Tuesday, March 28, 2006

What Turns Around, Comes Around

(NOTE: The following is a memoir and as such is told using lies, misinformation, faulty geography, and plain BS. Dialog has been invented and obscenities added for greater dramatic purposes. The moral compass is pointed in a southerly direction to Rebecca Woolf, novelista and mom and blogger at www.girlsgonechild.blogspot.com, who hassled me about not posting more regularly. Thanks for the kick in the pants, GGC.)

Once a manuscript is sent to the publisher and put on schedule with an editor and designer, the best a writer can do is forget about it. You’ve done your job. The pages take their place in line behind the daily emergencies of squabbles with printers, writers not as cool as you, and office flu epidemics. Let’s avoid mention of the staff trying to maintain personal lives outside the business.

I forgot about DOG WALKED and dived into the deep end of the freelance pool. Kate had a novel without a title, Rebecca was going through a complete rewrite on hers, and Doug needed another run at his dialogue. Everyone had billable hours and paid promptly, bless them. Then the UPS man rang the intercom in December with a box from the publisher. I let the package sit for a week before fumbling at the strapping tape with a box cutter. Being edited is different from editing. In my early days as an editor I had a manuscript returned from the writer with “WRITE YOUR OWN F**KING BOOK” scribbled along the margins, and the outrage sparked by asking politely for active instead of passive sentence construction. Like I would be as creepy.

In the July 2005 issue of WRITER’S DIGEST, there is an article by Jenna Glatzer about receiving the publisher’s edited manuscript, “Nice Work-Just Change Everything.” Glatzer recommends to find a fume friend, back away from the manuscript, know the red ink means an editor cares, start simple, prioritize your arguments, compromise, keep a happy file, and picture the rainbow. I’d be damned if I would picture the rainbow. Cynthia Frank had been kind enough to include an Omron HEM-432C manual blood pressure monitor, complete with four AA batteries. I slipped on the cuff and squeezed the inflation bulb until the numbers appeared in the LCD display. My systolic pressure was 120 and diastolic at 80. According to the instruction booklet, these were swell numbers. I read my edited manuscript and by page five the numbers shot up to 140/90 and stayed there.

Where did those contractions come from? What about the dippy formatting, quotes shoved into italic, sentences combined and truncated? The editor was wrong, I was an idiot, the world was a horrible place, and I had no right to a pen, never mind a word processor. How much of a disaster had I gotten myself into? Glatzer said I should have a fume friend. I called Mr. Detroit.

“This is a complete unmitigated disaster, my fault and their fault, and I’ll never get work again. Desolation! Horror! Vicious fate!”

“I’ll jump in here and guess who. Sal?”

“The book is royally boogered!”

“Stop with the exclamation points. Pop volume 27 of BRAZILIAN DEBUTANTES into your DVD player. The corsets will calm you down.”

The much-appreciated corsets failed but Cynthia Frank came through. She told me what I told writers: If you disagree with an edit, change the damn thing and quit your unseemly whining. Her in-house editor had actually used a very light hand. I spent four days with the manuscript and corrected my mistakes, especially the convoluted sentences knocking around the furniture like a child’s balloon freed from its knot. The editor is the first audience for a book. He or she comes to the manuscript as a stranger and if the writer’s argument is muddy when clarity is needed, the writer needs to shut up and listen.

Anyone who edits themselves has a fool for an editor, regardless of those nifty books about self-editing. I also should have had a book midwife to call with my panic instead of bothering Mr. Detroit and the publisher. No one is exempt from overreacting to the publishing process, not even me. Systolic pressure is now down to 130 with no hope of going lower until DOG WALKED is in print.

NEXT: Covering the Cover and Worrying Over the Title


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought I was the only one tempted to use my Waterman to slice my wrists upon receiving my copy-edited manuscript.First glance made me wonder if Brady Kahn had used a leaky red pen.

After the panic and fainting spell mostly passed, I began to read her carefully chosen comments. Damn if she wasn't correct in every instance. I wanted to dedicate the book to her. Brady was thanked in the acknowledgments. Must be weird to be reviled then adored in every project.

2:21 PM  
Blogger GIRL'S GONE CHILD said...

My editor is a real piece of work. OY VEY.

5:04 PM  
Blogger Sal Glynn said...

Watch it, GGC. I read these things.

8:53 AM  
Blogger GIRL'S GONE CHILD said...

kee, hee hee.

11:06 AM  

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