Right on schedule, my revision letter for Hugging the Rock arrived in my in-box yesterday afternoon. I read the subject line, opened it quickly to confirm that it was all about the revision process, and promptly closed it again. This was crazy. I already knew that my editor loved the book. I mean she bought the book so she must love it, right? But this was going to be all about changes, about changes that I might not agree with, about making my book a part of the Tricycle family, about taking it (I hope) to the next level from good to great.
What if I didn’t agree with her? What if I couldn’t do what she asked me to do? And, of course because I am paranoid worry-wart at times, what if they changed their mind and canceled the whole thing? Go ahead, laugh with me. All together now.
All those thoughts went through my head in a matter of seconds, but they were there just the same. More and more as I go through the publication process with this novel I realize the very obvious fact, a picture book is nothing like a novel. I’ve sold books before, to the trade market and to the educational market. I’ve been edited before. I feel like I’ve been in the business long enough to call myself a professional. I’ve sold 23 books between the trade and educational market and hundreds of articles. But this novel, (put your coffee down so you don’t spill it) this makes me feel like a REAL writer.
I’ve tried to pinpoint the various reasons I feel this way. Some of it is the fact that it is a novel and while I have sold novels before, it was nearly 20 years ago and the scenario was nothing like this one. Some of it is that the story is the most emotional that I have ever written. A lot of it is the editing. I have been lucky in that my picture books have been only lightly edited. My educational books less so, except for the last one on Robert Smalls. But there we didn’t really edit for plot because it was a true story based on a true event. We edited for content and to fit the structure of the series. My articles are edited but I have no input in it. I write them, send them in and they are edited and fact checked and I don’t see them again until they appear in print. But this is going to be very different. My editor and I really are a team working to create the best book possible. I understand now why writers extol their editors on the acknowledgments page of their books. I understand now when friends talk about how they had a great editor for such and such a book but a not so great editor for the next one. Because a good editor makes you think and guides your way to a better book.
Once I got past the initial apprehension I opened her email and read her comments. That she started off the mail praising me and the book went a long way toward helping me relax. (Hey, I’m very susceptible to praise, chocolate, a good margarita, and a foot massage.) Then I opened the attachment and scanned the first few pages. Okay. I can do this. I think. I printed out the whole book, curled up in the middle of the bed and read through. There were comments on just about every page but some of them were just kind words on the text. At the end of a 147 page book of poems there were 135 comments. Gulp. I have a little over 5 weeks to get the first revision done if we are going to keep to our somewhat aggressive schedule. On a first pass I have to say that I understood most of her comments. Not necesarily how to fix things, but I think I understand what what wants done. And I agree with her. I had to check in with myself several times to make sure that I wasn’t just agreeing for the sake of agreeing but I think I’m okay with things.
There are some changes that aren’t worth fighting for. Example, in one scene the grandmother comes to visit and when the MC won’t eat her peas, the grandmother won’t pass her any more roast beef and eventually sends the MC to her room. My editor didn’t think that rang true or that anyone would withhold protein from a child. I’m okay with redoing the scene and getting my point across a different way (not sure how yet) even though I spent many a night staring at peas I wouldn’t eat on my plate and wishing for another helping of meat that my own grandmother wouldn’t give me until I ate the damn peas (which I never did). We all know that just because it really happened doesn’t mean it belongs in a book or will work in a book. Many of the changes are subtle, the sorts of things that writers miss because we are so close to the words and the story in the midst of writing it. There are things she asked for that will, I am sure, deepen the relationships in the book and thereby strengthen the story. There are some changes that scare me only because I don’t know how I will do it. Mostly the beginning where I knew there would be changes because it was one of those things that had been on my mind ever since she bought the book. So while I can agree with what she thinks needs to be done, at the moment I can’t see how to do it. That’s okay. There needs to be sufficient moodling around time with the ideas before I sit down to actually write.
There are some things where I slap my head and go, “duh!” but I realize that this is the editor’s gift, the ability to pull out individual story threads and ask me to restitch them between the pages, making a story that is not only stronger, and more authentic, but even more resembles the story I wanted to tell.