Sunday, March 7, 2010

Chained To My Desk

I have spent the week chained to my desk. We’re at the copy edited stage of both Sammy Keyes and the Wedding Crasher and The Running Dream, and the process—while always fussy—has never felt like such complete tedium to me. Maybe it’s just not a good idea to do two three-hundred page manuscripts back-to-back. For those of you who have been following me through the process or are interested in writing and aren’t real sure what “the copy edited stage” might mean, here’s a summary of the book-writing stages so far:
  • I write the book
  • I rewrite the book
  • I repeat that second step 15 – 20 times
  • I send the manuscript to my editor (Nancy) in New York
  • She reads it, mulls it over, and sends it back with a cover letter saying what she loves about it, and suggesting ways to make it even better. The manuscript itself is marked up in pencil, with nice comments and smiley faces balancing out the edits and suggestions.
  • I give the letter and margin notes a while to sink in, because after having rewritten the story so many times, the initial response is to groan and say, But I like it just the way it is! This is also the stage during which my house gets really clean—I’m thinking, brooding, avoiding.
  • I finally tackle the rewrite and discover that it’s not so bad; that Nancy (as always) has come up with some good suggestions and that a little extra work makes the book tighter and better. I end this stage happy and grateful for her input.
  • I send the revised manuscript back to Nancy and she reads it, approves it, and hands it over to a copy editor.
  • The copy editor brews herself a giant pot of tea, takes out her red pencil and her reference books, and proceeds to bloody my manuscript with punctuation, grammar, and style corrections. And questions. Somehow there are always lots of questions.
  • The copy editor gives the manuscript back to Nancy, who then goes over the little red marks and either agrees, adds a “?” for me, or crosses out the copy editor’s “correction”. (She does this in a different color, so I know who’s “talking”.)
  • Nancy then sends the manuscript to me, and (after I groan over all the markings) I brew myself a gigantic pot of tea, find a color pencil different from the ones already used, and begin going through the manuscript AGAIN.

So that’s where I am right now. And Sammy Keyes and the Wedding Crasher wasn’t so bad because Nancy saw the copy edited version before her vacation and ran interference with the copy editor markings before sending it to me. This was not the case with The Running Dream. I just received the raw copy edited version. This is the third manuscript that this has happened with, and the difference to me is huge. For one thing, commas drive me crazy. And there are differing schools of comma placement. You may get a copy editor who is a firm believer in Method A for one book, and one who is a firm believer in Method B of another book. Sometimes they both look at the same book. It’s like comma wars! Commas getting put in, commas getting crossed out…put in commas being removed…it drives me batty! I use commas to indicate a pause in speech (or, you know, separation of clauses, etc.), but I’m no comma expert and consequently I can spend half an hour agonizing over one page worth of small punctuation changes. Who am I to question the Comma Queen? Well…the author? But I don’t want to be pig headed. And since I know I’m not a comma expert, I ask myself, Why not just take the word of someone who is? Because sometimes what’s correct is just wrong for the style of the book or the voice of the character. Anyway, when Nancy hasn’t gone through the marks before I get it, there’s no buffer. There’s no “kid speak” or “style” or just X-out from Nancy to let me know that I don’t have to worry about that particular correction. And consequently I question everything I want to cross out or revert. Or I feel I have to justify or explain my reasoning in the margins. It’s not just commas or punctuation, either. Copy editors also often do a little fact checking, and if they call some part of your story into question, you have to double-check your facts and that means revisiting the things you may have been up to speed on a year ago when you wrote the book, but aren’t so sure about now. It’s all tedious and time-consuming, and I really have to battle against feeling annoyed. I have to remind myself that the copy editor is trying to help make the book better; that she’s an expert in an area that I’m not. So I weigh each mark she makes carefully and try to see through the eyes of someone who hasn't read the book 20 times. Sometimes I'm surprised to realize what isn't on the page that should be. And then, inevitably, she’ll find some totally embarrassing mistake I’ve made and I’ll be so grateful for her attention to detail. I always write a gigantic THANK YOU in the margin and concede that slogging through the Red Sea of Commas was worth it. Difficult, but worth it.


xzx583 said...

Wow. Who knew punctuation could be so hateful?

quintessajazz said...

Wow. I hope I never get published. Just rewriting ONCE drives me crazy! Seriously!

Hahaha ... Like xzx583 said ...

What's The Running Dream about, anyway? Or are you not aloud to say yet? ;)

Pooja Dimba said...

I have the same problem with commas. Like in social studies class we usually have to write about what we did over the break, weekend, etc. Then I write the darn essay and then the guy next to me Dane says a nice comment about it. Then he corrects it and he puts in like a thousand commas. Then we have to make the changes so, I have to rewrite it over again. But seriously there's like a thousand read commas everywhere and I ask him, "Are you sure there's supposed to be so many commas?" and he's all like "Yeah, gosh I thought you were smart."
So yeah.. I hate correcting too. I've also learned to switch papers with the other person next to me! :D

Anonymous said...

Ms. Van Draanen,

This comment may seem out of place on a post dedicated to the editing process, however, I have just located your blog. As a long time fan (as in - I started reading your books when I was in late middle school/early high school and I'm now a junior in college), I felt just a bit impatient to wait for a post that may seem slightly more relevant to what I wanted to say.

As much as I love the Sammy Keyes series, they were not the first books I read by you. "Flipped" (which I was incredibly happy-yet-apprehensive to see made into a movie) was my first book, and it satisfied my early-teen girl need for adorable romance. That and "Ella Enchanted" remained my favorites for ages. Sammy Keyes I was introduced to later when I was stuck in New Jersey visiting relatives. I believe only the first four or five books were out when I started to read them. I instantly loved Dot, as she came from a large family like myself.

Through out the years I've loved seeing Sammy grow and develop and form new friendships (Holly's story was *very* touching, and, sounding like a broken record I'm sure, Sammy and Casey fulfill the need for adorable in my life). I really just love the little world of Santa Martina that you've created; your books always leave me wanting to go explore California.

I, like many fans I'm sure, have questions about your series (nothing Sammy's dad or Sammy/Casey related ;), promise, 'cause I *know* those will be answered eventually), and look forward to the remainder of the series to see if they are answered.

And I'm sure I sound like a bit of a creeper, but the overall point of this was to say that I enjoy your writing and look forward to more of your books. :)


Anonymous said...

It sounds really annoying, but interesting. The thing for me though, is that a) I am comma-crazy, meaning that I can't stand sentences that don't have the commas they need and b) I like editing! Usually for short stories and things I don't edit, I just finish it up. I sort of learn from my mistakes. Like, for example, we do this thing in the advanced LA/Reading classes- we write short stories based on random pictures our teacher gives us. I usually have someone else read mine for me (I'm not good in front of a crowd). In fact we did one today. I usually insist on having mine read aloud because I like-- scratch that-- I love feedback. Good or bad. Okay, maybe I don't LOVE bad responses to my stories but I do appreciate them. Sometimes it's easier reviewing your story when it's read aloud by someone else.
In your case, that would get pretty annoying, having someone else read your 300-paged novel out loud.
And if the case is I'm trying to actually write a novel type of story, not a short story, then it's completely different. For one, it's because I give up. I've started at least a million stories in hopes that I will make it my best and I always look back a month later and go, “What was I thinking?!”
But anyway, I guess I'm saying I like a lot of red marks on my stories because when the red marks are all fixed up, the feeling is very satisfying.
Well, bye!

Jinnyd said...

So... would you say that English teachers are very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, VERY watered down versions of editors and copy editors? When they're grading papers, anyway.

I find a weird satisfaction in marking up a paper or essay. I don't know why. It somehow makes me feel better after a paper's been commented and marked up because while I'm going through it, I know that it's getting better at least a tiny bit. Do you think that has the makings of an editor in the future (which would be the next best thing to actually writing novels, anyway...)?

I wish you good luck on your tackling the commas and other assorted comments made by the copy editor!

Oh, and one more thing--how is your manuscript formatted when it's being copy edited and edited and reworked? Are the margins larger than usual? Is it double spaced? Do you separate the chapters into groups of pages or do you just put a few empty lines in between chapters?

I'd be so grateful if you could find a sliver of time out of your very busy schedule to answer them, but I understand if you can't. Once again, good luck!

Wild About Words said...

Hang in, there, Wendelin, I feel, your pain,

Rose said...

oh!!! i cant wait for the wedding crasher!!! by the way i was wondering if you had any tips for inspiring writers.

sammy4ever said...

man, the editing process sounds painful. oh, my dad's cousin and her husband are both authors! i should ask them their opinion on the whole editing process. and commas drive me insane! we review them in language arts over and over and over and over...........

bookfreak said...

lov the picture!!!and it must be horrible having to rewrite it over and over and over again!!XS

sammy4ever said...

okay, this is kinda random, but when you've finally published one of your books (after the torturous editing process) and you get to hold an actual copy of the brand-spanking new published edition of your book, what do you feel? I mean, are you excited? Are you relieved? Or are you sad that the adventure is over? I thought of this because today in science, I printed out my 15-page lab report and I stapled it real nice and I just loved the feeling of holding it. But then I had to turn it in and I felt sad. I just liked holding it. That may sound weird but......

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Hey, Cammy Crew!

Well, let me just start by saying that if you ever see that (Cammy Crew) in print somewhere, yes, I mean you.

Next, thanks to all of you for checking in, chiming in. As you know it has been an eye-crossing week. Let me answer some questions, randomly, okay? I need some chaos in my universe after all those precise grammatical decisions.

The Running Dream: I'm paranoid about talking about it too soon. Give me a couple of months.

Some of you DEFINITELY sound like you could be editors. Sheez. WHere do you get your love of scrutany? It is so mature of you! I'm jealous.

Miss K, your comment deserves its own response, but for now let me just say that I'm glad you discovered this blog and that I really enjoyed what you wrote.

About English teachers: Hm. They were always a mystery to me. Editors you can discuss things with and present your reasoning, etc., I never got very far trying that with English teachers. So yes and no.

Manuscripts are single sided, double spaced, with 1 inch margins all the way around. That leaves room for lots of comments and red marks!

I do have tips for aspiring writers and I will gather my thoughs about that and reply. I'm sorry you've had to ask me twice. It's because of the whole chained-to-the-desk thing.

Glad you like the picture -- I thought since I mentioned my desk in the previous post I'd give you a glimpse at it :-)

Shoot I've got to go. I'll answer the last few questions when I get a chance...soon!

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

RE Holding your book for the first time: It's a moment to linger over, that's for sure. As you're seeing, there's a lot involved in publishing a book (the traditional route) and it seems to take FOREVER to become a finished object. When it finally IS a book, I love to just hold it and look at it and thumb through it...but I sure don't sit down and read it. Actually, I've been looking forward to reading the whole Sammy series from the beginning. Enough time has passed that I think I could really enjoy reading them (as opposed to reading them critically). I think it would be fun to do, which is a nice thought. So yes, the first time I actually hold a new book is always special, and I think it's good to stop and reflect a little on the accomplishment. And BTW, there's nothing better than going to the public library and checking out your own book. That is WAY cool.

All for now. Did I miss anyone / anything? If so, it's okay to remind me :-)

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Here's some info for aspiring writers--especially those who aspire to inspire :-)

I’d say there are two main things you need to do to become a great writer: have adventures (get out and live life) and read. And yes, write, but it’s actually more important to do the other two—they will give you ideas on which to base your stories and characters.

The one thing I try to do in my writing is have a lot going on. In the Sammy books there’s her home life, her school life, and they mystery. They combine to create a lot of tension (which is good!) and action (good, too!) The catch phrase writers use in describing plotting is ‘put your protagonist up and tree, then throw rocks at them’. That means make your good guy uncomfortable! Make them experience pain! Then when the resolution comes, it’s a relief.

When I was starting to write, I subscribed to Writer’s Digest Magazine. It’s written for adults, but you could handle it if you’re really interested. It helped me a lot. Also, I make myself write every day. (People recommend a set time, and I agree—it helps with discipline.)

I hope you find some of this useful!

Jinnyd said...

Thank you for the answers!

The adventures bit might be a little hard, though--how do you propose we FIND our adventures? I've noticed that Sammy always finds her mysteries when she's out and about, but she lives in a city where she can skateboard everywhere she needs to! Where I live, it's nearly impossible to get anywhere except for by car.

Anonymous said...

Here's a picture I made [that I drew] of Sammy and Casey! Of course its on my blog but this is quicker...

bookfreak said...

o since that is your desk in the picture then who's shoe is that? i know it is an unimportant question and you can ignore it if u want but i was just curious...
-bf -.o i kind of like this face now, its strange =D

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Jinnyd: I wish I could be where you are, 'cause I'd find you an adventure. I'd say outside. With a friend. And just start walking and watching.

xxCLxx; You are good! This is exactly the kind of thing we'd love to have up on the "artist page" when that gets put into place. Easy to see you've got lots of talent--thanks for sharing!

bookfreak: Why, my shoe / foot, of course :-)

Jinnyd said...

Thanks for the tip! And I wish you could come to my city--it would be the coolest thing EVER! I think I'll try that--walking around and watching--downtown during summer break. I've been meaning to do something like that for a long time, but I never really went out and DID IT, you know?

Oh, and one more question! This might seem really random, but what font do you use when you write your manuscripts? I've searched for the font used in the Sammy books, but I've come up with nothing. Or is the publishing font different from your writing font?

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Times New Roman 12 point, double spaced, 1 inch margins....then the publishing house converts it to a Sammy book! I have no idea what font they use, sorry!

Anonymous said...

Not to sound geeky, but it' Galliard (the font). I think the font size is 12. But I'm postitive it's Galliard, if you look on that page at the beginning of the book that shows the month/year the book was published and has a 2-sentenced summary and all that, it shows the font.
Maybe I checked... Maybe I didn;t.
Okay, I did, I did. But who can blame me? Fonts are another one of my pet peeves... :)

Anonymous said...

I made a new picture, and it's the "Official Sammy Blog Badge". I posted it on my blog saying "if you're a hardcore Sammy fan then post this on your blog, etc..". Let's see the chain go and grow...=]
[full size- ]

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you enjoyed what I wrote. :) I look forward to more of your updates. Hope your week went well.

Anonymous said...

I cant wait for your post today! :) I'm sorta depressed thought because our house was-
eggeed and TPed and our car was- mustard-ed and balogna-ed. :/ Um, we're gonna call the local police and I'm pretty angry.
Like Sammy once said, It's "ego-breaking".
But anyway, I cant wait for the post! xo

Jinnyd said...

Cool! Again, thanks for the answers!

And, xxCammyLoverxx: awesome coolio pics! I'll be sure to post it on my blog. :-)

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

xxCLxx: the new post was inspired by what happened to you. Been there. It's infuriating. PS Love the Sammy Blog Badge...I just have to figure out how to use it!

Rose said...

thank you for replying to my post! it did help. i was so happy you replied!!!