Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Editing with Rachel: What Hills Would You Die On

I am currently working on the edits for The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder ( I never call my novel by its name, to the point where I was sure that I would forget the title when I was meeting people at ACFW last fall. I only call it Jem and Merinda.  So, you guys, I will probably refer to it as Jem and Merinda now and then ;) ) as well as starting the first novella in the series.   I have a really lovely editor who lives in Oregon where it is warmer than here and they like football ( two of the things of my limited Oregonian knowledge).  

I am quite excited/scared with edits because, even though I knew they were going to happen, they are still the BING BANG moment where you realize your little treasure book is open for scrutiny and change.  It is, for me, one of the moments where I was all: Rachel, this isn’t just a hobby you have fostered for 20 odd years anymore.  In the same way the first time you query an agent or send out a formal proposal is a major crossing step. You cannot go back.  All of these things are monumental.

I am also quite excited/scared because they are when I can prove myself to be an author that people want to work with. I know that my book needs work.  I didn’t send out a perfect manuscript. Indeed, I don’t think one exists.  I sent out a manuscript that was the best I could make it while relying on the potential and marketability I hoped people would see, and relying on the amazing feedback I got from my agent. Now I have the opportunity to prove that as an author, I am one of the best to work with.  I want to take feedback seriously and put it into action. I don’t want to nitpick. Also, relying on the feedback I got from the previous manuscript I sent on submission which didn't find a home ( and is not as fun as Jem and Merinda, so we are all good with this).  I want to be an author people want to work with because I want to have a long and illustrious career in the CBA.

Because I knew these deep thoughts  would happen and because I wanted a book contract and because I felt deeply about my story, I prepared.   In fact, I felt so deeply about certain aspects of the story, when it went out on submission I chose two hills I would die on. Even before I sent the proposal out.

For all authors writing all manner of manuscripts, these conditions might change.  But, I think authors should have them.  Editorial influence is wonderful and editors serve an amazing purpose: to help you finesse your story to be the best possible. Indeed, part of why I choose to continue pursuing traditional publishing is because I want the guidance of an editor who has my interests and my novel’s interests close at heart.   You see, the editor relationship is a symbiotic one…. They want you to succeed because they want to succeed. You want them to succeed because they are responsible for your little cherished book.

I am making some anticipated substantive edits to the manuscript that was submitted and contracted as we speak and yet, I am delighted because we are not approaching One of the Hills I Decided to Die On.

My Hills I Would Die On: 1.)  The main setting of the novel ( my detectives move around ) would be Toronto.   Not any city in America, no matter how that might have changed its chances in the US-centric CBA.

2.)My Ray must be a point of view character in some way shape or form.  (He wasn’t supposed to be but when I started writing, he started talking to me quite intrusively and became a very important part of the tone as well as the unofficial voice for the thousands of immigrants I refer to).

When I met with editors at ACFW and when I anticipated that the conversation might come up with my agent or editors, I made sure that I had a sound and eloquent argument for why I felt so strongly about these two integral points of the series.   I wouldn’t budge on these things to the point where if they became a condition with an editor, I would strongly consider not accepting an offer.

You might be thinking, “well that’s quite smug and self –satisfied, Rachel, what right have you to demand conditions?  You are not even published yet!” You are right, fair blog reader, but I assumed the right when I wrote the work.  They are important to me and I believe authors have the right to the integrity of their art.  Nothing outstanding or nothing that cannot be refined and heightened. My editor can help me work on my two hills to make them the best they can be, but they were hurdles I strongly considered not jumping, if the time came.

People who cherish their book to within an inch of its life so that they are not open to suggested changes are probably going to find it difficult to let their book go out into the traditional publishing world. There will be changes and there will be things that need to evolve so that you can learn and grow as a writer.  The way I see it, I am JUST starting to be a writer because I am just experiencing that which I have always wanted--- the guidance and suggestions of a professional editor.  I wanted to work with an editor as much as I wanted a book contract.  Because I want to see what I can do with another person’s input and invisible thumbprint.

Indeed, I was willing to consider some of the changes suggested by an editor who said interest might be heightened in my work if I were to do things different in certain ones ( ultimately, we were offered a contract before it came to that, but I take all of those notes to heart). I encourage writers who are pursuing the track of traditional publishing to consider what Hills They Would Die On, WHY, and if they are important enough to fight for if need be.  Being reasonable, being educated and being a professional doesn’t negate your need to assert what is unique and integral to your work.

Also, I never had to die on my hills so it turned out relatively easy for me ( AND FOR YOU WHEN YOU GET TO MEET RAY AND TRAVEL BACK TO EDWARDIAN TORONTO!!!)

Next time on Editing with Rachel:  remember all those passes you had (rejection is a bad word)? They had feedback, USE IT!

and the Time After That: writing the book you want to and not the book you think you have to!


Lori Benton said...

"I had a sound and eloquent argument for why I felt so strongly about these two integral points of the series."

Yes and yes. I had no cause to die on hills through the three content (substantive) edits I've done, because I could see the wisdom in even the biggest changes my editor suggested--and there were one or two doozies. There were also a few suggestions for changing relatively minor story elements I knew I couldn't go along with. Those suggestions alerted me to the fact I hadn't communicated their importance in the context of the story as I thought I had. So I refined them, gave them clarity and weight, then crafted that "sound and eloquent argument" for why those small elements needed to remain. The editing experience has caused me to look much more intentionally at my work than I had done before.

Rachel said...

I am loving this experience ---even at the very beginning; because now I am trying to look at my book even more from the outside-in than before :)

Unknown said...

"People who cherish their book to within an inch of its life so that they are not open to suggested changes are probably going to find it difficult to let their book go out into the traditional publishing world."

Amen, sister. :)

Weird, weird, WEIRD thing about me: I loooove editing. Perhaps it's just insecurity, but I'm constantly convinced my story needs help. I am confident in scenes and confident in characters, but my confidence about the overall story? Not so Maria Von Trapp-singing-through-the-streets-of-Saltzburg worthy. (Sound of Music reference for the win!)

For that reason, I crave the input of my editors. I'm blessed (as it sounds like you are!) with amazing ones. They've never asked me to do anything to the story I wasn't comfortable with. They want the story to be as great as I want it to be. And truly, I love the process. (Unless I'm crunched for time, then my lovey-dovey feelings fade.)

I'm rambling but all this to say, like you, I honestly can't think of more than one or two "hills I'd die on." In fact, as I read your post, at first I couldn't even think of a single one (except possibly if I would've been asked to nix a male POV--but I don't know why I would be asked that)...but then it hit me. The hill I'd die on: If I was asked to "alpha up" my men or "damsel down" my women. I love fragile and flawed heroes. I love strong heroines. I feel like a hero's strength shines through SO much more when we get to see his fragility and for heroines, their weaknesses or hurts are weightier when contrasted with their awesome strengths or sass or spunk.

So if I was asked to go a little more traditional in that respect, I might have troubles... :)

Lori Benton said...

PS: random Oregon fact. It is illegal to pump your own gas/petrol in Oregon.

Kara Isaac said...

I love what you said about the author/editor relationship being a symbiotic one. Like you, as much as I love my stories, I'm under no illusion that they are perfect or couldn't benefit from the well-honed eye of a detached professional. The idea of having that someone on your team who is just as vested in your book's success as you are makes me a little giddy :)

Am so looking forward to meeting the Bachelor Girls in 2016!

Gina said...

You are ANYTHING but smug and self-satisfied, my friend! :-) And you chose your hills wisely. Great post!