Gather around Little Ones, and let Thriller Guy tell you fantastical stories of days of yore, back when giant publishers ruled the vast book markets and special stores sold brightly colored paper objects stored on shelves and tables, where “readers” would stand happily thumbing through these objects, buying them and going home to spend hours in comfy chairs as time flew by. But how did these objects appear in the stores? Certainly not by magic, though it might have appeared so, no, there were hundreds of intervening steps that these publishing houses went through, painstakingly inching these books through a traditional pipeline that took eighteen months from the time the writer signed the contract until the books ended up on the shelves.
There were many people along the way who participated in the process. Some, like the sales department, were a pain-in-the-ass to deal with; they always had too much influence on the final product, influence that never related to sales, as far as TG could tell. The marketing department was always manned (womanned?) by an endless series of young women, all recent graduates of one of the Seven Sisters Colleges, all named Jennifer. (email: ”Hi, this is Jennifer, I’ll be handling the marketing for your book. We’re all really excited here and know that this is going to be a really fun project! I’ve attached a three hundred page questionnaire and we’d like to have it completed and back in a week. I know that’s pretty quick, but we just can’t wait to get started!”) Jennifer was always gone in six months, replaced by another Jennifer who would have the same in-house life span. Nothing good ever came from these Jennifers.
But many months after the project was turned in, the manuscript would be returned to you, the writer, and it would be marked up by the copy editor. These copy editors -- always young ladies in TG’s experience -- were brilliant. They would take your manuscript, which was shitty, you just didn’t know how shitty, and correct all your misspellings, typos, and ignorance, gently pointing out your stupidity, always in a pleasant manner, never accusing you of incipient moronness, and attaching a list of rules and suggestions at the end for future reference. TG always pictured them as looking like Audrey Hepburn, with or without the cigarette holder, curled up in a comfy armchair working on a pile of pages, your manuscript. TG loved these women. They made your writing sing. And now, alas, they’ve mostly all been let go by publishers, who suggest you hire one freelance and pay for it yourself. Unless you’re Stephen King, of course.
The thing is, this is very doable. There’s a bunch of really great copy editors and editors of all stripe out there, just waiting to take your manuscript under their gentle wing. Many of them used to work for big publishers and have now been “let go” because those same publishers are floundering around trying to figure out their own industry in the brave new world of the Internet. It was a stupid decision – fire everyone that doesn’t directly influence the economic stream of the best sellers they are looking for – but it doesn’t surprise me. When a person, or a business, is in trouble and in danger of dying, lots of stupid decisions are made.
I was reminded of this recently as I needed a good editor to copyedit the memoir I have been working on. I first put it up as a blog, and when the reception of the material was overwhelmingly positive, I decided to expand it into a regular book. I can stand to make some mistakes that aren’t totally egregious when (like this blog) I’m putting something on the Interweb for free, but when I ask folks to pay for my work I expect to give them clean copy. I found my expert, Bev Weiler, close to home, in that she had written me back when I put my last time travel book, TheTest of Time, up on Amazon. Bev is a fan of the series, and noted that while she liked the most recent entry she found there were plenty of mistakes in the copy. She suggested that in her free time she might go through and edit the book for me so the Kindle version and any later paper editions would be clean. I gratefully accepted her offer.
The copy she was referring to, The Test of Time, had been rewritten seven times, edited and copyedited by a number of my friends, and I still did not doubt that there were plenty of mistakes that made it through uncaught. Any writer will tell you that this is so in almost anything written for publication. And the longer the piece is, the more difficult it becomes to ferret the gremlins out. Here’s where you need a professional.
So, vowing that I would not send out another piece with errors, a hired Bev to do her professional magic on the memoir. An author can tell how good an editor is by how terrible they feel when reading the edited manuscript. Bev was brilliant, and I was the lowest piece of writing scum that was ever dragged inside on someone’s bootheel. I’m an idiot, a moron, a writer so pathetically inept I shouldn’t be allowed within ten feet of a keyboard. But Bev worked with the same patient, gentle demeanor of her clan, and fixed my book so I don’t have to be embarrassed about it when it comes out.
So here’s to you, Bev, and all your brothers and sisters toiling away out there, fixing the broken manuscripts, from the unreadable to the just-not-quite-right, with your quiet courage and steely resolve. May you and your tribe live long and prosper.
If anyone else out there wants to put up a product they can be proud of, even though they think that they can do the editing themselves, Bev can make you look really good. Send her an email – email@example.com. And stick a finger in the eye of Big Publishing when your book -- clean, sleek, error free -- sells a million copies.
(P.S., Bev, don’t bother copy editing this blog, it’s too late.)