Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Being Edited

I just got my edits back from my publisher, and it is taking me a few days to wrap my head around them.

The edits aren't major, but they do involve cutting some of my darlings--namely, jokes.

I HATE cutting humor. It's what makes my books different from most of the other thrillers out there.

But if humor gets in the way of the suspense, or of the story, then a cheap laugh isn't worth losing the suspension of disbelief.

That's what I'm trying to convince myself.

Being edited is very much like the stages of death. Let's recap:
  1. Denial - This isn't my book that's been cut to pieces, and I can't really be expected to make these ridiculous changes.
  2. Anger - How dare my editor think that this book is anything but pure gold? She's out of her mind.
  3. Bargaining - Okay, I'll cut these two pages, but let me keep the dog poop reference.
  4. Depression - I can't stand it, my book is being ruined. I can't face making these changes.
  5. Acceptance - Fine. I did everything you asked. And it turns out you were right all along.

I'm just getting over the depression phase, and am trying to work my way through the suggestions.

For those who have never been professionally edited, here's how it works. You get your manuscript back covered with red ink, and are expected to attend to every detail. In some cases, the editor tells you how to fix it (punctuation, grammar). In other cases, she offers 'suggestions.' They aren't really suggestions--they're expectations--but she'll suggest solutions to the proposed changes.

The hard part is when one thread gets pulled and the whole blanket unravels. One change can effect the story globally, causing ramifications later in the book that also need to be changed, which causes more problems, and so on.

In DIRTY MARTINI I've been advised that there is too much action in the first two days of the story, and it should be extended to three days. But when I do that, it throws off the whole timeframe, and I need to juggle scenes, write new scenes, and rewrite a lot of stuff.

I'm doing it, but it isn't a quick fix (like cutting jokes--but that really isn't a quick fix either because I languish over each cut.)

I'm sure I'll be thrilled with the end result--I always am. But plastic surgery is always painful, even if you look better after it is over.

So, I'm through whining, and I'm going to get these changes done right now.

Well, maybe one more day of whining first...


Adam Hurtubise said...

That was a fun read, Joe. But I think it needed more conflict.


Erica Orloff said...

You have my sympathies.
With me, I hate parting with curse words. The nastier they are, the more I hate to part with them. My editor knows in my mob books, these guys aren't wimps--the f-word is like breathing to them. But then she thinks I'm getting crazy out-of-hand. And then I'll use something particularly nasty or have a clusterf*** of curses . . . or . . . or . . . and the red pen starts. Much to my grief, depression and the various stages you describe.
I think a martini is in order.

Christine said...

Uh, yes, the dreaded edits. You know you thought you killed all the darlings before the evil, evil editor got his grubby little hands all over it.

'It's ok, baby, everything will be all right,' you say, smoothing the manhandled pages. 'Did that nasty editor scare you? I promise I won't let him chop you into a million little pieces.'

Oh, wait, bad James Frey reference. Sorry, didn't mean it.


Anonymous said...

Just be thankful you have rewrites and edits to do, some poor bastards er, can I say that on a blog? Er, too late. Some poor sods never get there, the edit stage I mean. I know my first time was like 'you have got to be kidding me right?' but, apparently, they weren't.

Have fun and, can't wait to read a book.

Unknown said...

Thank GOD for editors... when you have trouble drowning your darlings, the editor takes out a gun and shoots them while they're getting into the bath.

Bernita said...

Fun, fun, fun...'til the editor takes your T-bird a-waaay, huh?

Bernita said...

Please pardon an ignorant question.
Does the editor explain why certain changes should be made?
Or is it expected to be obvious?

Mark Terry said...

The best advice I've ever read about dealing with editing was Michael Crichton, who commented that sometimes you have to figure out where the editor's coming from. A comment, for instance, like: "I think the main character should be a woman," might actually mean, "I think the main character should be a little softer."

In your case, I would guess, "You need to cut some of these jokes," might actually translate to: "I don't think they're funny." Or, "The tone is all over the board, so I'm trying to rein in the humor because it's such a dark story."

WannabeMe said...

"But plastic surgery is always painful, even if you look better after it is over."

Not unless you're Joan Rivers.

Okay, that was a cheesy joke, couldn't help it.

Anonymous said...

I'm weird this way. I love working with an editor, and if I get very few things to change in the editorial letter (which happened with my last book), I tend to panic and think that obviously, nobody was paying any attention to it. Because obviously, I'm not that good.

And yes - like you, the few things (4 or 5, at most) I had to change primarily involved some humor. I do think that humor has to be accessible, character-driven and not too jokey, and I appreciate having someone who reigns me in. I learned long ago that not everybody laughs at my jokes.

Jude Hardin said...

Just be thankful the edits aren't too severe, Joe. Regarding my first novel, I've been told by two industry pros (an editor in Tampa and an agent in New Mexico) that the protagonist isn't likeable enough and the reason she gets involved in solving the crime isn't believable enough. How do I fix that? I can't. It's unfixable, short of starting from scratch. I'm not interested in self-publishing or POD publishing, so I've decided to shelve the manuscript and chalk it up to a learning experience. I've gotten some good feedback from some pro writers on the manuscript I'm working on now, though, so maybe I'll have better luck with it.

Anyway, cheer up. At least your repairs are fairly minor.

I think editing is a good thing. Just remember that everyone involved wants to release the best book possible. Those big name bestsellers who refuse to be edited--I think their work suffers for it.

Anonymous said...

This is from a post on my blog last week. I would feel better if like Joe I was published and asked to make these changes.

So how are things going with your Agent or Editor or What's a Writer to do?
Ever had one of those weeks? two of those weeks, three of ....

Agent-The young officer that gets injured, can you eliminate the main character and make him your protagonist instead?
Editor-I love the older cop angle, everything today is slanted towards youth.

Editor-I think you have nailed the terrorist mindset!
Editor-Can you tell the story more from the terrorist perspective?
Agent-Can you show more feelings on behalf of the terrorists?

Agent-I really like the seemingly unconnected murders and the tension that they build!
Editor-Can you perhaps do away with a couple of the murders?

Editor-Your main plot theme of the attack is brilliant very unique!
Agent-My biggest issue is with the main attack it caused me to sigh somewhat in disbelief.

Editor-The part with the young officer is very suspenseful I squirmed as I was reading it!
Review-One undiscovered helicopter-crash victim's survival made me groan but Clackson stays well within the bounds of wide-eyed anticipation

Review-In a way, one can believe that terrorists must think in these black-and white terms otherwise they could not continue through with their tasks; tasks they believe are blessed and directed by god.
Editor-Do you really think that the terrorist are that single minded with their only purpose to inflict damage?

Review-There are a couple of delightfully unexpected plot twists. One is a romance angle involving the terrorists.
Editor-The part with the two terrorists romantic involvement didn't work for me and can maybe be taken out?

Note: as of this posting I still haven't signed on with an Agent or Publisher.

HawkOwl said...

There there. There there.

Honestly, I don't read your genre much, but when I do, the FIRST thing I notice is the grotesque density of really bad "jokes." Every line of dialogue and a great deal of the rest is littered with quips that a) aren't funny and b) don't ring true. I can't stand that stuff.

Swears on the other hand... There is no such thing as too much cussing. Cussing is waaaaaayyyyy more realistic and to the point than humour. I swear when I talk and I swear when I write. In fact, at work, as long as stick with the f-word and nothing worse, it's not even considered "swearing." And I'm not even bad. I used to date a guy who swore in the shower.

Mmmmm... Swears... I think I'll go swear for a while.

Anonymous said...

It's almost like you slapped that story together at the last minute before deadline, Joe!

Anonymous said...

I often feel it would be easier if editors instead used a nice green to edit. That way the manuscript doesn't look like it's bleeding to death for no apparent reason. Then I wonder if that would spark some kind of Pavlonian response, causing me to have a breakdown every time I saw a shrub.

Good luck with the revisions. Take all the time you need to wallow. You deserve it if you've been asked to remove mention of canine feces.

JA Konrath said...

Maslow again.

Of course it's better to be edited than not ever published, but priorities change as life changes.

I used to beg the universe for a book deal. I thought I'd be fully acheived as a human being if I saw my book in a library. And I was. For a while.

The need for more is innate, genetic. We seek comfort, and try to distance ourself from pain. And both comfort and pain are relative.

Anonymous said...

It's almost like you slapped that story together at the last minute before deadline, Joe!

Where can we buy your book? And how long did it take to write?

Jude Hardin said...

I know, for first time authors, revision suggestions are sometimes made by the agent before the manuscript is ever submitted to editors.

Once you have a multibook deal, does the manuscript bypass the agent and go straight to the editor? Does the agent even read it before it's sent out?

Just wondering.

JA Konrath said...

My agent reads everything, and makes suggestions before the editor sees it.

I'd be wary of agents that didn't do this.

Anonymous said...

...Where I used to work (at a large nonfiction publishing house), we used a pale green copy-editing pencil on the old-fashioned "plates" because the printing press would ignore those editing mark-ups. But those marked-up plates were never sent back to the authors. On desktop-publishing printouts--yeah, we used red. And they did look bloody-ugly when they were cut up real bad! I'm not sure if those were sent back to the authors--I believe some were, some weren't, but they were probably sent back in final, not-marked-up form. I'm also not sure if those we-saw-our-galleys authors had any real say at that point....

Because I sat on the other side for years, other people possibly editing my work doesn't bother me that much. I usually like getting constructive feedback. However, I wouldn't accept an extensive edit with someone else's text added in--I'd want to change the text myself if I agreed it needed changing. To be honest, I wouldn't accept any edit I didn't agree with--screw that! I'd want at least some final say in what goes to print. I've seen one-too-many manuscripts go to press with mistakes introduced by the editing process itself, and I think authors probably feel that stuff even more than editors (though, wow, it's embarrassing when you're sitting on the other end too).

Most writers don't seem to work extensively on more than a few written works at one time. Editors can be working on a dozen or more at once, like at the end of a quarter; it's easy to miss things then. And every time editors make changes, they risk introducing new mistakes into a manuscript, especially if that manuscript must go through other departments to add the edits. You reach a point where you have to accept a certain amount of minor mistakes; at least the place I worked at had an unwritten "acceptable mistake" policy.

Eh, I really think written-work creators should always have a final say, but whether that actually happens often depends on particular publishing contracts; some writers never see their galleys. I'm a hard-ass: I wouldn't accept that kind of situation--not that it matters because no one's offered me any "situation."

Anyway, I like this quote and think it's very appropriate to this discussion:

"No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft." --H.G. Wells

Anonymous said...

The good thing about editors, though, is that they tell you what they think you should do, and then you go do it, and it becomes yours, and pretty soon you're actually happy about it.

Most of the time.

I had an awful experience with a legitimate publisher. I had a good editor (male) for my first book with them. I got the galleys for the second book the day after Christmas, and started reading through them. (They didn't send me a copy edit.)

Someone had rewritten a large part of the book in their own words! And they weren't words that were anywhere near as good as mine.

I fired off a scathing email to my editor, and said no copy editor should take it upon themselves to change an author's words.

My editor then informed me that he no longer handled me, and I'd been orphaned to this other editor (male--although you wouldn't know it for all the romancey euphamisms he used in my book). It was the editor who did this to my book.

He passed on the email to my new "editor" --and I use this term loosely-- and I had to work it out with him. I tried to be really nice about it, because being nasty wouldn't net me a thing. We spent five hours on the phone going back and forth over every thing he changed. I won most, but lost some. It was soul-deadening.

I wish I could have bought the book back, but I'd already spent the pittance of an advance.

This editor is still out there, and he's well-known.

I dare not tell you what I really think of him.

Jude Hardin said...

Thanks Joe. I've heard about some agents who DON'T read their published authors' work before it goes out.

Many first-time authors are so thrilled with any offer of representation that they fail to do any research before signing on.

Before signing with an agent, I think it would be wise to contact a few of that agent's clients to get positive and negative reviews. No representation is better than bad representation, in my opinion.

Anybody out there with agent-related horror stories they'd like to share?

Anonymous said...

Boy, it's my day for horror stories, Jude.

After years of fruitlessness, I decided to start over and find a new agent. I hadn't heard from my agent for probably six months. I sent her a certified letter severing our relationship, very nicely worded, not her fault, all of that. It was sent back; no known address. I sent another one, got that back, too. You'd assume an agent would leave a forwarding address, wouldn't you?

So I had to leave a message on her voicemail.

Although we'd worked together for years, and a lot of that was based on loyalty (I thought), she didn't bother to call me back.

Easy come, easy go!

Adam Hurtubise said...

I can only talk about a good relationship with agents, Jude. My agents are fabulous.

They're the same as Joe's.


Rob Gregory Browne said...

I guess I was lucky in this regard. I truly dreaded the editing phase, then discovered that my editors (US and UK) weren't asking for nearly the amount of changes I expected.

Very little, in fact.

Now I'm about to get the copy edited draft and I'm dreading that. Hopefully, I'll be pleasantly surprised again.

Anonymous said...

I should say that I have a great agent and a great editor now.

My editor has never asked for many changes, and most of them were small things that could be changed with a couple of sentences or an extra scene.

So all's well that ends well (even though I'm probably in the middle).

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

Your allowed to whine........time up...get over it, and just make the book greatER!!!

Jude Hardin said...

"The edits aren't major, but they do involve cutting some of my darlings--namely, jokes."

I love dark humor. As an RN, making light of some really horrifying situations is critical to keeping your sanity. I suspect the same is true for law enforcement officers. The thing is, people outside the profession either don't get the jokes or they think the jokes are cruel. If your protagonist makes a joke that appalls Jack Reader, then you've lost a bit of sympathy for your protag--a risky thing to do.

Jokes are okay in moderation, but many times I pass over them as quickly as I would a passage of gratuitous description. More often than not, jokes just aren't that engageing.

Here's a real-life example from my life as an RN:

Nurses give medications 24 hours a day. Every patient has a Medication Administration Record (commonly referred to as a MAR), where delivery of ordered drugs is documented around the clock. We carry a hard copy of this document, and at the hospital where I work the nurses are required to sign the backs of them. The backs are waxy and slick, and many ball point pens fail to make the required imprint when signing. A while back, another nurse asked me if I had a pen that would write on MARS. "No," I said. "But I have a pen that will write on Uranus."

You could set up a situation in a story and get a few chuckles from that. But that isn't the kind of humor that works for me in fiction. The kind of humor that works for me in fiction comes from characters' reactions to extreme and absurd predicaments.

Can anyone name an author who has made you laugh until you cried?

I can name a few:
Flannery O'Conner
JD Salinger
Mark Twain
Stephen King

I'm sure there are many more I can't think of at the moment.

"Wait a minute," you say. "Those authors don't tell jokes in their stories."

Precisely my point.

I think characters' reactions bring on belly laughs.

Not jokes.

Joe, your plumbing problem a while back made me laugh until I cried. That's because I could imagine your incompetence in that desperate situation. I could see it.

I can recognize a joke as being very clever and appreciate the humor behind it, but it still won't make me laugh. Only true character development, followed by action and reaction, is universally humorous in fiction.

I have to agree with your editor, Joe. The setups and the one-liners need to be toned down. I can see, from a real-life perspective, how Jack and her colleagues might engage in such banter; but, from an editorial standpoint, I can see how that banter might turn some readers off.

Now, I could tell you about the rollicking good time I had one night playing practical jokes with a forgotten prosthetic leg, but I think I'll save it for my next story...

Jude Hardin said...

PS: If anyone wants a good laugh at Joe's expense (about the plumbing episode), read the comment section under the blog post NO VACATION FOR YOU.

It's one of the funniest things I've ever read.

Anonymous said...

I empathize with you on the humor removal. Your quick wit is an integral part of the picture. I use lots of humor in my writing and it's a constant struggle between the quick comic aside and digressing so far as to lose or confuse the reader. Some jokes lend themselves to a bit of a "side-stage rant" and take on a life of their own. I'm thinking if this is an editor you respect and trust, you should tone it down a bit. But, fight for the ones that really sing to you. It's your unique voice, after all.

Bestselling Author, Pontif. said...

Come on, are NOT always thrilled with the end result and you know it.

I know I'm not. You just accept the end result. You get over it, but you're not necessarily thrilled about it. I still remember the toughest edit I ever swallowed. It was a scene I fell in love with the minute it was down on paper, but my editor at the time thought it was unnecessary! Go figure. I'm still fuming about that least whenever I think about it. (grin)