One of the questions I'm asked most frequently is this: "Just what is the process a book goes through while being published?" I think many are curious about this because very little has been written about what happens in the process after a writer, either literally or symbolically, writes "The End" at the conclusion of the manuscript. What happens between "The End" and when the book hits the shelves is actually a very interesting journey.
I thought I'd take a few minutes this morning to talk about the part of this process where I am right now. My publisher liked the manuscript for my next book: Ain't No Harm to Kill the Devil: The Life and Legend of John Fairfield, Abolitionist for Hire. So, the first thing a writer waits for is the official approval of the manuscript by the publisher. Publishers have many options when the manuscript comes to them. They can say "We like it," or "We like it, but we'd also like to see some changes/revisions," or "Sorry, we don't think we can use this" -- and several other responses, to varying degrees, along that scale as well. Once they say they like the manuscript, a very interesting process begins. Editors read through the manuscript carefully and, even for the very best of writers (which I'm not!), start marking words, sentences, paragraphs, passages -- all places where they feel changes might be in order. Most editors do not do this with an iron fist. That is, these "suggestions" are made, but the writer can discuss these areas with his/her editor if the writer believes the change is not necessary or believes the suggestion might be altered in some way. At this point of the process, even though it is might tough to do, a writer has to put as much ego as possible aside and listen to the editor. After all, the editor has a completely different perspective (and an objective one), and I do have to admit my editors have been right in what they have suggested at least 99% of the time. As a matter of fact, the only times I've really *fought* to keep things in the manuscript were when I felt making a change would influence how characters were presented (which is of vital importance in nonfiction writing). As fate would have it, I went to visit my publisher a few weeks back to talk about my next book project. While there, my editor was at a point with my upcoming manuscript (the Fairfield book) where we could actually sit down next to each other and go through some of the changes that were being suggested. This was so much fun for me I can't even begin to describe it. First of all, I have what I consider to be the best editor ever, Rosemary Yokoi. If there is a more talented person in that field, I've never met him or her. In my book, Rosemary is Tops! As we sat there and dug through her recommendations, I started to see just how *many* perspectives an editor must have all at one time: what will make the book better/easier to read, what can be chopped because it really doesn't help carry the narrative, which words are not true to the era being written about, what will help the book be more marketable, and so on. While keeping all these balls juggled in the air, the editor also has to deal with the often fragile ego of the writer. Side note: A long time ago, when I turned in the manuscript for Inman's War, I ended a chapter with a page of description and narrative that I thought was the best thing I had ever written in my life. When I finished that page, I remember sitting there and saying to myself, "Wow -- that's really awesome!" Well, about two months later when my editor sent me the manuscript with suggestions written on it, one of the suggestions was to get rid of that page! At first I couldn't believe it. After all, I believed it to be the best section I'd ever written. However, the more I looked through the editor's rationale for getting rid of those paragraphs, the more I could see the other side -- which was that this section was "too sentimental" for this point in the narrative. So, out this section went -- and the book was much better for it. Sorry -- I digress....... After sitting with my editor for a couple of hours a few weeks back to dig through the Fairfield manuscript, we covered most of the major changes that were being suggested. The next part of the process will now begin tomorrow. I just received word the "proofs" of the manuscript will arrive to my mailbox tomorrow afternoon. I'll then have just over a week to go through the manuscript to make sure I'm fine with the changes that we've made --and to read through the whole manuscript (from beginning to end) again to make sure no glitches have happened. I've had books in the past where words and sentences were accidentally left out of the manuscript at this point in the process -- and nobody caught these. I'm not sure there's much more that makes a reader irritated than when this happens. So, it is really looking at the manuscript with a microscope to make sure all is as it should be. I'll write more about this process later in the week as I dig through the proofs. For a writer, this is most typically a very enjoyable part of the process -- and a very necessary "bridge" in getting the book into the hands of readers.
One last note today: I've been pretty darn ill of late (respiratory infection). One day, just to get out of the house, I went to Elephant Rocks in southern Missouri. During the Ice Age, massive granite boulders were rolled to this specific area. Today, this area is known as Elephant Rocks because the rocks are so huge -- and, from a distance, it really does look like a group of elephants roaming through the landscape. It is a fun place to climb on the rocks and walk the trail surrounding them. I'm attaching a picture so you will be able to get an idea of the size of these "elephants."
More soon...... Take care -- and have a wonderful day!