Thursday, November 01, 2018

*The End*, no not yet

I represent a talented horde of non-fiction writers. Sentence stylists, concept connoisseurs, all around terrific writers. Proposal architects, not so much.  Which is ok, cause that's the value I bring to the table for them right now.

Yesterday I was working on the very last edits of a terrific proposal. I actually titled it The Final Version.

So the great god of writing laughed, and that was that.

What happened was my client and I had been intently focused on the sentences and sections. We'd probably spent a full ten hours on various subtitle permutations.  We'd moved footnotes, excised repeated phrases, tussled with that evergreen question: why this book, why now.

And all those pieces were ready. I have my editor list primed. The pitch letter is as ready as it will ever be (which means I'll have at least a dozen revisions between now and when it goes out.)

Then I read the whole proposal, start to finish, all 72 pages.

And realized Something Was Wrong.

Fortunately I knew what it was pretty quickly, and was able to email my client promptly. (Subject line: you're going to kill me and I deserve it.)

What had happened of course was that the pieces worked by themselves, but they also have to work as a whole.

I think of it in terms of painting (cause painting explains the world, as you know.)  The color that looks great in the store, looked great in the test stripe, looked GREAT when you painted it in your west-facing bedroom on Saturday afternoon, and now, dried and from a distance, looks like the Duchess of Yowl projectile vomited on the walls. (Not that Her Grace would do that of course, that's what your slippers are for.)

And when you realize the color looks like cat hork, you have two choices: fix it or live with it.

Same with the revising. Fix it or live with it.
It's not always an easy choice.
We chose to fix it. We had time on our side, the proposal is in development. If it were a finished book on editorial deadline, we might not have had  that.

I'm yammering about this today because I always seem to forget that last read through might NOT be just for crossing eyes and dotting t-shirts (paint again!)

I always forget to build that 'oh crap what if we need to revise this again' time into my planning, and plotting of world domination.

Maybe you do forget too?

Or maybe you don't read the whole thing one more time before sending it out to a request for a full?

Do you build this buffer into your timeline? Do you plan for it? You do revise, right?


CynthiaMc said...

2 years ago (maybe more) I wrote a 2-person scene for a Florida 1-act playwriting contest. I didn't finish it because I was cast in a show at the same time.

Those characters (a doctor waiting to be executed and the child she raised who turned her in) haunted me, whispered to me (yes, I know how that sounds, I work in psych - it is what it is).I wanted to know how they got there. They insisted I tell their story. That became last year's Nano project. And a whole other array of characters showed up and wanted to play, too. I ended up with a pile of great scenes and no idea how to - I don't even know. They all refused to be vanquished. They all had compelling stories to tell and a lot of them overlapped.

This year I got smarter. I did a show that ended last weekend. I set divisions between acting world and writing world. NaNoWriMo is the show I'm doing this November.

Descent Into Hell may be more than a title.

Wish me luck. Better yet, join me.

Writers write. Let's rock.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Well, now I do plan for that. Feeling like my book will never be ready. There always seems a tweak here or a twit there or a thud, do that over again in chapter 27. I have sections that I will read one night and think - great - done and done. Then I am re-reading the same section a few weeks later and think this is the worst tripe ever, no one will believe it. My life has no meaning.

The question is when is done really done? When I attended a conference earlier this year, I heard Brandon Sanderson, super successful writer of fantasy, speak. He pointed out that your book can always be better. No matter how much you revise it. There will always be something that can be done to make it better, but eventually you have to let it fly.

Then he gushed about his editors. Not the buddy that reads the book or the paid editor type, but the publisher's editor that assists in getting the book ready for prime time. So I asked Brandon what was the most common error his editor would find in his books. Brandon said most of the time the editor would write "Do better" and that was all the feedback he got. He knew what she meant.

I don't have an editor or an agent. When do I let this bugger fly? I really don't know because at this stage I feel like "do better" means "no" from an agent.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

The latest I am for anything is fifteen minutes early. My buffers have buffers. If I don’t think I’ll be on time (fifteen minutes early) I speed. Does that put me in jeopardy? Sometimes it makes for a very exciting ride.
After years of column writing on deadline and mom saying that a little early gives you time to pee before the interview, I’m trained.

The interviewer said, “What’s your greatest strength and what’s your greatest weakness?”
Strength and weakness, the same, procrastination.
Because I have a tendency to put things off, I jump immediately and produce results before the request was even made. Which leaves me time to drive around the block, look for a restroom, or edit until it’s as ‘write’ as ‘write’ can be.

Theresa said...

Like 2Ns, I always plan on being early (and carry a book to read while I wait). And I build in buffers for writing projects. There has to be plenty of time for revisions and for making sure the whole reads as well as the parts.

Stacy said...

I do revise, but my biggest struggle is how to wrangle continuity--that is, what isn't on the page. I think I personally need to outline more.

How do you do it?

Kitty said...

CynthiaMc, good luck. Btw, I love it when the characters talk to me and tell me where the story should go and what they won't do or say. Nothing crazy about that. It's when they're silent I begin to think I haven't got a story. Again, best of luck to you! Let us know how it goes.

Melissa said...

I had this problem a few weeks ago. I had edited my manuscript start to finish several times and sent out to beta readers. The problem was I would get bogged down in certain scenes, taking a long time between beginning and end. I also cut a few thousand words.

As I was reading through readers' comments, I saw some definite pacing issues. I forced myself to print it (harder to get bogged down when you have to write your edits) and read through it in two days. Ended up slashing more but now it's a tighter read and on the whole better.

Janet Reid said...

Melissa Your commented reminded me that I forgot to say I found the problem ONLY when I was reading the printed copy of the proposal.

That step of printing out is essential!

And editing on paper with pen always helps me find weird things my eye has just skipped over on the screen.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

I am in revision, outlining my completed 5th draft actually, and I have time to do it as I have no agent, no editor, no publisher. I worry about what I would do if I had a deadline on a second book but that's putting the cart before the turtle. ; )

Stacy: I'm currently using CS Lakin's scene outline from her Live Write Thrive blog. But also helpful was Janice Hardy's questions yesterday (Fiction University blog): what doesn't your protag know? what doesn't your reader know? What secrets are being kept in each act/scene?

Claire Bobrow said...

I agree with the printing out process, 1000 percent. My brain works so much better when I'm staring at hard copies.

I'm heading to Texas this morning, to a picture book workshop. Hoping to absorb the wisdom of faculty and fellow students, and revise my ever-loving-heart out!

Sherry Howard said...

Dear QOTKU, every once in while a post stands out—a lot! By that, I mean that your own writing makes me want to have you query yourself! This one is too clever by far!

My last of all (although I do it several times throughout too) is to have Word read aloud every single word of my work. Yes, it takes forever. And, yes, I find problems on every single final run-through.

OT: I’M SO EXCITED!! My picture book, ROCK AND ROLL WOODS, released early, so I’m playing catch-up. But, when I opened my email and followed links, I had a STARRED review on Kirkus! Only other writers get how exciting that is. So, fellow writers, I had to go off topic for a minute with my tribe here!

Claire Bobrow said...

Sherry! Congrats - that is fabulous news!!! I look forward to getting a copy of your book :-)

Joseph S said...

I just went through that late read-through/revision experience on the last edition of my Property treatise. My method is to hand-write changes to a chapter, then type and edit as I type, then print out the chapter and clean up oversights, etc. I’m fairly meticulous and editors usually don’t change much of my finished product. When I was “done” with my half of the book I emailed my co-author and my contact person at the publisher that I was done but wanted to read it through one more time. Holy cow! There were enough what-was-I-thinking, how-will-anyone-understand-that, why-is-that-there moments it took two more weeks of rewrites before I shipped it off (but it looks really good now (fingers crossed)).

Joseph S said...

Exciting news, Sherry!

Barbara Etlin said...

Big congrats, Sherry! Kirkus is known for being tough, so a starred review from it is a huge win!

Kari Lynn Dell said...

*sigh* I have fond memories of the days before multi-book contracts when buffers were a thing in my life that I hugely underappreciated. And now that half the people here want to kill me for bitching about having an editor impatiently awaiting my mss...

I have found that when I do that final pass on something I've been picking at for weeks or months, I am much more likely to catch the mistakes, both small and overreaching, if I have my computer read it to me. Yes, the electronic drone is annoying, but it also makes it less likely that I'll get caught up in the prose, so I hear every word. And you can have it read at faster speeds so you get through quicker than if you read it yourself out loud. And my dogs don't follow me around the house wondering if I've officially gone around the bend.

Casey Karp said...

Congrats, Sherry!

To Janet's question: I'm on revision 5 right now. Hoping it'll be the last one.

Totally agree with those of you who revise on paper. I do some revisions that way, some on screen, because I catch different things in different formats (usually, but not always, continuity issues on screen and mechanical problems on paper).

And, E.M., there's no such thing as perfect. Never. As far as I can tell, the answer to when you let it fly is "when you can toss it off a cliff and not have it go splat". In this context, I figure that means when you're just fiddling. If agents only signed perfection, they'd never sign anyone. Ditto publishers. When the book feels solid, load it into the catapult and launch it agentward.

Sarah said...

Sherry! That is amazing!!! Kirkus is not always kind. And I've included a link in case anyone wants to read the review.

As far as Janet's question: I love to tinker with words, so I have to force myself to deal with structure first in my novels. And I do print it out. Sometimes when I get to really thorny scenes, and I'll even cut parts of the scenes or paragraphs out so that I can move them around. There's no other way I can see the story-shape as a whole.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Sherry Congratulations. Kirkus is huge- that is fantastic. I love to see Reiders make good.

Thanks, Casey - I am going to toss my manuscript off a cliff (give to my two best betas) and see if it goes splat after Thanksgiving. Then in the New Year, five months later than I had hoped, off to the query trenches I will go. Maybe. I hope.

Beth Carpenter said...

Sherry, fantastic review! Congratulations.

I usually leave plenty of tinkering time, and I did several revisions of this last story, but I hit the deadline before I could do my usual step of having Word read to me. Like several of you said, that electronic voice always helps me catch mistakes and awkward sentences I'd missed before. I'm relying on my editor to catch what I didn't, and that feels a little itchy. Next time, I'll schedule more carefully.

BrendaLynn said...

Congrats Sherry. Kirkus is a big deal.
I should own a copy store I’ve spent so much money in one. I’ve learned something from every work I’ve completed and, from the last novel, I learned to keep my work to myself and to celebrate even the we-almost-like-you emails.
I’m looking forward to slowing down on the edits of the new book. ‘So glad I caught that in time’ feels infinitely better than ‘Please don’t read what you have because now I have a final draft. A final, final draft. The penultimate draft. I think...’

Karen McCoy said...

Mucho congrats, Sherry!

And this post. Yes. So much this. I received a slew of rejections and NORMANS before taking a final pass through with this manuscript. I wish I'd done so sooner. This time, someone is reading the novel aloud to me, and I'm finding it infinitely helpful.

Theresa said...

That's great news, Sherry, congratulations!

And Kari Lynn, I've heard other authors extol the virtues of the computer read. So I think for my next two books I'm going to play it doubly safe by reading through a hard copy and listening to the droning of the computer.

John Davis Frain said...

"Do you build this buffer into your timeline?"

A timeline? Excuse me, some people in this industry go by a timeline? Is there a publishing calendar somewhere that lists eras instead of months?

Never even thought about a timeline. I just keep editing till my ms is crispy on the edges and beginning to brown in the middle.

John Davis Frain said...

Oh, and huzzah, Sherry.

Lennon Faris said...

That's a sinking feeling. I don't have a timeline, exactly.

HOWEVER, CythiaMc, I forgot to reply but I did see your comment the other day about NaNoWriMo. I'm there, too ...So I have a timeline this month. Good luck! We can buddy each other on the site if you're officially signed up. I'm "Lennon Faris." Apparently Lennon is a popular name for Nano??! Who woulda thought.

Sherry, I'll say it again: that is awesome. Congrats, friend.

I'll be reading the blog but prob. refraining from reading the comments this month. If anyone needs to get in touch with me, well, per Janet Reid's advice, I'm "visible."

Ben Langhinrichs said...

The astonishing thing to me is how often the same piece of writing can feel finished, and yet need more work. My first published novel (which may or may not be a special case) was a NaNo project in 2010 which eventually got a book deal in 2017 and published in 2018 after ogmygodsomuchrevision, and yet we went through four rounds of edits to get it ready for publication. Read close, read from a distance, read aloud, read from beginning to end, read from end to beginning. Some of that is a learning curve, but much of it is just the reality of turning out a polished product, whether it is a proposal or a query letter or a novel. So, to answer your question, I build time into the timeline, and still know that I will blow past the timeline. Thank heavens I don't have to write on very strict deadlines too often.

Ginger Mollymarilyn said...

Congratulations, Sherry! Fabulous!