philadelphia story 03Just when you thought, dear readers, that nothing exciting was ever going to happen with your manuscript, like, let’s say, print it — an email will suddenly materialize alerting you that an editor has finally been assigned the task of dusting off your forgotten, lonely tome, presumably sitting these many long months in someone’s inbox.

Lest you begin to feel understandably disappointed, darlings, that all this time your manuscript has apparently not been the object of communal admiration as you had once suspected, nor was it the subject of some secret behind-the-scenes book club amongst the publishing house staff, remember that I did try to warn you against these imaginings quite some time ago.

No, not only have they not been excitedly discussing your novel’s many merits, they seem to have also misplaced it.  Fight the urge to respond inappropriately when the newly assigned editor asks you to resend.  It is not worth digging through stacks of emails to find the one where you really did attach it and to whom it was sent exactly.  Just oblige them.

But while your finger hovers above “send,” it is normal, darlings, to be flooded, once again, with doubt.  And, if you are anything like yours truly (an unfortunate perfectionist), you will at that moment painfully consider whether you shouldn’t just, well, read it over once last time.

I readily confess that I did indeed succumb to such doubts, ridiculously laboring under the hope that my manuscript, after being diligently reviewed by said editor, would somehow come back marked “perfect!”  I even fantasized about setting some sort of record for having submitted the most error-free manuscript of any she had ever read!  Surely you can guess where this is going.  But I digress.

Reluctantly, then, I moved the mouse from send to print and sat down to look for any last, straggler run-on sentences or improperly-used commas.  What began as a quick perusal quickly devolved, however, into a slow, torturous filling of the margins with frantic notes in red ink.  I was horrified to discover that the manuscript, having sat in my own saved files for many months while I wrote the next book in this series, was a complete disaster!  Not from a punctuation point of view (of course), but from a content point of view.

Having spent the last months writing the second book of the series in which these characters were developing very nicely now, I was shocked to find how stiff and awkward they were in the first book.  I read scene after scene in which I thought to myself, “she shouldn’t say that,” or “he should have said it like this,” or “this bit is too clumsy,” or “this needs to be explained more.”

In a true, anxiety-ridden, near-panic mode, I emailed the publisher and asked if I still had time to, well, change things.

“Change things?  Like what do you mean?  I thought you were sending the file to the editor.  We have to get going on this.”

Get going?  You’ve had months, I thought, irked, before I realized that this applied to me as well.

“Well, you can have a little bit of time, but not a lot.  How much time do you need?  And what kind of changes are we talking about?”

“Oh, a just a few,” I fibbed, sweating profusely at this point. 

“Okay, how about a week?”

A week to rewrite the book? I gulped and kicked myself that I had spent these last months cavorting with the characters in book two when they so clearly needed me back in book one.

Needless to say, I managed to put everything else in my life on hold so that I could crank this out, a nearly impossible task when one has three children and a bumbling sort of husband.  I was finally persuaded to “just send already” what I hoped was the new-and-improved version, though it still felt clunky, with the editor’s assurance that I had nothing to worry about, that there would be many iterations before anything was finalized.  Plenty of opportunity to change.  Or so I was led to believe.

And here’s where the advice part of today’s Guide comes in.  (You were wondering, weren’t you?)  To make the most of your editorial experience, darlings, keep the following in mind:

  1. Make sure your final draft really is the best it can be. Even after its been out with all of the alpha and beta readers and tweaked profusely, leave it sit for several months (at least three) and then go back for a “final” edit before you hand it over to your editor.  You’ll be surprised at what you find.
  1. When you get the first draft back from the editor, here is yet another chance for you to look over the whole of the text, not just the bits they marked in red in track changes. Your eye is  tricked into addressing these obvious problems, not realizing that every time you send this thing back in, your window narrows for other changes not first flagged, excepting of course obvious spelling issues or typos.
  1. Reading the pre-ARC version is definitely not the time to read for content and flow of dialog. They do not like making those types of changes at this stage in the game, and in fact they seem irritated when you suggest it.  When you attempt to defend yourself by saying that you thought you had a lot of chances to change things, they remind you that these sorts of things should have been done pre-submission or definitely during the first-round of editorial drafts, not now, for God’s sake.  Further attempts at defending yourself by saying that your eye was tricked by the red markings will not go far with them, either.
  1. Do not allow them to slash your book so that it is less than 80,000 words because this is where they predict the market is going. Stick to your guns.  You’re allowed up to 120,000 words, so use them if you want to.  (More on this next week.)

My overall advice, then, dear readers, is not to wait until the last minute.  Once the editor is on board, things move quickly, so be ready!  Don’t get caught with your proverbial pants down.