This is how my Thanksgiving holiday was spent.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I had turkey. And all the fixings, thanks to my giving and devoted mother, who was willing to do almost all of the cooking, while I hunkered down in the basement of my childhood home and…edited.
For about twelve hours a day through the holiday and for another two weeks after that.
Let me say at the outset that although this was probably the hardest work I’ve ever done on anything fiction, I was grateful for every second of bleeding, hair-pulling work. Grateful to have a book coming out. Grateful to have the time to make it better. Grateful to have an editor smart enough to know that the book needed more editing.
I’m one of those writers who feels insanely lucky to get to be doing this all day, not quite for a living yet, but hey, my book isn’t even out. I liken writing to the combined joy of summer vacation/Christmas morning/falling in love/finding out you’re having a baby (when you want to be). I flipping love it.
I did not love this. Steam poured from my ears, blood seeped from my pores. But my editor has on her list–I’ve been trying to count–maybe 7 NYT-bestselling and award-winning authors? The woman is brilliant. If she says my book needs work, then my book needs work.
During those times when I was staggering around, pulling out my hair, I started thinking.
I started thinking about good friends of mine, like indie political thriller author Steve Piacente, who has recently raised on his blog the issue of traditional media not reviewing self-published manuscripts.
I started thinking about an author on a FB group I’m part of who cautioned indie authors from uploading their early drafts.
And I thought about screenwriting guru Richard Walter, who said that the #1 mistake he sees writers making is submitting their work too soon.
I came to some tough realizations about myself. For one thing, I realized that if I didn’t have an editor of this caliber telling me my book needed more work, then I wouldn’t be doing it. It’s too hard. The closer a book comes to good, the harder it is to go back and pick it apart. (One editor/writer friend likened it to un-weaving cashmere. Or solving the Rubik’s Cube when you’re only one square away). Whichever simile you prefer, I know I would’ve called my book satisfactory at draft 19. Or 10.
One thing I believe is holding that attention back is the flood of books which aren’t at the same level. Books that didn’t get revised twenty times–or even twice. And I think what is called for is a system to separate the wheat from the chaff, the serious indie writers who labor over their work–as Rick Murcer, Karen McQuestion, or Thomas Knight did, as I did in that basement on Thanksgiving–from those who have uploaded a volume in a weekend.
I don’t know what such a system would entail. An independent rating schematic? Reviews by a governing body that oversees independent authors? Some kind of algorithm, a Good Housekeeping-type seal of Approval? Reader opinions, averaged out over a massive group, such as the Amazon Vine?
The challenge will be to avoid replacing one form of gatekeeper with another–to retain what is precious in the indie world, which is democratic access to publication.
But books need to go through many drafts, and they need hard eyes upon them, eyes that will not blink before the final i is dotted. I know that now. And so does every author who’s sweating–and bleeding–out there to make sure her work is the best it can be.
Books like that deserve reviews and recognition and attention.
What kind of system can be put in place to ensure that the best of the best get that attention–no matter how they come to be in readers’ hands?