Whenever I have a conversation with Nancy (my editor) about her job I learn something new. Maybe I was ignorant when she acquired my first book, but I didn't even realize back then that editors negotiate contracts. I thought they, you know, edited. Turns out editing's only a small fraction of their duties. I should ask Nancy to do a guest post sometime to explain...or even just list...what she as an editor does. I know some of you would find it fascinating.
For now I'll just give you a few interesting tidbits from our conversation.
First, apparently a lot of authors don't use the traditional guidelines for submitting manuscripts. You know, Times New Roman, double spaced, one-inch margins, header with name, book title, and page number, printed single sided in black ink on standard white 20# paper?
It's in every beginner's guide to submission.
Granted she doesn't work with many beginners anymore, but she's gotten pages submitted on onionskin parchment.
No, I'm not kidding.
I remember my dad using that stuff in the typewriter with carbon paper...or to include an extra page in an airletter for overseas.
So whoever this author was, he must've been pretty "established" for her to put up with that.
And pretty old.
But she also gets books e-mailed chapter by chapter as they get completed.Which means she has to consolidate the chapters into a manageable file herself.
Where's the author's rewrite process if this is how they submit it?
Unique fonts, not using Word, no electronic file available whatsoever (so she has to retype the thing?!)...I told her I couldn't believe she put up with it, but she said that one of the things she likes about her job is that all her authors are so different. They have their own personalities and ways of doing things, and she likes to allow them to breathe as artists.
A very noble attitude given the extra work it causes her. I'd want to tell the Wordless guy, Get with the program, man! I can't be retyping your novel because you can't be bothered to take a class! Wake up Rip Van Wordless, it's 2011!
Anyway (deep breath) this recent conversation about the seemingly endless scope of Nancy's job was precipitated by my feeling befuddled by a new editing process she had asked me to try for the post-copy-edited manuscript of Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack.
(Yes, we settled on Power.)
The manuscript came back to me as a Word doc with "tracked" notes from the copy editor and Nancy, with the idea being that I would comment, and change what I wanted on the computer and e-mail it back.
Save paper. Save time.
Murder your eyes.
After reading three chapters on screen I realized I wasn't reading the book as I always do (because there are always little mistakes that sneak through the process and I make it a point to read it each time). Instead I was jumping from markup to markup, trying to decipher what it is they were talking about.
Here's a little example :-)
Fortunately Nancy had had the foresight to also send me a hardcopy of the electronically marked-up manuscript. We're under a little time crunch and just in case I didn't adapt well to the electronic process, she said I could just mark up the hardcopy with pencil (like I always do), send it back, and she would enter the changes for me.
This was before our conversation, and, not liking the process, I put aside my computer and got to work with a pencil. I do have lots of other pressures in my life right now, and this whole new electronic editing business seemed tedious and like something I just was not interested in learning at the moment.
Still. When I'd finally made it through the 300-page hardcopy, I called Nancy to let her know that the 8-page pdf she'd sent me titled "How to Review and Mark Electronically" (which I'd wasted paper printing) didn't match my version of Word and that I didn't know how I was going to be able to get this done. I also told her exactly what I didn't like about the process.
She totally got where I was coming from and we then had a little talk about why she had chosen me to try this process on (flattery will get your author to try again) and how she would never ask Wordless or Onionskin to attempt this. Then, because her version of Word is similar to mine, she was able to walk me through a few of the changes. She helped me add comments...explained how to substitute one word for another...taught me what the different modes showed or didn't show.... Soon I had the hang of it, and I realized that, even though it was still a little scary, it was really pretty straight forward.
She again offered to do it for me, but at this point she'd told me about Onionskin and Wordless and I realized that if I didn't step forward, one day I'd be my own version of Onionskin (I plan to live a very long time, okay?). She also told me that although Random House is just converting to this, other houses have already established this as standard procedure. So I got off the phone and got to work, and within a few hours I'd entered all the changes and had the manuscript e-mailed back to her.
So I've stepped forward, and next time I'm sure it will seem easy, but not without the hardcopy.
That goes forward with me.