Generation V and the editing process

Okay, that was a long break between posts. What happened was that my day job of teaching college freshmen started back up again, and I’ve been trying to juggle time between teaching 18-year-olds how to use apostrophes correctly and writing Book Two. That meant that this blog unfortunately fell a bit by the wayside. To my possibly half-dozen readers, mea culpa!

Of course, the hope is that someday, after Generation V is published (May 2013, ya’ll – mark calendars accordingly), there will be hordes of people visiting this website! And to you, readers of the future, I apologize. I know that you hang on my every word, and that this blog is a priceless repository of my musing back in the days before I hit it big and (presumably) totally sold out. Future men and women, perusing this on the e-readers that have been surgically implanted in your arms, forgive me.

Reader of the future, you will get why this is really funny in the context of Generation V. Reader of the present: Fortitude Scott likes Doctor Who and works in a coffee shop. Caffeinate!

But in addition to trying to convince college freshmen that it really is the time in their lives to learn how to use a comma correctly, the Generation V manuscript has gone through a major step in the editing process! Woo!

A few interesting numbers – when the fine folks at Roc bought my manuscript, it was 74,600 words. That’s a little on the light side – around 260 pages of a finished manuscript. The book was finished – there weren’t cliffhangers to it, but my editor gave me a few overall comments and notes that were really helpful. I spent a little under a month working on the manuscript after we talked, and when I sent it to her, it was now 84,000 words long. That was a gain of about 10,000 words.

And the amazing thing was that the main story never actually changed.

What changed during the process was actually mostly small things. Things I’d mentioned about my version of vampire nature and physiology were clarified. A few scenes that were already present got longer and more complicated. The motivations and pressures that lead my main character, Fortitude, to go from disillusioned coffee-slinger to badass hero were clarified. I added a few scenes as well that helped the overall feel of the book – there’s a stopover at a pizza place as well as an ammunition store that were completely new. It was a really useful process, and while it took a fair amount of work, I really enjoyed it.

There’s a lot of discussion about the benefit of graduate writing programs. I won’t get into that much on this blog, but I think there are a lot of very valid concerns about these programs – particularly in terms of how much money is being spent by students to get a degree that might have a very minor earning power. But one of the things that I will always say was worthwhile about the years I spent in that program was how much it taught me to be flexible as a writer. I might think I’ve just crafted an incredible work of genius, but if I ask someone for their feedback and they point out a big damn problem, I need to stop and address it. It might be the last thing in the world I want to look at, and sometimes the cuts and changes might be painful to make, but it has to be done.

I had a friend when I was an undergraduate who had written a high fantasy book. She asked me to read it, and I did. Problem was, I stopped reading about sixty pages in and gave the manuscript back to her. And I told her very honestly when I did that I just physically couldn’t read any more, because I hated her hero so damn much that everything after the first ten pages had been a struggle to get through, and I didn’t think that she had meant to create a hero quite that flawed. In fact, looking at the way she had described him, I had the impression that she’d tried to create a perfect hero.

I’m sure that I don’t need to say that she was pretty unhappy with my feedback. She also didn’t change anything about the hero, saying instead that the problem was with me. And in all fairness, writing isn’t like working at a customer service desk at the grocery store – the customer isn’t always right. (I did work that job for about two years in high school – that kind of thinking leads to full refunds for customers who leave bags of shellfish in the front seat of their car for two days in July) There’s no book written that will appeal to every single person. On the other hand, the first people you pick to read a book are usually your first people for a reason – if you respect their opinion, then you need to pay attention if they come back and say that there were problems here, and you need to figure out how to address them.

Fun story about that girl – when she was taking an introductory class to poetry, she had huge fights with the professor. All she wanted to do was craft very Tolkien-y style poetry, and this was a class where they were assigned a lot of different forms. I had other friends in that class, and apparently these fights were EPIC.

Anyway, back to Generation V.

Once I was done with this set of revisions, I sent the now 84,000 word manuscript over to my editor, and now she went through it with a fine-tooth comb. While her earlier comments had been pretty broad, now they were very precise and refined to specific moments in the manuscript, and sometimes right down to word choice. She also had some bigger questions, some of which resulted in completely new scenes. Again, this was a lot of work, but it was hugely fun and rewarding. I feel incredibly lucky that I ended up working with the editor I did, because she was extremely thorough and patient, and was clearly focused on trying to make the manuscript as good as it possibly could be.

Were all these changes ones that were easy to make? Absolutely not. At least three jokes of a highly questionable nature hit the cutting floor, and I was very sad to see them go. There was one suggested adjustment to a denouement element that had me in coils for a few days – the change she was asking me to make did make a ton of sense in the sense that it gave Fortitude a clear action on something in his life, but at the same time that would require the removal of an action from his gal Friday, Suzume. It was tough, and I spent a lot of time working on it. In the end, I think that it worked out, and it did make the book stronger overall.

We went back and forth several times – sometimes it took a while for a scene to be adjusted in a way that was working for both of us. By the time it was done, the manuscript length was at 88,800. Yet the fundamental elements of the story have never changed! Pretty damn cool.

The manuscript is now accepted by Roc, meaning that it’s a big step closer to being published. Right now, Generation V is with the copyeditor. Since this is my first publication experience, I wasn’t entirely certain what’s going on there, so I asked my friend BigRedK, who works at the Harvard University Press. She said this:

As for the copyeditor… Copyeditors exist for one reason: to make you realize that you don’t know the English language like you probably should. 😉

More seriously, they clean up the manuscript so all subjects and their verbs agree and so all pronouns have a clearly identified antecedent. They prune cliches, unmix metaphors, and go on “which” hunts (ie, use “that” with restrictive clauses, “which” with non-restrictive clauses — curiously enough, the Brits habitually ignore this “rule”). Moreover, they edit your manuscript to adhere to “house style”. (Do they use “cancellation” or “cancelation”? Do they use serial commas? etc.)

So this should be an interesting experience!

“Fox Hunt” by Winslow Homer

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About M. L. Brennan

Author of the Generation V urban fantasy series, published by Roc Books. Not your usual vampires, kitsune shapeshifters with attitude, Doctor Who jokes, and underemployment. GENERATION V and its sequel, IRON NIGHT, available wherever books are sold. Third installment, TAINTED BLOOD, to be published 11/14.

Posted on September 20, 2012, in Editors, Publication, Writing process. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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