Thursday, March 17, 2011

On Editors and My Submission to Writer's Digest Self-Published Awards

I don't let people read my writing.

I made the very rare exception for my husband after we'd been married for about a year. It was surprising, indeed, when I sent him the stories I was working on--chapter-by-chapter. But he was so encouraging and so helpful in helping me craft plots and scenes I felt the writing was really half his anyway. So it didn't feel so scary after a while, and I began looking forward to writing, partially so I could see his reaction as he read.

When I prepared to publish The Wrong Path, I was also planning to go it alone. Like I always do. But as the deadline I'd set for myself loomed closer, I went back and read The Quest of Dai: The Eroe and found myself growing sick. I'd actually published that? I'll tell you now: Dai in The Malo is nothing like Dai in The Eroe. I grew nervous. Agitated. Flushed at the idea of making the same mistake again.

So I put out the SOS for someone to review the The Wrong Path. I was scared. Petrified. What if no one wanted to read it? What if someone (besides me) read it and thought it sucked? What if there was nothing entertaining about the book? What if I failed (again)?

When not just one, but TWO wonderful people offered to be my editors for the book, I thought, "It has to be a sign. It's going to suck. They're going to hate it and rip it to shreds." And one of the girls who offered, I will tell you, (and I'm telling you now, Manda!) changed my life in more ways than I can actually write. I'm not just saying that because she's probably going to read this. I'm telling you because it's totally and completely true. She was my best friend at a crucial, life-changing time in everyone's life--their early teens--and she really did change me in so many ways. I was devastated when we lost touch, and astonished when we reconnected over a decade later. (The power of the internet? I think so!) And the other woman--well, you've probably all seen Jane's comments on my blog, and if you're smart, you'll have checked out her website and you know what an incredible and impressive person she is.

Probably needless to say, I was intimidated. But I sucked up all of my courage (and I'm not kidding, it really took all of my courage) and sent the manuscript on its way, begging for brutal honesty and terrified I was going to get it.

And I am so, so glad I did.

One paid very careful attention to my grammar and spelling (though I still don't understand why "pursed" isn't a word. I really don't.) and used track changes to point out parts of the story she liked. She fixed a sentence that has been plaguing me since I wrote the book but was so much in love with I couldn't bring myself to change. (She did.) I was giddy with delight and happiness when I read every comment and relieved when I read her edits. "Better," I thought to myself, "this is making the book so much better!"

The other edited mainly in content. I'll be honest--it stung every time I read what she didn't like about the book. The writer in me was indignant, but the reader in me was like, "Yes, of course that makes sense. She's absolutely right--this and this need fixing desperately." I had to step outside of the writer and say, "Will following the advice make things better?" And I had to agree, it would. Being inside the characters as you're writing does nothing for a reader. They're not in your head, are they? How are they going to know what was (or wasn't) motivating your character(s)? It was so wonderful to read the feedback, showing me how I could improve. How I could make it better. Things I never, ever would have thought of. I'm so lucky my begging for brutal honesty paid off!

I am so grateful, to both of you, for being so open and honest with me about your feedback. For telling me exactly what I needed to hear. It's actually a relief, oddly enough, to know how I can make the book stronger. What I need to do to make it more enjoyable. I cannot thank either of you enough!

My advice to writers? Get an editor. Seriously. Find someone willing to read your book(s) and read every word they come back with. If you're lucky, like me, someone will tell you what you really need to hear.

Now--on to other news... A long time ago, nearly a year, actually, I submitted The Eroe for the Writer's Digest Self-Published awards. (This was before I read it again and cringed with dread.) We were supposed to receive feedback in October, but it was around that time that mail was being stolen from the address I have all of my mail sent to, so I was sure it was one of the unfortunate pieces lost. "Maybe it's a sign," I consoled myself. "You probably wouldn't have wanted to read the review anyway..."

But I was cleaning out some old boxes from our move to our new apartment, and found a large envelope with my name on it. You can only imagine my astonishment when I opened it and found the rejection letter (oh yes, it was rejected) for the award. I shifted through the papers to see the "Participation Certificate" consolation prize, and under it, there it was. My review from a professional editor.

My heart sank into my chest. I sat down at the dining room table and slowly began to read.

"How would you rate this story on a scale from 1-5? (1 being poor, 5 being excellent)

Plot: 4
Grammar: 5
Character development: 5
Production quality and cover design: 4

Judge's commentary:
What did you like best about this book?
Congratulations on writing and publishing your novel! You have a very intriguing story here. Lots of great action and dialogue with a minimum of narration. Excellent character development. Lots of great details that make the scenes come alive for the readers. Good job with grammar, proofreading, and formatting of the book.

How can the author improve this book?
This is pretty long for a YA novel. You could split this into two novels with all this material. I'd like to see the cover image in this document."

18/20 points.

18. Out of 20. Points.

"This judge," I said to myself, gaping in disbelief, "is incredibly nice and generous." I re-read the comments from the judge. "Incredibly nice," I said to myself, still stunned. "Wow. Too nice. Is this a real review?"

I think I read it three times before I believed I was really staring at a review. Then I slowly set the paper down and finished cleaning the kitchen.

I showed the review to my husband, who cheered at what a positive review it was. I thought about the criticism. "Enough for two books," I mused. I grinned to myself. "Wonder what they would think about the latest revision?" (Wherein I've cut the book down by approximately 40,000 words.)

So. Do I feel motivated to write? Motivated to revise The Wrong Path per my wonderful editors? You bet. And who knows? There's always next year for the competition...