abandons you.
2) Put It Away.
It’s good to know other authors. I’ve Twitter befriended my agency sister Lilith Saintcrow and she gave me some SUPER great advice when I saw the long list of WHAT THE CRAP YOU NEED TO DO TO MAKE YOUR BOOK BETTER, HILLARY: read the letter, get pissed that you’re not as special of a snowflake as you originally thought, and put it away. Don’t look at it for a few days, a week. Why? Because it gives you a little time to process. It gives you distance. You can do a lot of breathing in that week. You can remind yourself that this editor is not out to hurt you, but to help you. Think of it like going to the doctor, I guess – who actually likes being probed and poked with needles? But you know what? At the end of the day, it’s good for you. Your book? Needs a little probing. It hurts, but it’s good for it. Speculum, please.
3) Approach With Fresh Eyes.
You’ve taken your week to get drunk, make an offering to your dark god Lewis, and steal candy from children. You’re feeling slightly better now that you’ve stepped away from the letter and inflicted your authorly misery upon the world. It’s now time to put on your game face and settle in. Reread it. Reread it with all that neat breathing technique you’ve built up over the last week. Remember that this editor wants this book to be AMAZING and this is his/her vision of amazing. When you find yourself getting angry or disagreeing, sit back and weigh what they’re asking you to do. Is it going to ACTUALLY compromise your artistic vision? Or will it do X, Y, Z like your editor said? I’m kind of guessing that often, it will be the latter.
4) Know That It’s Your Book.
But let’s say it’s NOT your artistic vision. Let’s say the edit letter comes in and it’s completely unraveling everything you as the artist loved about the book. Let’s say the criticism is your authorly voice, or a character you adore, or something in the plot that means a lot to you – this is when you get your agent involved. Agents are your advocate. They want to see you happy and healthy. You lobbing rotten eggs at the publisher’s NY office is probably not to your agent’s benefit OR yours. So talk to them. Tell them how you feel. Your agent can help put things in perspective, or — if the editor really is harming the book — perhaps intervene on your behalf. The edit letter is not some book scripture you must follow else the world come crumbling down around you.
5) Get To Work. And Cut Yourself Some Slack.
Once you have a clear vision of what you are going to do to your manuscript, once you have reconciled your vision, your editor’s vision, and what actually needs to be remolded? Get to work. Make it the best you can make it. If it helps, outline the book with all the changes incorporated so you have a road map and send it to your editor to make sure you’re on the same page. And know this, author person – sometimes, revising is going to drag you down. Sometimes you’re going to feel like you’ve fixed one part only to have forty thousand more to go, and that sucks. That’s when you step back and eat a big bowl of icecream or succumb to a German Sparkle Party break. And after that, remind yourself that no matter how many things you have to patch or improve? Your book was good enough to get a deal. It was good enough that an editor believed in you. That editor fought second reads and acquisitions to have you. Yeah, they want you to do some surgery, but at the end of the day? That book is going to glimmer on shelves. Lots of effort. Lots of tears? But you’re going to shine, dudes and dudettes. You’ll be like a Cullen on a Sunday morning.
And ain’t that neat to think about? Sort of?