Publish or Die! Part 6

March 27, 2009

At what point, during the process of sharpening your pencil, do you end up with nothing more than a pile of well-intentioned shavings?

I’m asking myself that question these days as I reach the quarter pole in my final polish/edit of Brown Girls before I publish the new and improved version.

The novel, set in the Cook Islands and starring Jack Nolan, was first published in 2004 by PublishAmerica, back in the bad old days of POD publishing, before Lulu somehow made such endeavors glorious and worthwhile.

The book was originally comprised of some 212,000 words. Before submitting it to PA, I’d given it several reads in an effort to weed out typos and replace missing words and ensure that suspense and thrills were actually present in what I’d classified as a suspense thriller.

Viking Woman did the same, as did former Langley Times workmate Brenda Anderson. PublishAmerica had an editor do a cursory scan, but that resulted in little more than “jandal”s being changed to “sandals,” a misguided correction I then had to go back in and fix.

And out into the cold, cruel world went my first child. That it drew much acclaim and kind reviews was a bonus, a very much appreciated bonus.

After I negotiated the return of the publishing rights from PA, I turned for help to my new friend, Jeff Buick, a Calgary-based writer working in the same genre. Jeff initially made several suggestions, before he sat on my manuscript for some 10 months and then left me dangling, e-mails unanswered. (Yes, that was somewhat rude and thoughtless and unkind of him, but I will let that go now and assume the God of Karma will deal with Mr. Buick at some future date.)

At Jeff’s urging, I changed Jack Nolan from a Canadian to an American, the thought process being that citizens of the great and wonderful US of A won’t read a book about people who aren’t exactly like themselves. Jeff also advised me to limit the Cook Islands Maori words that I’d used because, he explained, Americans tend not to tolerate any language but their own, The Kite Runner be damned.

Another suggestion I can attribute to Mr. Buick (who has, at last glance, NOT won the Pulitzer Prize for literature) was to make the novel shorter. Because, you guessed it, American readers = no patience for lengthy tomes.

In the end, I compromised: Jack is now an American and I snipped some 20,000 words, but I did keep the native language. The one constant from my 2004 foray into publishing was that readers felt transported to Rarotonga when they read Brown Girls and I was deathly afraid to lose that magic via the Delete tab.

Viking Woman feels the same way. She has not read the new version (the penultimate editing was kindly done by California-based writer/Facebook friend Alice Grey: fishbonesandmilk.typepad.com) but her chief concern is that I have somehow sliced the soul out of my book all in the name of streamlining.

I value Viking Woman’s opinion. Partially because I have no choice, since our contract contains that whole “love, honor, obey” clause, but mainly because she was right there with me in Rarotonga when I experienced the events and met the people that inspired the book in the first place. One of the major female characters is based on my wife and whole slabs of this character’s dialogue are reproduced verbatim, and so you can understand her concern.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, some of the early editing of Brown Girls version 2.0 was also based on advice from Lisa Rector, who once upon a time wrote a column for my Sports section in the Langley Times, before marrying New York-based literary agent Donald Maass, moving to the Big Apple and starting her own manuscript editing business, which you can find at thirddraftnyc.com. And, yes, that was a free plug. And, yes, Lisa, you do owe me. And tell your parents I say hey.)

All of which brings me back to my opening metaphor. At what point in the editing process do you stop following other people’s advice and suggestions and personal opinions? I could quite possibly ask 100 people to give me editing advice and quite possibly receive 100 more comments.

All fine and good, and some of them might even be helpful, but none of them would be based on the heart and soul and inspiration that stirred me initially to sit down and spend nine months (the first time around) of my life banging out this book.

The truth of the matter is that, at this point, I have stopped listening to other people (except, of course, for those faithful readers who have spent five years demanding a sequel — soon, I promise). I will finish this final polish and then send it out for the world to judge its merits (stand by for more information on that process.)

Sometime in the future, I hope Jeff Buick actually reads the new version of Brown Girls. This time, however, he’s going to have to pay for it.

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One Response to “Publish or Die! Part 6”

  1. Megan said

    Why edit such an amazing book? You should be focusing on the sequel. Get to it!

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