Authors, editors, and the *&^$ first draft.
Having worked in Christian publishing for over two decades as an editor, I’ve had contact with many an author. In my early days I worked with some highly strung first-time ones – those who define the stereotype of oversensitive, defensive, and not wanting to kill their darlings. I’m remembering one whose book I edited in the early days of the internet, when I would plug in the cord into the phone socket and dial in my clunky Mac laptop to download my emails. Each time I opened my emails I’d find another range of missives from him, written with passion and angst as he argued every little change.
I found the experience draining.
When I moved across the pond and started as an editor in the religious books division at one of the huge conglomerates, I was stunned to hear my boss, the publishing director, say, “I only commission authors I enjoy.” Really, I thought? Well that must leave out a lot of people. But as time passed and as I inherited many projects from covering a maternity leave, I could see his wisdom. Those projects where the author and I clicked, where I could see their passion and integrity, were those I loved working on, and which seemed to go swimmingly – even if we had a lot of rewriting and editing to do. Because we trusted each other, the editing process was a conversation – and the book benefited.
Those projects where the author and I didn’t gel so well, however, could suck the life out of me. For instance, I endured many a long, exhausting conversation with one agent, who claimed her author was receiving rotten treatment, that we were failing him, yadda yadda yadda – and this before the book even hit the bookshops! I wonder if she ever realized that she was thwarting her author’s project with the publishers.
And now, after those years as an editor, I finally got to be an author with my first book-baby, Finding Myself in Britain. The process was long and hard, but full of trust and feedback and uncovering my voice. My commissioning editor was Steve Mitchell, the MD of Authentic Media, who came up with the idea for the book. He knew my passions – for prayer and issues of identity in Christ. He also has two decades of retail experience. All of which led him to say, “Write your unique angle as an American in the UK. Make it a through-the-year look at us.”
So I had my marching orders and launched in exactly a year ago, going to Spain to El Palmeral for a week of intense writing, enjoying the sunshine and the hosts and guests – and hearing their stories of Harvest and clergy life and the difference between Yorkshire and, say, Lancaster. When I got back, I sent Steve a bunch of chapters for his feedback, and we continued to work in this back and forth manner, me writing and him assessing, as I created my first draft.
I was stunned by some of his early comments, for he was able to see what I couldn’t – namely how much I missed my family and friends in Minnesota. “I feel like you’re transplanting Minnesota to England,” he said of my early chapters in what was then called View from the Vicarage. “We want to hear what you think of us,” he continued, “not so much what you’ve left behind.”
Ouch. But he was right, and I rewrote, and rewrote some more. Once we were happy with my first draft, I sent it off to 10 reviewers, a mix of friends from the Woman Alive book club and three editor/writer friends. I sent off my manuscript to them on the Friday night and had a 13-page response from one speedy reviewer by Saturday afternoon. I was stunned at her insights and fast response – so stunned I had to take myself to bed, lest I become one of those defensive, irritating first-time authors I mention above.
And next time, dear reader friends, I’ll share how I handled that feedback and what I learned – and how I managed not to alienate my editor-friends!