I’m Peddling As Fast As I Can; Or, That Slice of Heaven-and-Hell Known as “Revisions”

For those who are wondering --- and I understand if no one is (it’s a big world; lotso other stuff about which to wonder): Yes, I’m still working on the manuscript, and yes, I’m almost finished. Truly. I am finally --- FINALLY --- down to the end.

As in: Stretch your arms as far apart as they’ll go. That’s where I started. Now hold your thumb and index finger as close together as you can without them touching. That’s where I am now.

Whew. And: YAY!

But: I’m currently at that almost-the-end stage of the process known as “revisions.”

Whenever a writer says “I’m revising,” those who work in the business (other writers, agents, editors, whoever) nod knowingly and say, with sympathy, “Ohhhh. Good luck!” Emphasis on the sympathetic tone of voice.  

For those who don’t work in the biz, revisions go like this:

First the writer writes the manuscript, in my case a 100,000-word piece of non-fiction based on five years of research. Said writer writes the whole damn thing: Introduction! Chapters! Epilogue if there is one!

And then emails her editor and says “Remember me? The history-of-meat person? I’m finished!” (*1)

And the editor says “Great! Send it along. Let me take a look.”

And six or eight weeks later, give or take a month or two, the editor calls or emails and says “Oh, this is such great stuff! Wow. I’m so impressed! But . . . .”

That’s the abracadabra, not-so-secret word that unlocks the gate that leads to hell: “But . . . .”

The editor articulates that “But” in the form of pages (and pages and pages . . .) of comments and notes --- always emphasizing what a trooper the writer is and what great work this is --- “But:

Please re-write the entire manuscript. And add a new first chapter, and I think the last chapter isn’t really the last chapter, so write a new last chapter.

And so, dear readers, the writer begins her descent into that small slice of hell known as Revisions.

Translation: My poor abandoned blog sits idle and neglected because I’m rewriting the entire manuscript and writing a new first chapter and a new last chapter, the latter of which will likely require still more research, all of which is driving me slowly but inexorably insane.

The good news, however, is that I’ve been revising since June and I’m now down to the penultimate chapter (I’ve always wanted to use that word but never had a reason to until now). Hooray!

But of course once  I've revised the entire manuscript (and written those two new chapters), I'll return to word one, page one and --- start over! This time in order to examine every. single. word. to ensure that all 100,000 are engaging and lively rather than stilted and dead. (*2)

And I need to have it finished by the third week of October because the house is putting together its catalog for Fall 2013, which is when my book will come out, and so the editor and the VERY IMPORTANT sales and marketing departments need to see the manuscript so they can add their two cents to the project because no book goes out without input from sales and marketing and that’s when titles get changed and the author doesn’t even know it until the book jacket design shows up in her inbox and she discovers that the title she slaved over no longer exists but hey that’s life and I’m not complaining. (*3) (*4)

So. That’s what I'm up to. I shall return.


*1:  Okay, hyperbole: My editor  knows who I am. I am extraordinarily fortunate to work with her. (See also *4 below.) She understands that long, complex pieces of work take, ya know, a long time to create.

*2: The payoff for this insanity is moments like this one: When the beer book came out in the fall of 2006, I did a ton of interviews (aimed at persuading people to read the book) and during one of them --- a hilarious phone sit-down with two beer guys ---- one of the guys said “Well, this wasn’t that hard, right? I mean, the story and facts were all there and all you had to do was write it down, right?” After I was through howling, first with laughter and then with tears, I knew I’d succeeded: If I made five years of blood, sweat, and lotsa tears look THAT EASY, well, by god, I’d done my job! (Because, in case you missed my point, neither the facts nor the story were “there.” I had to go find the facts [which took three or four years] and then make sense of them and then turn them into a “story” [which took another year or two].

*3: Which is why, ahem, this time around I came up with a blunt, straightforward title to which no one could object and which no potential reader could POSSIBLY misinterpret.

*4: Seriously. I’m not complaining. The self-publishing crowd thinks that traditional-publishing  dinosaurs like me should throw ourselves off the nearest tall building because it’s just SO EASY!! to crank out a book and whip up a digital file and put it on Amazon and make zillions of dollars and why would anyone want to deal with traditional publishing houses and editors because among other things traditional publishing just takes so. fucking. long. and why wait a year when you can publish an e-book RIGHT NOW?.

I disagree. Quality takes time. And in my case, a LOT of time because I do all of my own research and writing. I have no paid assistants. So there’s one benefit of traditional publishing: My publisher paid me an “advance” that, in effect, subsidized much of the cost of creating this book. (My beloved husband provided another chunk of “subsidy.”) But I also enjoy the input of a professional editor --- the one who read the manuscript said “Okay, it’s not bad but let’s make it better. Here’s how.”

The benefit of that extra set of eyes and perspective is, literally, priceless. Everything I’ve ever published has gone through the mind of an editor who marked it up in red pencil or digital “ink” and the work has ALWAYS, without exception, been improved immeasurably thanks to the editor’s input.

And yes, it increases the time needed to move a book from idea to published work -- not least because mine is not the only book coming out of the house. I have to wait my turn for the attention of the editor, the copyeditor, the jacket designer, etc. It’s worth it.