Guest blog entry from local author Amy Goldman Koss:
Every book, like every baby, comes to us differently. Sure, the basic mechanics, egg, sperm, character, plot are the same, but still. The traditional, courtship, (love, marriage,) process in publishing goes like this:
1. You think of an idea and write the best possible book you can.
2. An editor gets a hold of your manuscript, reads it and loves it.
3. She defends it at an acquisition meeting, selling everyone on its merits and appropriateness for their list.
4. She succeeds and tells you or your agent. Everyone is happy.
5. A contract is negotiated and signed.
6. Editing begins. Compromises are made between author and editor with the well being of their beloved book in mind.
7. The book is published and released. Hooray!
That was pretty much how it went for my first four picture books and thirteen novels, except for one editor's mid-book retirement and one messy divorce.
But my newest baby, The Not So-Great-Depression, (in which the economy crashes, my mom goes broke, my sister's plans are ruined, my dad grows vegetables, and I do not get a hamster) followed a slightly different path to publication.
It all began on Bloody Thursday. That was the day the grim reaper of finances slashed through the publishing world, firing editors and assistants, closing whole imprints, canceling contracts and basically freaking out everyone in the business. The kid-lit-osphere reeled in circles shrieking in terror.
I sent Lauren, a woman I'd worked with at Roaring Brook Press, a sympathy e-mail saying I hoped she wasn't swept away in this grim blood bath. She wrote back that this mess, not just in publishing, but in every aspect of the economy was going to affect kids for a long time to come, and didn't I think there was a book in this?
Ew. A book on the economic downturn sounded so text-book dreary and math-like!
But my husband disagreed. He said it didn't have to be a bit dull or mathy. He insisted that reversals of fortune, the abrupt and unexpected game change is the stuff of great literature. So although I'd never had a book idea handed to me from outside my own thoughts before, I wrote back to Lauren and said I'd give it a try.
That was the first pattern-breaker in this process.
Of course within days at the keyboard the main character, Jacki became real to me, her family and friends rose up and took form and their world surrounded me. Once everyone was breathing on their own, I clued my agent in and let him and the publisher hash out the sticky parts.
Meanwhile, the assignment I gave my self was to make Jacki optimistic. I wanted her to be one of those cheerful kids who naturally look on the bright side of things without slithering into the annoyingly up-beat. My characters are usually neurotic, snaky and pessimistic so it was a huge challenge to fight my natural crabbiness, and let Jacki sparkle. Hard but fun. Jacki cracked me up repeatedly.
The book and I worked together for several happy months. There was a bit of a rush on this, though, because the publisher wanted it to pub while the economy was still failing so kids could read it while they or their friends and relatives were going through the same thing. It turned out, of course, sadly for all, that there was ultimately no rush as families are still losing their houses, and jobs at a hefty clip today. None the less, I got the first draft done in record time, and that's when I came upon the second break in the usual publishing pattern. The book didn't have an editor!
Lauren, who'd hatched the idea, wasn't an editor. She worked in marketing. And all the in-house editors had their own towering stacks of beloved projects with deadlines. Plus, since Bloody Thursday practically everyone in the industry had tripled their workload to cover for co-workers who'd been fired.
They had to hire a free-lance editor for my novel. Someone who wouldn't necessarily have chosen my manuscript out of the pile. Someone who didn't already love Jacki, or think she was funny. Someone paid by the hour to care about my baby.
It would not be this editor's job to usher my book all the way through to publication process. It would not be her job to confer with the art director about the cover, or send me my very first advance copy. She wouldn't be there to cheer or squee with me over good reviews, or share in any way in the book's future. It was not "our" book.
The freelancer they hired read the story and gave me editing suggestions on the phone, period. She was not hired to fight with me or insist I take her suggestions. She was nice, and then she was gone.
A weird loneliness took over. An insecurity. Being a writer is a pretty isolated life to start with, but take away the involvement of an invested, dedicated, editor... and brrrrr! It's mighty cold out there!
As much as we all complain about being edited, we need to have someone sharp looking over our shoulders, watching our backs, making sure we're not trotting out there with toilet paper stuck to our shoe or two Thursdays in a week.
My book was assigned next to a line editor to catch repetitions, misplaced commas, spelling. And then it was done.
All this is just a long, and I hope not dull explanation of the different journey my new baby The Not-So-Great Depression has taken to be here today. I dearly hope she doesn't show any bad effects from her unusual birth process. I love her with all my heart and hope you will too.
For a copy of Amy's latest and to learn how to meet her this weekend, click here or look below!