For the past week, I’ve been immersed in the necessary-but-difficult process of author review on a couple of nonfiction projects. That’s when other people (editors in one case, clients in the other) make changes to what I’ve written and insert comments and queries about issues I need to address. I’m reviewing those changes and queries—hence “author review.”
You can probably see why this process is necessary. After I’ve gathered and shaped the information that goes into a nonfiction book, I need more pairs of eyes to go over the chapters, making sure everything is clear and correct and fits the publisher’s style. Those eyes belong to a developmental editor (who looks at big-picture issues like organization and style and does line edits at the same time) and several technical editors (who check the correctness of what I’ve written and point out topics or issues I’ve overlooked). This is a Good Thing. It takes a team of people to create a book, and I’m lucky to be working with some of the very best.
But it’s also hard. If you’ve ever opened a Word file and seen so many Tracked Changes that even squinting you can’t find your original text, you’ll know what I mean. And there can be dozens of comments in a single chapter. These range from “Change OK?” to “Can you provide a couple of examples?” to “I’m not sure what you’re saying here; please clarify.” It takes time and effort to go through the changes and address all the queries. And I’ve definitely got to fold up my ego and put it away in a drawer when I open a chapter to review.
But it’s all good. We end up with a better book, and since my name is on the cover, I want that book to be the best we can make it. And going through multiple author reviews for nonfiction books during the past five years helped to toughen my skin for the process of submitting my novels to agents and publishers.
In case you’re wondering, the editorial process for fiction is different from author review for nonfiction books. Instead of getting my marked-up manuscript back, chapter by chapter, I initially receive an honest-to-God editorial letter that outlines suggested changes. So far, I’ve actually enjoyed reading my editorial letters. Yeah, I have moments of feeling kinda dumb (“How could I not see that?” and “Hmm…what is the purpose of that scene?”), but it’s also a pleasure to see an intelligent reader deeply engaged with my novel. I use the letter as a guide for revising the manuscript. If the revisions are okay, several months later I receive the copy-edited manuscript, marked up with Tracked Changes and comments, just like in nonfiction author review. I love copyeditors (maybe because I used to be one). They’re obsessed with detail, they look everything up, and they make sure that if it’s 2:00 p.m. at the top of page 174 it’s not suddenly noon in the middle of page 176.
Peace, Love, and Murder and Deadtown have both been through this process. I’ve reviewed the final page proofs for PLM and await those for Deadtown. Each stage makes the story in my head that much closer to becoming a book, and I’m grateful for all the people who help me make those books—fiction and nonfiction both—as good as I can.