Saturday, August 11, 2012

My first book-editor experience

by Rudy Ch. Garcia

You're at a writers' conference and you finally get to ask your question--what was it like working with your first editor?--and the panelists give you some minutes and maybe a good story or joke and then they go on because there's lots of others like you and lots more questions. Below I relate more of the details you wish others had given.

I just finished four days on the first round of editor's mark-ups of my debut novel The Closet of Discarded Dreams. First came the dread, the dread of neophyte novelist anxious about what the editor will find! My description would be belied by Neil Gaiman, so I'll let him talk:

"The first problem of any kind of even limited success [RG-like first novels] is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It's Imposter Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.

Neil Gaiman

Imposter Syndrome induced by the Fraud Police, in my case, my first editor, who maybe carries her own titanium clipboard, razor-edged. Would she bust me for mediocre prose, cardboard characters and MIA plot points? Would she run to the BIG editor and threaten to resign if I wasn't reassigned to someone younger who hadn't earned their clipboard, yet?

In the real world, you can get busted by your story's editor. Earlier this year, one of my short stories came back ALL marked up, changed, critiqued, and probably had clipboard indentations that I didn't notice. At the end was a long note that described how many of the editor's hours and hours my weak writing had cost. I followed each of his notations and spent my hours and hours on rewrites, and to this date don't know if it will be published. So there.

Back to this editor-experience. I'm a fairly thick-skinned writer, given that it's gotten wrinkly, desiccated and flab-uloso, so the editor's comments, suggestions and questions don't bother much. There's chingos of them, but, really, I expected more, and worse. Like something the Fraud Police might say, like "This book sucks." But not this time.

When I was less experienced, and thinner-skinned, so many ideas from someone else about MY writing would probably have raised the hairs on the back of my neck, gotten me to pull my feet up onto the chair in dread, or maybe made me rise off the chair to pace the whole patio, exclaiming, "That's not how I wrote it!" But I have more experience now--especially the experience of countless form-rejection letters that didn't provide opportunities to improve my prose.

That's exactly the point of editing, no? I didn't write it that way and somebody else who's providing a different perspective is telling me maybe I should have written it differently. They're also giving me one last chance to change, improve it.

So I spent hours in four days running my editor's gauntlet. Could I make it? I went thru and took care of the easy stuff, mostly punctuation and realizing things like, "Oh, that's not what that word means, exactly?"

In the next round I dealt with more significant edit remarks in the realm of, "Think about changing this word/phrase/sentence/paragraph because . . ." I've heard other authors talk about having a good editor, or their editor catching errors that the author didn't. I get to realize what that means and I go with the flow. Mostly.

Then I'm done, but only with my editor's eagle-eye catches. I have one saving round yet to tackle: what did the editor, and me before that, miss that somebody should have caught? To salvage my POWER, CONTROL, PERSONAL WORTH and prove to the world that this is MY stuff. This sounds somewhat like a passage from The Closet of Discarded Dreams hero's suffering. It actually wasn't that melodramatic, but a bit of that sensation was there. And of course I do find stuff. And work into the late night, patio lights fixated on me, but my vision blurring from the moonlight, my wizard-brain and writer-soul in the flow 'cause this is what writers do, until it's . . . all . . . fixed. I gotta quit my day job! Oh, that's right--I don't have one!

Al final, I sent off the revisions yesterday. Await her final verdict. Hope it's close. Close to perfect is what some might wish for. I just want close to finished. Not because it's too boring or tiresome or demanding of a process. Because it's no different than raising a son or daughter, or a lot like putting the last layer of shellac on a carpentry project. I need to say Finis and let the work stand on its own two or four legs, as the case may be. A writer's passion is to write--not linger and lounge and homestead a work--and then move on to new writing.

At this point, initial reaction from the editor is very positive. I'll get finals back from her tomorrow. Then, in some days, BIG editor will go over it. And the last round will begin. That's what I get for writing a novel, no? For wanting el mundo to see it. Qué no? Plus, at least so far, it was a much less agonizing experience than I would have imagined.

Then I'll be ready for: What new thing should I start writing? So I can get edited, again. Esperamos. . .

Es todo, hoy,

Rudy Ch. Garcia's alternate-world epic recounts a Chicano's experience going through worse than his first editor, but maybe not as bruto as your own as a latino in Gringolandia. The Closet of Discarded Dreams will be released Sept. 1 But read this before you buy it.


sramosobriant said...

Writing is kinda like sex, it takes practice, and a little experimentation never hurts. Listening to criticism in both arenas ain't easy. I've gotten good advice and bad advice from editors. Some of it only made sense to me with the passage of time, and when I wasn't so emotionally invested in the project. I still might not write it the way an editor suggested, but inevitably I rewrite it into something better.

Anonymous said...

Why, Rudy, I do believe that’s the nicest compliment an editor can receive.

your editor

Anonymous said...

High-Ho, High-Ho, it's off to work I the literary mines. Careful...what you wish for.