Sunday, May 19, 2013

Revising . . . and More Revising

A few posts back, Laura brought up the touchy subject of self-publishing. She noted pros and cons, and mentioned that she had read some stinkers that were self-published as well as some great books.  My experiences have been about the same. I was recently at a book signing where the person next to me had self-published a children's book that was so horrific it was embarrassing to the publishing world. I have also read some interesting ones where talent shown through. The biggest difference I perceive between self-publishing and working through a publishing company (whether large or small, print or electronic) is at the editing and revision stages. These stages are crucial and time-consuming, and even though I have written over sixty books and too-many-to-count articles/stories, my first and second manuscripts still go through many rewrites based on input from many voices. So in my opinion all authors, no matter how polished and accomplished, must get feedback from other professionals (ie: not your mother or your kids) in order to make sure the finished product is the most exciting, the cleanest and the best it can be.

My Toughest Critic 
Revising and editing are two different things, and both must be on target to make a book shine. My American Girl books are strictly checked by professionals in the field (a dive instructor for a dive book, a veterinarian for a mare/foal book, a dog sledding trainer for Bound for Snow, etc) as well as my editor and the team of editors she works with. Multiple eyes first check plot lines at the outline stage and then again at the first draft along with timing, word-choices, descriptions, plausibility, facts --well, you name it, it's checked. After this exhaustive stage, the same team checks spelling, commas, grammar and all the  little things that make for a polished manuscript.

The Peachtree books are historical so facts are checked and verified. Dialect is considered. How much? How little? Story vs reality is carefully tweaked. My editor has been in the business forever and does the first read-through. After I make revisions based on her comments, the manuscript is then sent to a professional editor who checks EVERY fact.  And I mean "every."
I tried to download a sample page from a first draft that was Christmas tree bright with cross-outs and comments, but blogger did not like it. So you'll have to take my word for it -- the revising stage is work.

The art is also carefully scrutinized. This is the second cover attempt by the exceptional artist Michael Montgomery for the book I have just finished revising. The first cover was too static and Darling too small. This version we all liked except Darling was slightly changed for a final version after I mentioned that all I saw was the dog's "teeth." I also comment on the American Girl art. In the upcoming book Change of Pace, I caught incorrectly held reins and kayak paddles. Both would have been big 'oops' if they hadn't been caught by someone.

I have been publishing since 1984 (wow, am I ever old) and have been lucky and honored to work with incredible editors through a long career. Many of them I am still working with! So in my experience, it doesn't matter if a book is self-published or published by a big house; what does matter is if the book is the best it can be. And in my case, that takes a team of professionals working together to create a top-notch product.

How do you handle revising? What have been your own experiences?


Laura Crum said...

Mine have been a lot like yours, Alison. However I never turned my books over for revising until they were (in my eyes) as done and as polished as I could get them. So nobody gave input at the rough draft or outline stage, though I always presented a brief synopsis at the point the publishing company agreed to buy the book. Once the manuscript was submitted my editor (who was one of the most respected in the mystery field) would make suggestions for major revision if she saw something that needed revising, so in those cases it was back to the drawing board for a big rewrite. Once the editor liked the book, the copyeditor took over, and yes, I have gotten manuscripts back with that "Xmas tree" look, due to corrections and suggestions. Once the whole thing was cleaned up, then came the proof reading. And oh yes, hashing out the cover.

I agree with your points. If self-published authors take care to hire excellent editors and artists, they can be as professional (in many ways) as traditionally published authors. But it's kind of hard for me to believe that an editor who is hired by the author can demand a truly MAJOR rewrite and make that stick--which (as I know you know) an editor who works for a publishing house can (and will) definitely do.

Gayle Carline said...

I can speak to being a self-published author and here is my motto: I have to have the heart of an artist and the head of a CEO.

If I'm writing books to sell to people, my books are my business. That means I hire a designer for my book covers, and I hire a professional editor, AND I send out my manuscripts to beta readers. Can my freelance editor DEMAND I change things? No. But I'm paying him/her a chunk o'change for their expertise and I'd be a fool not to take it.

I know there are lots of writers out there who are good with the potential to be really good, and that many of them are impatient to let their stories loose upon the world. I don't want to have to say this, but (IMHO) if you can't afford a GOOD editor and a GOOD cover designer, you can't afford to self-publish. It is an investment in your business.

TBDancer said...

Having worked as both editor and writer, I find I like the editing process better (working with something other than the "blank screen" or "blank page"--back in the day).

About 10 years ago I was a member of the Mystery Writers of America and was asked to be on a committee to select the Best First American Mystery Novel. There were five or six on the committee and we each received dozens and dozens of books, some submitted by publishing houses (those were the BIG boxes) and others submitted by self-published "authors."

As you say, Alison, some of those books were so bad they were unreadable. At one point our "committee mass emails" included complaints about having to read these books. The chair of the committee said MWA was considering banning self-published books from future competitions.

I wasn't in favor of "throwing out the baby with the bathwater" because a couple of the books I liked (and that made the top 10 at the end of the contest) were self-published and were very well written and designed.

I am clueless about book design and would definitely hire a professional for that aspect of any book I self-published.

I agree with Gayle, too. Heart of a CEO!

Alison said...

Interesting points from Laura, Gayle and TBDancer. I agree with all three of you that writing the best book is a 'job' as well as a creative endeavor. I hope we hear comments from more folks as well.