I’ve been attending writing conferences for years. I subscribe to Writer’s Digest. I read blogs by writers and publishers, and I pay attention. Yet there’s so much I didn’t know. Here are just a few of my discoveries as I’m walking this path towards being published…
- Why authors thank their editors so effusively. I always read in the acknowledgments section about all the people without whom the writer would not have been able to publish his book, hoping for funny ones but reading them all. But guess what? The authors are not just being polite. I now understand what enormous understatements they are. I know now I truly couldn’t do it without my publishing team, and I’ve witnessed the amazing improvements my editor has brought to my writing.
In response to one of her comments, I wrote my editor a note the other day saying, “Who knew I was such a rebel?” She wrote back, “I did.” I laughed and replied, “Actually, at this point in my life, you probably know me about as well as anyone I know.” She has read my manuscript—in this case, a very personal, spiritual, 65,000 words based on my life and family and religious revelations. She’s discovered the phrases I use and over-use. She’s corrected my mistakes, questioned my theology, and pushed me to give her more, more, more. More details, more background, more information, more clarity. She’s studied and examined my book in terms of grammar, sentence structure and style, marketing content, intuition into how to meet an unexpressed need of my audience, and overall content. She knows the material inside and out, and as a result, she knows me inside and out. It’s scary but like any good friend, she’s still there, so she must accept my quirks and foibles and love me anyway.
- How different the process is for each person, with each publisher and agent and genre. I have friends who have published fiction and nonfiction—mysteries, memoirs, young adult and poetry. They’ve been agented and unagented. The publishers have been all sizes and types. Some of the books were tweaked and submitted for years; some were cranked out against tight deadlines. I’ve heard stories of good and bad experiences, known people who had virtually no input from their publishers. You’d think that in all the stories, there would be a thread of common experience—but so far, my process has been unlike that of my friends. Some publishers expect the author to handle the editing; some have extensive internal processes. Much of the book’s promotion needs to be done by the writers, but different publishers help coordinate or facilitate different aspects. I’m thrilled that I have a publisher who is deeply involved, committed to making it the best possible product, and who looks at it strategically as well as aesthetically. It’s been amazing, but my point is there doesn’t seem any one way to be prepared or to know what to expect. The lesson here is that the unknown doesn’t end just because you finally got to sign on the bottom line. And I’m more than OK with that.
- It gets easier to send out work without running it through your network of trusted writer friends. Before I sent the first draft of my completed manuscript to my publisher, I gave it to a handful of people to critique. And then another handful read it because they wanted to, and they said good things but didn’t exactly critique. And I prayed, and I had the people at my church lay hands on the manuscript and pray, and I agonized over every word. When I was asked to add a new chapter, I sent it to three or four people to critique. But now, as my editor and I are wrapping up edits on the final chapters, I’m sending them straight to her, directly to her. As many times as some of my friends have read my book, there will actually be parts that none of them have read. Over time, I think, I’ve gained confidence in my work and learned to trust my gut. (Well, most of the time.)
- One acceptance cancels out all of the other rejections. All it takes is one. I submitted Amazing Grace, my essay about my trip to Positano, to 8 or 10 competitions. I believed it was the best thing I’d ever written. The first ‘no’ stung a little. Then the second, and the third… and then I started getting mad. A couple more rejections, and I began to doubt the worth of the piece. After the next one, I decided I just wasn’t going to send it to any more places. (They obviously don’t know good work when they see it.) And then I got the phone call from Writer’s Digest congratulating me on my first place award. Even if you do your research in selecting the perfect places to send your work, you just never know where or when or with whom it will click… I think that’s part of what’s so exciting about this industry. Until my next no comes in, that is.
- How one word, phrase, or minor revision can trigger an avalanche of changes. The good news is that apparently I put a lot of thought into every word and how the pieces fit together into my manuscript. The bad news is that, even when the edit seems to be a simple, small thing, it throws everything else into chaos. Editing is hard work. It can be rewarding to see how the writing improves, but it is also challenging and sometimes painful. It makes my brain hurt during the process and doesn’t get better until it’s all come back together. (Heaven help my husband and kids and clients who inadvertently interrupt me mid-process.) I’m not saying that all of my words were good to start with. Sometimes they weren’t good choices, and often they needed to come out. Occasionally they led to bigger questions of doctrine or philosophy and I needed to think through the ramifications. But I found it comforting to discover how thoughtful my approach had been, that I hadn’t just pulled it all out of the seat of my pants.
Now it’s your turn. If you’re published, or trying to be, what things have surprised you? Whether you’re a writer or not, what do you want to know about the process?