…and let’s take it from the top

I am a couple of weeks into this whole editing thing and I find that I am now the wiser man that I wished I’d been a couple of weeks ago.

When my editor delivered my manuscript back to me, I somewhat naively assumed that all I had to do was go through her suggested edits, decide which ones I’d accept and which ones I’d reject, and I’d be done. After four years and fourteen drafts I’d finally be ready to upload The Garden on Sunset to Amazon’s CreateSpace self-publishing website and I’d be off and running. Woohoo!

It turns out I’m more “off” than “running,” and all woohoos have been put on hold until further notice.

At about a quarter of the way through my manuscript, I began to realize I was teetering on the horns of a dilemma. But like the clever, sensible, realistic, and perceptive writer that I am, I completely ignored such a nebulous observation. This whole editing process had proved to be far more intense than I’d anticipated, and even though I had revised my release date to next January, I still had beaucoup work to do. Quite frankly, I had neither the time nor the patience to deal with any self-sabotaging, nitpicking, fishmonger-wife-nagging inner critics. So as the clock ticked past 10pm, I told them to shut the hell up and bugger off.

I then spent another three or four days squirreling my way through a few more chapters until the little voice stationed at the back of my head could no longer be ignored. “Helloo-OO-oo!” it bleated to me. “Don’t you think there’s something missing here?”

By that stage I was more than a third the way into my manuscript but I knew that my inner fishmonger wife was onto something. So I went back to the start and read through what I’d edited so far. The prose was certainly smoother and sharper, which is a good thing. And the story now sped forward, no longer mired ankle-deep in unnecessary adjectives, irrelevant tangents, awkward phrasing, and spoon-fed facts that any reader with more than seven brain cells could figure out for themselves. This is also a good thing. My editor had helped me to fulfill the goal of every writer: tell the story effectively in as few words as possible.

But for all its improvements, it now read like it could have been written by pretty much anybody. Somehow my literary voice had been left on the cutting room floor. Or had it? Was I right? Who knows? Not me. I’ve been working on this thing for four years which means I haven’t been able to read it objectively since the time that Icelandic volcano was choking aircraft engines over Europe. But I suspected that I was right so I started to put back in a phrase here, a sentence there, the odd tightly reworded paragraph. But even then I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing. Was I just indulging myself?

I got to the end of chapter 25 (i.e. a little over halfway) and had Kinko’s print it out and got Bob to read it. He’s one of three people who’s read a previous version so I wanted to get his take on how the book now flowed.

By about chapter five or six he had confirmed my worst suspicions–that the story shot along almost too fast, that this book no longer read as though it’d been written specifically by me, and there were none of the quirks that make my writing mine. That is, until he got about halfway though when, he said, things began to change for the better. That’s about the point where I’d decided to listen to my inner fishmonger’s wife and started to put back the non-essential words, lines, thoughts, and reactions that made my story uniquely mine. After all, don’t we all have favorite authors? And aren’t they our favorite authors because of the way they tell their stories? If this novel of mine had read like it could have been written by any damned person you yanked off the street, why the hell would you even think about buying/downloading/borrowing/stealing book two?

So now I’ve returned to page one and have started the editing process again, this time trying to find a balance between “efficient story telling” and “that’s-so-Martin story telling.” I’m only at chapter four at this point but I thi-i-i-i-i-i-i-ink I’m getting there.

To make me feel better, my editor sent the following list to help me keep my perspective. It worked…even though it did push me three steps closer to the nearest bottle of gin. It said:

The Publishing Process. This is the process a book must go through before you find it on the shelves at your local bookstore:

Write manuscriptProofEditProofEditProofEditProofEditProofDesignTypesetProofTypeset correctionsProofTypeset more correctionsProofMake ready for press – Proof bluelinePrint – Bind – Ship – Distribute books.

Not all these steps are involved in the making of a self-published book like mine (for instance, I’ve never even heard of a “blueline” which I think is like a draft copy) nevertheless, it shows how long and complicated this process is. It did make me feel better, but I think I’ll still go for that gin.

About martinturnbull

The Hollywood's Garden of Allah novels blog is by Martin Turnbull, a Los Angeles based historical fiction author writing about the golden era of Hollywood in his series of novels set at the Garden of Allah Hotel, which stood on Sunset Blvd from 1927 to 1959. Check him out at www.martinturnbull.com and Facebook: "gardenofallahnovels"
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10 Responses to …and let’s take it from the top

  1. Paul Patience says:

    OMG martin what a process, to do all that editing and then realise you are taking too much of you out of it and then start back at page 1, most definitely go with you instincts. This book will be brillant.

  2. Jaye says:

    Ooh, Martin, looks like you ran into what I call “washing the hamburger.” It comes from a recommendation I read several years ago that after frying up hamburger meat for spaghetti or chili, one should wash it thoroughly with hot water until all the fat is removed.

    But the fat is what makes it taste good!

    Your instincts are spot-on. The writing must contain some Martin flavor. Good for you at recognizing that. It’s a balancing act. You don’t want your story swimming in literary grease, but at the same time you don’t want it so lean it’s tasteless.

  3. Gary Chapman says:

    Wonderful post Martin and very engaging too. I am sorry to add to your woes, but of course the publishing process does not end at ‘distribute books’. You are only 50% there. I was told a wonderful tale of an agent who will only take authors on who realise that the process, in terms of time, is 50% writing and then 50% promoting & publicising in order to succeed. As an author and book marketing person myself I have found that this is often something most people forget. Brace yourself, but it is fun isn’t it?

    • Hi Gary, thanks for your comment…and your walloping slap of reality in the face. But not unexpected. I’ve known for a while now that you have to put as much energy into promoting your books as you do writing them. And that goes for traditionally published as well as self-published. That’s just the way it is now, and that’s okay. It’s all part of the process, all part of the learning curve and, I have to say, I find it all quite interesting as it can lead you to meeting all sorts of people you would never have otherwise met. Oh, and I took a look at your website – you’ll be interested to know that one of the Dolly sisters gets mentioned in one of my later books!

  4. Page says:

    Martin,
    Thanks for the update! Like many, I’m anxious to read the book but at the same time I appreciate your attention to detail, flow, getting the thing perfect (in your eyes) I’m sure it’s already beautifully done.

    As we discussed, this is a topic I’m passionate about, intrigued by so thanks for tackling it and whatever’s next. (Please say there’s a next!)
    Page

    • Hi Page, thanks so much for your encouragement. Oh, yes there is always a next!

      I’m coming to see it all about balance. The balance between efficient & sharp story telling and unique & memorable story telling. Between being chronologically accurate and era interesting. Ultimately there really is no “one right way” so all you can do is listen to your readers, your editor, your writer friends, take on board what they say, digest it slowly, discard what you don’t agree with and go with what your instincts tell you is the right way to go. And maybe your instincts are wrong, maybe your writer friends are way off track, maybe your editor doesn’t really “get” you, but you owe it to yourself and your readers to tell your story the best way you know how and then send it off into the world!

  5. Max Pierce says:

    As you know by now, one can’t go against that inner voice that knows the right decision. I’m glad you surrendered to it. Likewise, I empathize with you.
    My publisher decided to ‘test’ a new typesetting program on my 2007 novel, THE MASTER OF SEACLIFF. A ‘glitch’ removed all ending punctuation marks, meaning that the first letter of each sentence that followed was now lower case. Dialogues were now missing quotation. And I seemed to be the only one upset.
    When I stated thatII would not put my name on a shoddy product. and not only would I go to the owner of the company to correct this, but I would return to him personally the advance and withdraw the manuscript did I get any ‘spurs in flanks’ urgency to correct.
    Be just and fear not. Your story deserves nothing less than the best job done.

    • Thanks Max! God, that’s on hell of a glitch they had going on there! And if that sort of thing didn’t upset them, then I can’t imagine they’d last long in publishing, That’s one of the reasons way self-publishing has such enormous appeal. In some ways it’s more work but in others everything is under your control – content, cover, pricing, marketing. And if you publish via Print On Demand, if you change your mind, you can go in and change any glitches that remove ending punctuation marks…!!!

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