Responding to Edits

You wrote a book. You got your first book deal. Your editor has sent your manuscript back to you with edits. After the initial excitement and, perhaps, terror, you settle in to tend to things—and come across suggestions with which you disagree. Among your objections:

  • This isn’t my MC’s style.
  • This isn’t my style.
  • This complicates things later.
  • Oh hell no.

Do you have to do everything your editor has marked up or suggested? No.

Is there some magical formula that determines how many edits you can reject before you become a Difficult Author? No.

Will rejecting your editor’s changes make you a Difficult Author? No. Not necessarily.

My background is in academic publishing, but the process is pretty much the same no matter what side of the industry you sit on. The editor makes suggestions that she thinks will improve the manuscript. As I tell my authors, my edits are suggestions. I may raise questions or ask for changes that the author finds are too tangential or will open up a can of worms that can’t reasonably be dealt with. I expect that this will happen and I flat-out tell my first-time authors that I don’t expect them to apply every query or keep every edit. The key is to let me know you considered the query. A little explanation lets me know you took it seriously and decided it wasn’t the best course. I like when you do that. True, sometimes I’m disappointed when an author doesn’t incorporate a suggestion that I thought would be great. In the big picture, though, it’s not a big deal. Unless it is.

So what about the Oh hell no queries? Those are not automatically the big picture items.

The Oh hell no is an author’s visceral reaction to something he feels will weaken, harm, damage, eviscerate, or otherwise gut and burn his story down to unrecognizable cinders. (Isn’t that what “Oh hell no” really represents?) The editor likely has no idea that this will be the author’s response. The editor may just be tossing it out there. “Hey, wouldn’t it be great pathos to kill this character?” Oh hell no, it would not.

You do not have to kill that character. As you encounter these queries, especially the ones that generate a strong negative reaction, consider whether there’s something behind them. Is the editor trying to elicit more emotion from a character or ratchet up the tension? Maybe. And sometimes the editor’s just off the mark.

Don’t wring yourself into knots of anxiety over edits. If you identify a consistent theme to the queries you hate, ask about it when you return the manuscript. (Edits are often not all resolved in one round.) When there are definite changes I want my author to make, I signal this clearly in a letter. These changes are still up for discussion. I want my author’s buy-in. I want her to understand why I want these changes and to agree that they will make the book stronger. And if she has a different approach to what I propose, I want to hear that as well. Because the editor is not always right. But we do like to ask a lot of questions.

Side note: I once included more than 200 queries, plus edits, in one chapter. At the author’s request, I made a second pass to call out which ones I felt were the most important. She focused on those and still didn’t address everything, and it was fine. Perfection is impossible. The chapter turned out great. I’m pretty sure she threw darts at my picture though.


Romance Novels: I Love Them

This past week, the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress (LOC) hosted a one-day symposium on popular romance fiction. Kiersten Hallie Krum has accumulated all of the #poprom tweets on Storify.

Whether or not you’re familiar with the genre, I bet the thought of it brings to mind a host of book covers—men sans shirts, well-defined chests on display; women mid-swoon, shoulders bare, necklines plunging. These covers can prompt the unfamiliar to make assumptions about the genre. Romance novels, traditionally, aren’t taken seriously. You won’t find a Courtney Milan or Eloisa James book reviewed by The New York Times. Yet romance sales are among the top in the industry, and I, for one, love them.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the conference. To my delight, it was filled with smart discussion, smart women (and the occasional man), humor, and camaraderie. Panel discussions ran the gamut from what belongs in the romance canon (if there even is one) to the scientific analysis of love, the changing popular perception of love throughout history, and the future of romance publishing in the digital age. I had a chance to meet Eloisa James/Mary Bly after the sneak preview of the fantastic documentary “Love Between the Covers,” and she is kind and gracious. I also spoke with Beverly Jenkins and she is a fabulous lady.

Historical or contemporary, supernatural or space alien, every romance novel conveys hope in finding someone who will love us for the way we are.

Historical or contemporary, supernatural or space alien, every romance novel conveys hope in finding someone who will love us for the way we are.

One of my favorite moments at the conference came during the first panel, What Belongs in the Romance Canon? Ms. Jenkins was talking about African American romance novels and how they only began to gain traction in the industry over the last few decades. To paraphrase, “If you read romances with vampires and werewolves, why not African Americans?” That question made me realize that I hadn’t read any. I’m not often in a bookstore anymore, and their stock overall has declined. There are fewer books available in all sections of my local bookstore. In fact, I think they’re fast coming to carry more stock in toys than books (though I love them still). I don’t think I’ve intentionally avoided this sub-genre of the market, but Ms. Jenkins pointed out an oversight in my own reading that I’m now determined to rectify, and I look forward to it.

I came away from the conference impressed by the attendees and panel members, and admiring the Library of Congress for hosting the event. One Washington Post journalist may have noted that “a remarkable number of passionate readers… also [possess] doctorates,” but those of us who read the genre are not at all surprised to find that these books with their happily ever afters and their messages of hope appeal to women—and men—of all backgrounds.

My very first romance novel was Jude Deveraux’s The Princess. It captured my attention in a way that no book had up to that time (I was thirteen) and started my long-term relationship with HEAs. What was the first romance novel you read?

Stages in the Life of a Book

You sold your book to a publisher. Yay! Awesome! They tell you they want to publish it… a year(+) from now. It took you that long to write it. What’s up with that? There will be differences if you’re publishing a novel versus a textbook, but at heart, the process is the process.

  • Notes from your editor. She may want some changes to your manuscript. You read, absorb, figure out what makes sense to do, revise, submit. And maybe the process repeats. This could take a few weeks or a few months.
  • Copyediting. Yes, a novel can be read in a few days, but you don’t want it copyedited in that same short window. It’s a different kind of reading when you’re paying attention to grammar, punctuation, style, and consistency. Then you review the edits and return the manuscript to the copy editor, who cleans it up and sends it back to the publisher. This will probably take a couple of months. After all, it’s not as if you quit your day job, so you’re doing all of this after hours, in lieu of laundry and dust bunny eradication.
  • Typesetting. Here’s where you get a brief break (to do laundry). The typesetter is creating page proofs, where you’ll see your book set on the page for the first time. It’ll take them maybe two weeks to prepare first pass pages.
  • Proofreading. The proofreader will do his thing, and you’ll do yours. You’re looking for any residual spelling, punctuation, and other errors, and hoping not to find any large gaffes at this point.
  • Corrected pages. The typesetter has corrected all of the markups from first pass and sent a second pass for review. If there are still errors, the book will undergo a third pass.
  • To the printer. Once corrections are final, the book will go to the printer, where it will be printed and bound before being shipped to the warehouse a few weeks later and distributed to bookstores far and wide.
  • Marketing and other fun stuff. While all of the above is going on, there will be cover designs and back cover copy and blurbs and discussions about promotional opportunities. The publisher will be getting the word out about your book because they want it to sell.

None of these stages happen in just a few days. They take weeks, even months, as copy editors and proofreaders and you scour the manuscript for every last errant dangling participle or uncharacteristic exclamation. You will read your book so many times you can’t stand it, but each stage of the process should make it stronger, including when the book hits the shelves.

The publisher will weigh your book against the others that it’s publishing that year, and the books other publishers are planning to publish that year, and will be strategic about when your book can receive maximum exposure and get its best chance in the market. And that is why it takes so long.

Publishing Fads: Covers and Interiors

I spend my day job in a publishing company. A year or so ago, we saw a lot of circles on book covers and interiors. Not just our books, but other publishers’ too. It made me really hate circles. These sorts of fads happen regularly, but there are certain things we tend to dislike no matter how contagious they become.

Here’s a short list of things we currently have an aversion to:

  • Pink (this is a forever aversion resulting from earlier trauma)
  • Cheesiness (I like a bit of cheese but Head Decider does not, much to my sadness)
  • Stock images (like stick people and other punch-card-like figures)
  • The / between the names of multiple authors (seen so often it feels like lazy design)
  • A new cover that looks a lot like a competitor’s cover (never a good thing; also a forever aversion)

For balance, I could make another list of things we like, but that’s much more a “know it when I see it” sort of thing.