Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Editorial Letters

I've just restarted editing Alex Van Helsing Book 3: The Triumph of Death, as it's currently called. Will it be called that when it comes out? Who knows? The book that became Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising was originally called Icemaker, and Book 2: Voice of the Undead was originally called Ultravox. Book 3 is called The Triumph of Death because there's a lot of activity involving the famous Bruegel painting by that name. This book comes out in Summer of 2012.
You're probably well aware that the first step in writing a book is the first draft, although that's a loose term. The first draft I turn into a publisher is still a far sight cleaner than the first rough draft of a book, and in fact the "first draft" may be many versions into the process. But there comes a day when you've been slaving over a first draft and finally turn it in, when the publisher reads it for the first time.
That can take time. Publishers have a lot to do, so your editor might have several other books to get out the door before they can get around to reading your manuscript.
I turned in a draft of The Triumph of Death at the beginning of March. Now, just six weeks later, I get a response. The response from HarperCollins is always formalized in an editorial letter, seen here for no reason next to a red Swingline stapler.
Editorial letter with red Swingline stapler
The letter runs about six typed pages, and in it the editor goes through the book's strengths and weaknesses. The point is to give some idea of what she'd like to see changed, sometimes with suggestions. ("Maybe he has a conversation with X about what is going on with him. There's some of that here and there, but let's see it developed more.") The editor tells you what's working, what could use some strengthening, and what she feels needs to go.
Six pages-- lots of notes. As a writer, you actually don't have to do all of it-- and in theory you could be a prima donna and do none of it, although you'd risk the book being rejected. (All manuscripts have to be "accepted" by the publisher before the contract is considered fulfilled.) Anyway, that would be profoundly foolish, because the editor has a vested interest in making the book better. The way this actually works is: I write up some notes based on the letter, and then we have a phone conversation and debate some of the larger points back and forth-- not actually debating with each other and more weighing options. (Should this subplot get bigger or be deleted entirely?)
In the end, it's my book, so after a quick conference with the editor, I walk away with a new deadline for revisions-- in this case, two weeks later.
And we're off!

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