Friday, March 27, 2009

Editorial Demands

General notes: We've been receiving a lot of manuscripts from people about how the car industry failed (in their opinion) or from people who worked as investment bankers and want to talk about all of the wasteful spending they encountered. Not a huge surprise. The mortgage crisis we haven't seen so many books on, but I suppose that's not as interesting to write about, or is simply too complicated to write about except by an expert. And if the last few months have taught us anything, it's that nobody's an expert.

On the home front: I've still been focusing every spare second on revisions for my third book. I had an interesting conversation with my agent (the agent who represents my work, not my boss the agent) about editorial demands on behalf of the publisher and what is realistic, and it turns out that what I was asked to do is way out of the ballpark, but as the book was paid for and is slated for the fall release, I can't do anything but tear up my contract (which I can do, if we fail to reach an agreement on the content of the manuscript) and not get the third book published, so the editor has the advantage. Now I've known editors and spoken to editors and done some editing myself, but I've only been an author working with an editor no two previous books, and it difficult to be on the receiving end of comments that you just plain don't agree with and think would detract from the book.

What you should expect: Generally editors are supposed to tighten the manuscript (or ask you to add more material to clarify the plot), find inconsistencies, and discuss problematic scenes. Some editors do little or no revision because they're overworked and leave it to the copyeditor to find inconsistencies, and I have to say my copyeditor did a fabulous job on the previous book, and found a ton of stuff that was easy to correct (a line or two here and there).

What is not the norm: The editor is not supposed to ask you to dramatically rewrite the book. In theory, the editor buys the book because they like it, and the changes they suggest are to make the book better, but the essential nature of the book was already there when they bought it. Or if they bought multiple books at once (which would be my case), they either read them all when they bought them, or they at least read the chapter-by-chapter summation you provided them with before the contract was signed so they knew what they were getting, at least in theory. If an editor just buys a bunch of books because the first one was successful and doesn't look at the summaries and doesn't even bother to look at the book until two months after you delivered the manuscript but a week before it has to go to the copyeditor's, and discovers they hate the plot, both of you are in trouble. Even though it wasn't your fault as a writer, you're going to be the one to fix it or walk away from your contract and return your advance money. This happens on occasion in publishing, though it is rare. It is, however, a situation you never ever want to get into. If you are selling a multi-book series, my advice is to be absolutely sure the editor has signed off on careful summaries of all the books that haven't been written yet. There is an advange to editors buying books blindly - it means you're more likely to to get your first big break. But it has a disadvantage, too, which I've discovered over the past few weeks, as it's come down to my integrity as a writer versus my career as a writer. Trust me, it is not a good place to be.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


So if you think once you get an agent and a contract it's all fun and games, you are wrong. So wrong.

(1) Today I got yet another review pointing out the various historical mistakes that (a) were supposed to be cleared up by copy-editing, but the corrections we agreed on were never implemented into the final manuscript file by the editor, and/or (b) were historical inaccuracies that were not part of the book and were slapped onto the back cover and all the promotional material by an overworked assistant who hadn't read the book. Every single review has hit on at least one of these mistakes, neither of which were my fault. Of course I don't respond to reviews, because as an author you don't do that, but I have addressed the issue on my website and in interviews, which of course means nothing to the person who is a discerning historian and just picked the book up in a store. Eighth month after publication and I still want to hit myself in the face whenever I see a review mentioning them and therefore downgrading my book.

(2) The cover for another book of mine went unapproved to Amazon for the pre-order. Now technically I have no control over the cover, but it is a confusing cover that makes no sense and is downright misleading, and I will have to stamp my feet and be really annoying to the already overworked production department to get them to change it, and even once they do Amazon will not bring the changes up until months after it's published. If I can get it changed at all.

(3) has a funny additude of putting a book into pre-order again instead of admitting that they are out of stock, claiming the book hasn't been published yet and will not be published until whatever the next shipment date is, even if they've been selling it for six months. This wouldn't be so annoying if it didn't automatically delete pre-existing reviews (most of my reviews are positive so I don't want them deleted, or the negative ones either so people know what they're getting), because the website thinks this is a whole new book. I wrote about this, to which their response is, "Send us proof of the original publication date," as if they can't check their records to show they've been shipping the same book for 6 months, they're just out of copies. So I send them a screenshot of the page with the ISBN and publication date, and they don't do anything about it anyway.

(4) Amazon does not believe I'm the author when I say, "Hi, I'm the author and you're incorrect about the description of the book; you should fix this." Even if my publishing company insists that I am, in fact, the author.

This isn't really anybody's fault in terms of being mean or evil, but more a combination of people who are overworked, people asked to do a job they aren't given proper information about, or companies with better things to do with their time. The manuscript passes through a bunch of hands before it makes it to yours, and any one of those could make a change and either not tell me or tell me well after it's possible to fix it. So next time you're reviewing a book, consider that a seemingly minor mistake it might not be the author's fault.

If Philip Dick was alive I would feel really bad for him, as the current edition of his books has summaries on the back that either give away the ending or are just plain wrong about anything that occurs in the book. And Philip Dick books often have twists at the end, so this is a really big problem for the reader.