Edit Disasters and the Writers Who Cause Them (i.e., me)

Over on my Facebook author page, reader Susan Wachowski asked, “Any edit disasters after you turn in your manuscript?”

In my usual process—and mine is really the only one I know—there are several steps before a book reaches a reader’s hands. First I typically do at least three drafts, possibly more, before anyone else reads it. That can clock in about a half a million words total, and after that, you tend to lose your objectivity. Then it goes to my agent, and my editor.

Often, beginning writers seem to imagine an adversarial relationship between an agent or editor and a writer, one that often results in the author’s pure vision being compromised. That’s not how it works. Agents, editors, copy editors, and cover designers all work toward the same goal as the writer: to make the book the best it can be. And their fresh perspective on work that the writer may have lived intimately with for years is invaluable.

So, to Susan’s question about edit disasters.

Long Black Curl coverSometimes you just flat out get it wrong despite your best efforts. The third Tufa novel, Long Black Curl, was one of those instances. The final third of the original draft just didn’t work. My agent said so, my editor said so. Once I had a little distance from it, I agreed. The basic problem was that I tried to create an ending that was inappropriate for prose: it might have worked like gangbusters in a visual medium like the movies, or in the hands of a better writer. But the fact was I didn’t make it work, and ultimately couldn’t. So I had to throw it out and, essentially, start over.

And I had to do it quickly, because deadlines. Cover designers, printers, publicists, all expected the finished manuscript by a certain date.

So I dove in, rewrote and revised, taking another route to the climax I’d originally intended. This seemed to work well (and no reviewers mentioned any sense that the end felt stylistically different), and all concerned (including me) were pleased with the new draft.

However, in that sort of hurry, things can get missed. Sometimes big, glaring things.

In this case, I had two major characters meet for the first time . . . twice.

This error made it all the way through to the ARC stage, which are the copies sent out to critics so they can have their reviews written by the book’s publication date. Fortunately, my publisher included a note explaining the error, and it was fixed in the final book.

Long Black Curl audio cover(As an aside, I got a call from the audiobook narrator, Stefan Rudnicki, who was working from that ARC text, wondering very diplomatically if I realized I had the same characters meet for the first time twice. I assured him I did, and immediately sent him the corrected pages.)

So, yes, things happen. Editing mistakes get made. Printing mistakes get made. The novel you hold in your hand, although printed by machines, is in essence a handmade artifact, prone to the quirks and errors of all handmade things. No one makes those errors on purpose, but in a very real way, they’re part of the same process that creates all the best art.

I don’t beg forgiveness for these things, but I do ask for understanding. And I promise, we’re all trying to get it right.

TOMORROW: I talk about a recent time the editing process worked.

Thanks for the question, Susan!

2 Comments on “Edit Disasters and the Writers Who Cause Them (i.e., me)”

  1. Makes me feel more human as a writer and less of the robot. 🙂 I can imagine that reworking that much of a manuscript must have been a daunting task to face. Thanks for another writer’s tale!

  2. I self published an illustrated children’s book, and my daughter proof read it a week before the release date and noticed the pages were out of order. She was six or seven years old. I literally had to call and say, “Stop the press!” Reorganising the pages took about ten minutes, and tragedy was averted! By a seven year old.

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