Please ignore the HORRIBLE scan on that title.
So, without sugar-coating it, the first “final” draft of our recent book was returned with a partial rejection. The editor, one we’ve worked with twice before, was kind enough to include the reasons that it didn’t work for them. That’s not something you can count on with a rejection, though I imagine that given our history, we stood a better shot of getting feedback than someone coming directly from the slush pile.
If you follow us on Twitter, you might have noticed that we did an all-out push to finish the book. It basically consumed our lives for about three solid weeks, and when we were done, we felt like we’d won the lottery. We made a book, and it was good! We pushed our own boundaries, and loved it to death, and shoved it out the door as soon as we finished the third round of self-edits, because we were simultaneously proud as hell, and sick unto death of looking at it. We were happy little writers, and we both still love the book to bits.
But we weren’t readers. And you know who tends to like books? Readers.
I won’t bore you with the psychology of my writing process (at least, not today), but even with a partner, writing is a lonely sort of business. Telling stories is amazing, but I think most people who tell them want someone else to hear them. Part of writing, for me, is sinking myself into the movie and translating it. (Oh, look, I lied about not veering into this topic. You can read my previous post about it here.) That means it’s all there for me- sight, sound, even smell a lot of times, and I know without a doubt who the character is on a level that might never make it to the page. A lot of times, it doesn’t need to. But when I’m being a writer, I am emphatically not being a reader. As an engaged reader, I want to know what’s going to happen next, what happened before, and I want to poke into all the little cracks and find everything I possibly can in the story. If I didn’t do my job as a writer, didn’t convey the right parts of the experience, or let them get lost as I took the long way around to the bones of the story, why should I expect a reader to settle in long enough for the story to enfold them?
And that’s where an editor catches you. Obviously, we’ve sold to this editor before, and we like working with them. So when they came to us with these problems, and said it really hurt the book, why wouldn’t we listen? I mean- it’s an editor’s job to know what’s going to work, and what’s going to sell, and what’s going to showcase our story in the best light. Why would I get pissed at that? If I respect them enough to let them tinker with my book, why wouldn’t I respect their opinion on whether or not the book is working?
We’ve disagreed on a few things, and this editor has been respectful of our wishes. At the end of the day, we wrote the book, not them. Obviously, if an editor wades into a story with a hacksaw and hands you back the dismembered (or disgendered) head of your main character, you’ve got every right in the world to question that editorial advice, or even to take your work elsewhere, especially if it’s not an editor you trust.
As a writer, I see the work that went into my stories, the craft and hours and joy of writing them. During the submission process, viewing my work as a writer can be a huge hindrance to the book, because at that point, I need to be looking at it almost as two people- writer and reader. Being so caught up in the creating that you can’t judge the creation isn’t unique to writing, but if you’re submitting your writing somewhere, you’ve got a checkpoint that many other artists don’t: a good editor.
Down to brass tacks: an editor is a reader with a built-in vested interest. They want your story to be the best it can be. They want it to be engaging and solidly written. An editor wants your book to succeed. I’m not disregarding that they edit for a love of good stories, but good stories get talked about, and getting talked about gets sales. Authors want to sell books. Editors want to sell books. And readers want to buy books that have been lovingly created, beautifully written- and read over by someone who knows what makes a good story better.
Rejection sucks, tiddlywinks. It’s no lie that I’m really, really sad that our book didn’t make this editor jump up in their office and scream, “Everyone, stop writing- THIS is the best book I’ve ever read! There can be no other!” (What? Like you don’t pretend you’ve written one of the Manuscripts of Power? You’ll never cast my page proofs into the fires of Mordor! ANYway…)
You know what would have sucked worse? Publishing what I still believe is an incredible story, and losing most of our readers in the first three chapters, because we were too busy being pissed off that someone didn’t recognize our brilliance. Rejection, in this case, was a gift, and we intend to return the kindness by writing a better book and taking the editor’s advice into account.
Time to make it better.