Stay the Course

I’ve had another development on my diploma complaint and another interview for my Korean teaching job, and I would have posted about one of them, but I’ve been preoccupied with something that happened on Tuesday. I was considering not doing a blog post at all and just absorbing the blow in silence, but I realized that would not only be a disservice to readers of the blog but to myself as well.

Advice from the vid below was instrumental in me speaking about it:

I’ve mentioned once or twice on this blog that I’m a writer, but I never went into details because to be honest talking about writing is BORING. Especially if you’re not a writer yourself. I don’t plan on discussing writing a lot on this blog for that specific reason, but something happened in my writer life and I think it leads to advice that you will find helpful yourself.

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(Not like you guys got a choice)

Here’s what’s going on: I wrote a novel that I’d like to get published with a large publishing house; however, before I expose my baby to the criticisms of the query process, I wanted an editor to take a look at it and give his professional opinion.

The editor that I’m using now I met at the 2014 San Francisco Writer’s Conference. His name is Michael Mohr and he’s excellent. (Be sure to visit his site here.) We started off with a sample edit of the first ten pages and while I wasn’t expecting much, when I got his results back they opened my eyes to all the weak areas of the book.

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(Needless to say I signed him immediately)

His first step was a developmental edit where he wouldn’t so much look at the writing or “prose” of the book but the overall structure and plot. I thought my plot was pretty solid, but when he got his hands on it, he did an excellent job of pointing out unnecessary scenes and characters, questioning world-building issues, and pushing me to elevate the book to the next level.

That was all fine and well, and after I got the book back I spent two and half months going HAM on this book, trying to create a masterpiece.

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(And basically turned into this guy in the process)

During this time I lowered the word count from 113k to 105k (an impressive feat to anyone who’s a writer), streamlined the plot, added a love interest, fleshed out certain characters while axing others, and simplified the fantastical elements of the world I had built.

So I sent it off and awaited judgment.

However, when I got the book back last Tuesday, I did not get the response I was expecting. According to the editor I’ll be needing another 2 more rounds of editing because the book is not ready.

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(I’m fine. Really. Totally FINE.)

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with polishing a book until it shines. I absolutely want to make the best book possible and thereby provide an unforgettable experience for the reader.

The problem this time around is that when I looked at my editor’s criticisms they didn’t ring true like they did the first time. A few of his comments I agreed with, others I disagreed with, and a few made me sigh because I could tell they’d be a real bitch to implement.

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(To whatever’s left of my patience. Cheers!)

But I want to focus on the comments I disagreed with. On the one hand, I could see the perspective that he’s coming from, and he’s not wrong, but on the other he’s pushing for changes that will fundamentally change the book.

In other words, he’s trying to make the book into something it’s not.

This leads to an important lesson I’m about to lay down, and it’s not just for writers—it’s for partnerships everywhere.

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(Because no matter how legendary the partnership, conflict is always inevitable.)

One of my childhood friends (who we’ll call “Simon”) is a fan of my writing and the novel I wrote. He wants the best for me (ie getting published) and his heart is in the right place. I showed him just the editorial letter, and while he disagreed with a few things (not as much as I) there was something he said that bugged me:

“Just do whatever he says.”

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(Which stopped me in my tracks for a sec.)

In Stephen King’s book “On Writing” his third foreword gives similar advice:

One rule of the road not directly stated elsewhere in this book: “The editor is always right.” The corollary is that no writer will take all of his or her editor’s advice; for all have sinned and fallen short of editorial perfection. Put another way, to write is human, to edit divine.

Yes, I understand that you should be understanding with your editor, listen, and make compromises. But when my friend said those words I tried to argue back with analogy.

First, let’s imagine that I’m a successful business owner with a string of franchised Italian dessert stores.

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 (Benvenuto a Giuseppe’s Gelato! How may we serve you today?)

Simon comes to me and says he wants to open up a business of his own–a salad shop. One that everyone in the neighborhood could attend and enjoy a nutritious green meal. Because I have all of this experience and success, he pays me a small fee off the books (because these hypothetical stores operate in the “wild west” small business culture of Staten Island) for advice on how to prepare his shop before its grand opening.

Cut to later down the road. After following my advice for months and being mostly satisfied with it, I suddenly recommend an extreme change: all of the wait staff in the salad bar should dress up like sexy carrots and cucumbers…I’m talkin’ vegetables who show a LOT of skin.

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(On second thought…maybe JUST the females.*Shudder*)

While Simon is savvy enough to know that “sex sells” and that I have a point, he also realizes that to heed this particular advice is to compromise his original vision. He wants a shop that makes money, but he also wants make his dream become a reality, and if this risky moves blows up in his face, ONLY Simon will be left to clean up the mess.

But when Simon goes to his relatives for advice, all they say is:

“Just listen to what Joe says.”

How would you feel?

You’d probably feel like it’s not Simon’s business venture anymore; you’d feel like it was Joe’s business, even though 100% of the responsibility falls on SIMON.

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(“Feh. I don’t need salads. I’m going to become an antiquarian! What could go wrong?”)

And that’s the point I’m trying to get at here. While the editor is helpful, 100% of this book’s future rests on MY shoulders. So when I receive conflicting information with my vision of the book, what am I supposed to do?

Stay the course.

At this point, I’m going to dig deep and get in touch with the type of book I’m writing and where I want said book to go. I’ll implement any suggestions that will help the book, but as far as the comments that may change the book fundamentally or take it *ahem* off-course, those suggestions will be scrapped.

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(At last, a “Keep Calm” slogan I can get behind).

“But Joe!” you must be saying, “What if your inability to listen results in the book not being published?”

Doesn’t matter. Stay the course. If I follow my internal compass and I can’t land an agent, then guess what—the book was not destined for mass consumption.

At the end of the day, the book is the book. Many books are released each year, and the reviews range. That’s fine. But the author must have confidence that he / she is doing right by his / her vision before the release.

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(No matter how disturbing that vision may be.)

I’ll wrap up with the post of how the book Flowers for Algernon came to be published. Briefly, this was a book that went from publisher from publisher for one simple reason: the author didn’t want to change the ending. Each publisher wanted him to, and each time the author refused, handing the money back, until at last he found a publisher who let him keep his ending. The book went on to become a bestseller, won the 1967 Nebulla Award for Best Novel, was adapted into the Academy Award-winning film Charly, and has since been translated into over 27 languages.

Stay the course.

That’s all for now. If you liked what I had to say please leave a comment below and as always be sure to SUBSCRIBE by email so you’ll be notified every time I post, which should be getting more frequent as I get closer and closer to departure.

Until next time,

J. F. Seegitz

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One Response to Stay the Course

  1. An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a colleague who had been doing a
    little homework on this. And he in fact ordered me dinner due to
    the fact that I found it for him… lol. So let me reword this….
    Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending the time to discuss this issue here on your
    web site.

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