Monday, May 03, 2010

What it Takes to Be An Author, Part I

Seriously, I know it seems like being an author should be all about writing the book. Creativity, inspiration, passion, those are the things I expected to bring to the party (so to speak) when I began my journey to publication.

And I have.

But there is a lot more to writing than....well....writing.

Take for example, the copy edit stage.

Once you've written "The End", sent your baby off and had your story accepted by an editor, you can't just wipe your hands of the matter.

Really. You can't.

A few weeks or months after acceptance (depending on how far you are from publication date), your 300 or so pages of writing will be sent to a copy editor. It is the copy editor's thankless job to check the details of your story. Does John Doe have a different name on page 21 than he did on page 10? If so, the copy editor will notice it. Things she notices or has questions about are jotted down for future reference. Meanwhile, your editor is hard at work making her own notes.

When they are finished, you will open your front door and find this on your stoop -

Generally speaking, the big red sticker means that what is inside is extremely urgent and time sensitive. Take my advice and do not set the package on the counter to be opened at a later date. Otherwise, receiving a manuscript just days before it is due back to your editor might pose a problem. Case in point, the cover letter from my most recent copy edits. I received them on the 29th and they needed to be back on my editor's desk on the 5th.

Once you gird your loins and open the package, you'll find your entire manuscript marked and ready for your critical eye. During this stage, it is not the editor's job to make you feel good. There may be smiley faces and hearts sprinkled in the margins of your masterpiece, but you will also have comments like, "Please don't have them kiss when she's got strep throat," jotted down in the white spaces. Such comments will, of course, make you cringe, and it at this point you must hike up your big-girl britches and face your nemesis head-on (and by nemesis I mean your embarrassment, defensiveness, self-doubt, etc....NOT your editor's comments.)

In order to tackle your copy edits effectively, you may want to read through the comments and get an idea of what may need to be fixed.

After that, you will spend an inordinate amount of time searching for the perfect red pen. Okay. Maybe you won't do that, but in my house, with five kids constantly borrowing my pens, that's how I begin.

Now, this is the time when things get tough. It is your job to answers the queries presented by your editor. You may feel that what you wrote was fine, and you may STET the recommended changes. You may realize that the editor's keen eye has once again caught you in less than stellar writing form. Either way, you must employ full use of your red pen, cutting and hacking and recreating so that your vision for the book and your editor's align.

The process is labor intensive. The beauty of a manuscript is in the details, after all. Slowly, slowly, you will work your way through the pages, reading comments, reworking sections. You'll get a crick in your neck and a massive headache, and you'll be reduced to breaking your diet and eating this:

Which will give you enough of a sugar rush to get you through the remaining pages. That's when you will realize that your house is silent, and that it's the wee hours of the morning and that every sane person is asleep.

But who said you were sane?

You are a writer, right? And writers, must do what they must to get their books to production. So, you'll print new pages of manuscript and attach them to old pages

At least, you will try to.

If your house is like mine (and it probably isn't, because my house is NUTS!), you'll spend too much time searching for paperclips and finding them like this:

By this time, the house will no longer be quiet, and you will enlist help in finding paperclips.

And finally, you will be done.

At this point, no matter how bad the weather, you will hop in your car and you will take your manuscript off to be overnighted (if, like me, you had only a few days to return it) into your editor's waiting hands.

Because that is what an author does if she is truly an author.


Sabrina L. Fox said...

While I love posts like this that give us a peek into the after publication life, it freaks me out a little. LOL. Seriously, it's enough to make my heart race. But then I turn and look at some of your books on my shelf and think...but it's worth it. :)

Thanks for the insight, Shirlee.

Sabrina L. Fox said...

Oh and that cake looks, GOOD!!! LOL

Leslie said...

wow this is a great post! It actually makes me more comfortable presenting my book know that someone who writes as great as you actually has to have some editing! I know, I know...all good writers have editing...but when I read a post by another Steeple Hill author who said nothing at all was changed in her was kind of intimidating. Thank you for this..I love your honesty! Love the pics of the girls helping you take it to UPS :)

Shirlee McCoy said...

Leslie, are you kidding me? Every author at Harlequin goes through three levels of editing. The first happens when the editor first reads the work. She decides then whether she needs revisions done on the project. If the project is a go (as with the one featured here), the manuscript moves onto the second stage of editing. That is copy featured in this post. The third and final step of editing happens when the author receives the galleys for the manuscript. At this point, it is in book format. The author (and editors) read through to look for typos and other small errors.

There isn't an author alive whose work goes to print untouched.

Leslie said...

I remember Stephen King's quote about "killing the darlings" so that made me feel good too lol... yep...she said it was great the first time sent...didn't need editing...but she did say she had to make just a few changes...I thought that was called editing?!? Shirlee..I love your honesty and the fact that you are "real"... you are truly an inspiration :)

Shirlee McCoy said...

There's a difference between editing and revisions. When an author is asked to do revisions, she is being asked to rewrite certain parts of the book that aren't working. So, for example, when I sold STILL WATERS, my editor asked me to rework certain parts of it. I needed to rewrite the hero's backstory and tighten several chapters. Many authors will be asked to revise contracted manuscripts. If we are asked to revise, we do not receive the second part of our advance until we do the revisions and have them approved (as per our contract which states that we will present an 'acceptable' work to our editor and that 'acceptable' will be determined by the editor0. So, we rework and resubmit.

The author who said her book was great as it was written was saying that she was not asked for revisions. Once revisions are in and the manuscript accepted, the editing process begins.

Does that clarify things?

Anyway, one way or another, no writer creates a perfect work. We do our best and try to improve with every book. At least, that is what I do!

Leslie said...

she must have been referring to revisions and not editing. She must have typed "editing" instead of "revisions" in her post. That would make more sense :)