I’ve been asked (by multiple parties) to discuss some of the highs and lows of the publishing process. This is, of course, a topic that is WAY TOO BIG for a single blog, but it led me back to something I’d been thinking about for some time. So I’m afraid I’m going to use the blog to climb onto my soapbox for a second.
Here’s the thing: Too many authors—and I’m saying this from a LOT of experience—think that writing a manuscript, and then getting the notice of an agent or even publisher, means that their job is done. They’ve belted out this terrific story, they’ve done enough in a pitch letter to get someone’s attention, and they’ve even—gasp—been accepted. The agent or publisher actually responded to the pitch, and the author has reached the ultimate goal: They’ve Inked A Deal.
Now they’re on the fast track. Editors and marketing aficionados are talking about schedules and calendars and release dates, a cover artist is starting to do mock-ups, and there might even be talk about a book tour. The author’s head begins to quite literally spin, and before they know it, they’re talking to their friends about another book, and the dream of a movie deal.
What they don’t understand is that their job has really just begun. And I mean literally JUST begun. Because the moment that their manuscript is signed, they go into this rather terrifying process called Edits. And I can tell you right now—as the lead editor at my house, and the editorial director as well—that there are going to be a LOT of edits. This is a process that can last from a few months to a year, depending on how much work there is to be done. The acquisitions editor will have pitched the book to the higher up, and potentially signed it, with ideas in mind about how to make subtle or not-so-subtle changes to the text. And the author will start to hear words like ‘marketability,’ ‘readability,’ and even ‘realistic movement.’
These are, in reality, changes that will make the book better. Make the characterization bigger. Make the whole shebang more successful. And in most instances, they’re a kind of asterisk to the contract itself. Traditional publishers and editors sign manuscripts based on their promise, rather than the current execution. Which means they have an idea of what the manuscript can become.
From there, it’s a process of constant brainstorming sessions, working with editors on sticky little plot details, and even hashing out entirely new endings. There are a lot of flow charts, a lot of phone calls, and more Track Changes than any one person should ever have to deal with. There are Macs crashing because they don’t like Track Changes, authors freaking out because Word has swallowed an entire manuscript, and—yes—whole weeks when editors and authors might refuse to talk to each other because the process is too heavy (just ask PT McHugh about our required breaks from each other!). But at the end, if everyone has done their job, there is a beautiful, shiny, and completely unique piece of work, just waiting for a cover and printing process, to make its way out into the world.
The problem is that a lot of authors don’t understand that this is all part of the parade. Too many authors take it personally, or believe that publishers are pulling the rug out from them, or have even decided that they hate the manuscript, and must change it. Wrong. As publishers, it’s our job to put the best possible books out there, and that often requires a lot of work on the author’s side. We signed your manuscript because we thought it had promise. But we always need your help whittling it down TO that promised land.
In the end, editing is a natural and very important aspect of publishing a book, and yes, even Jo Rowling received notes from her editors. So the next time you hear the dreaded “I have some edits for you,” and start to feel that drag in your stomach, or perhaps tell yourself that the editor is trying to change your words, or doesn’t understand your vision, or maybe even just hates you personally … remember one thing: We’re all working for the same goal. And that’s the best book possible.
Sometimes it’s a very long road. But it’s always worth it in the end.
Carrie White-Parrish is a dreamer, a rebel, and an admitted bibliophile. She started Glass House Press—her second company—when she ran across a manuscript that deserved to be published, and hasn’t looked back. Though her tastes run from MG to historical fiction to high fantasy and back, her heart truly belongs to YA. When she’s not editing or publishing, you can find her taking over the world, hanging out with her many spoiled pets, or traveling the world with her beloved husband.