Saturday, September 21, 2013

Unbroken, unlike your editor

Hey, Larry! Could you polish this freshly minted shiny new penny just a little bit more for me? I can't quite see the world reflecting back at me perfectly enough yet.

This is how I felt sending editing notes to author Larry Benjamin, after he sent me the manuscript for his latest novel, Unbroken, published by Beaten Track on 20th September 2013.

It began back in March, when Larry emailed me:

question--do you want to read Unbroken?

Do I want to read it? Do I want to read it? Are you serious?

After the question with the most obvious answer in the world, Larry wrote:

You don't need to feel pressured to publish it

Don't feel pressured?

Aggggghhhhhhh! Larry Benjamin, you know, whose first novel was published by Carina Press (which is part of Harlequin Group, who are HUGE) says I don't need to feel pressure to publish it?

Say what?

(it may suck for all I know)

Ha! Fat chance of that!

So, this email exchange began on Wednesday 13th March. On Thursday 14th March, Larry sent me the manuscript. On Friday 15th March I sent Larry this response (edited highlights to remove spoilers and bits that relate to the fact that by now we had become friends, albeit friends who live on different continents and have never met each other in person):

Right, so...

At this point I'm 43% in (I did a quick Kindle conversion for ease of reading) and I have a couple of questions / comments.

Firstly, the real-world preambles at the start of each chapter imply that this is autobiographical. This led me to reading the synopsis (you did a great job, I think – I'll tell you later!), even though I prefer to do a first reading of a manuscript without seeing the synopsis – a book has to grip me from the start for me to believe in it, or at the very least if it gets me a little later on, the beginning has to be in a good enough state to tweak so that it becomes gripping.

I can confirm that IT IS gripping from the start and there is very little I would want to do in the way of editing so far.

However, it will need a very clear disclaimer / foreword / prologue explaining that this is fiction, because I was fooled into believing it wasn't.

In terms of the brief editing I mentioned, it is no more than a couple of shuffle-arounds...

I stopped at 43% this morning because I was weeping.


And so it began: the most painful editing process in the world. Why? Because I'd read both of Larry's previous books and knew how awesome they were, plus I had this manuscript sitting in my inbox, with its extra spaces and flipped speech marks and stuff, and occasionally I'd pause because the narrative didn't flow quite so smoothly, and I wondered if I was up to it. For who am I but a lowly humble fellow author with an eye for detail and a somewhat autistic tendency to collect new knowledge and skills, offering forth these skills for the world?

Yes, it's the truth. I set up Beaten Track because I can spot a missing comma from a mile away (although it would seem, according to my proofreaders that I can't see the extra ones for looking). I'm told I intimidate my colleagues by failing to turn away my critical gaze when they are giving presentations (yes, you did mismatch your quotation marks, and no, you do not need an apostrophe there for we are all dispossessed, but anyway, usual digression...).

The story itself then: it didn't need much in the way of editing. It just works. Larry writes character-driven stories and the characters in Unbroken are, in my humble opinion, beautiful, well-rounded people that a reader can engage and empathise with.

This is not to say that there weren't a few bits and pieces in need of tidying up. However, this was a battle of creative wills and it was predominantly fought on four fields: US/UK punctuation, emdashes, repeated words and bubbles.

This one persisted, but it was the first thing we discussed, as Beaten Track is UK based, but it's a global market so that matters not. That said, of the three US authors' books we'd published prior to this, only one remained in US English.

DM: FYI – I won't Anglicise Unbroken, just in case the hyphenated words above have been noticed. Your quirky US punctuation gets to stay too! ;)

LB: excuse me but our punctuation is just fine. However, yours...LOL

Of a multitude (and also persistent)! Bubbles that surround comments in 'Track Changes' a la Microsoft Word DRIVE ME NUTS. Do not like. And then there were the bubbles that featured in the plot - I'm not spoiling the story, as they've gone now (readers might like to try and figure out where they were before they got popped).

So, by this point it's only the weekend of the 16th-17th March; I've read the first draft in its entirety and loved it. Mostly.

LB: You don't like my bubbles?  Fine I can live without them.

DM: Hey, I wasn't suggesting getting rid of the bubbles...You people watch too much Glee! And yes – I think we will be a great team – just glad you replied, because I was worrying that you'd be upset by my feedback.

LB: Your feedback doesn't upset me.  I know you want it to be the best book it can be, as I do.  And you have more experience and I trust you so stop worrying that I'll be upset.

Please note, however, I took the high road and ignored your rude comment about me and Nigel and Glee. But that said, maybe we can turn Unbroken into a Broadway musical...hmmm...

More experience? But I'm just a lowly author with delusions of grandeur and you're...Larry Benjamin!

Anyway, to clarify, I'll always be a lowly author, but I don't really believe I have delusions of grandeur (obviously - no delusional person thinks they're not delusional). Joking aside, I have never believed myself to be any better than anyone else - always learning, alway striving to be the best and never reaching it. A self actualiser; that's me, and that's the way I edit and publish. It can always be better, but let's see how high we can hoist that pedestal...

DM: Yes, please do ignore my rude comments. Unbroken, The Musical? Sounds fun – I can hear a Sondheim number coming on... :)

A little respite, or at least a week passed before Larry observed:

LB: You seem to be doing a lot at once. Ever think about slowing down a bit?

What do you think? Moving on...

LB: oh my! Such rapid fire answers. I don't know if I can keep up with you.

You'd better believe it. This editor is running on high caffeine fuel! Seriously, it would have an octane rating of about 110 if it was PETROL. Not GAS, note! Damned Americans and their 'adaptation' of Shakespeare's English.

LB: whilst -- that  cracks me up.

Well, Mr. Benjamin, WHILST you're cracking up, I'm cracking on, and getting over the fact that Beaten Track only got second dibs on Unbroken:

DM: Well, you know, I don't mind being second best. Much. I'll get over it. The rejection... Kidding, of course. For all that I say about the wonders of independence, if Bloomsbury offered me enough cash to give up everything but writing... Rejection does suck though.

Oh, and you got rid of the bubbles. Completely! I feel so bad. I feel responsible for the death of the bubbles.

The bubbles meant nothing. Emdashes, however...more on this later. Plus I got some great insights into the real Jose, which I might just leave alone. In a minute.

LB: He was more Mexican/Indian looking. I always dreamed he was a reincarnated Mayan god.

Ahem. Yes, well...

So by the end of March we're well into the editing process and starting to notice just a few strange coincidences in our stories, to the extent that I sent Larry draft manuscripts of my own about to be published work so he would know I hadn't plagiarised his.

And we're still having trouble with bubbles.

DM: I've been working on a paragraph for 3 hours and didn't even realise! Maybe I should throw some bubbles in there at the end, too. :)

LB: Good luck and I think adding bubbles is a tremendous idea!

DM: Track Changes looks like some kind of OCD graffiti.

Damn, Unbroken is compelling. I realise now why it took me less than a day to read it the first time. I am really, really going to stop in a minute. I have a scene I need to write for my WIP, which I actually shouldn't be writing till I'm done twiddling with the others, but...

LB: I'm amazed that you can switch back aand forth between tasks like that. 

See C is for caffeine above.

LB: PhD on the politics of transsexuality and lecturing in gender and sexual politics. Seriously? I'm seriously impressed. On top of running a publishing company, writing and editing?!

I shall continue to be impressed PhD or not.   "...deconstruct the binary definitions of gender...and sexuality... To me, this is still the essence of discrimination—the notion of difference based on socially constructed binary oppositions..."  Yeah, just anyone could have rattled that off.

Well, ya know, I can talk the talk, and Larry claims to be a 'mere little cog'. Hmm.

DM:  LOL – OK, in English, we're all people. Why can't we just get along? As Eddie Izzard would say, 'All we've got to do is melt a bit, just move it around.'

And then 'the mere little cog' goes on to say "move from click-based engagement model to fan-based engagement model." Huh?

Still only April, still sucking up...

LB: You make me blush.  thank you. I am so glad we met and I suspect we are going to do great things together (needs capital letter, plus removal of space before 'thank' and a full stop at the end. </edit>)

Still fighting over the correct use of English...

LB: As for instances such as "taller than I" that is correct in US because you always think of rephrasing as "he was taller than I am" thus "he was taller than me was" would be incorrect.

OXFORD COMMA ALERT that cracks me up. I shall be using this in a future novel.  Just so you know...

there's a THIRD set of edits? oh my, you ARE thorough.

Hell, yeah! You'd better believe it (but not perfect, for those people like my sister who could find a dropped full stop in a punctuation ocean).

Still April:

LB: So from your comment, I gather you're not wild about the book's closing sentence?

A rewrite of the closing sentence followed, then...

LB: SUBJECT: What do you think of this? (would spoil the story if I told you. Go buy it, read it and tell us what you think.)

DM: Re: What do you thing of this?


Or at least, nearly... :)

[line here] good

[line here] meh – who cares about the law. Not sure, but maybe you get my drift.

[line here] good good

[line here] YESSSS! God, yes. Made me shiver.
(and only shiver)

DM: Just had a sudden, terrible thought – hoping that this statement is not an indication of your current experience?

"the publishing process can be ummm...bruising."

LB: haha just saw this. No of course I was not referring to you oh paranoid one

But just to make sure, gonna butter up my insecure lil editor via Twitter...

@WriterLarry: I can't say I enjoy it but I've been lucky; great editors like @writerdebmcg and @RHelmsBooks have made my books better

Mid April, things started to get...tetchy:

LB: Re: Unbroken, unlike your editor The changing of repeated words made me crazy--You'll see I get a bit cranky towards the end. I apologize for that.  I do think sometimes your focus on words used more than once became a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. In those instances I pointed out the larger context.

DM: My goodness me, you did get a bit short-tempered there! In my defence...well, I don't have one, really. I'm fussy and demanding and like things 'just so'. I'll fight if I think I'm absolutely right, but I rarely do!

And so onto May, which began with a fight to get Damaged Angels into a physical bookstore. I offered everything but my soul. We got nowhere. It was depressing, given that the author-editor scrapping was at full throttle. Larry wrote a blog post about the Damaged Angels situation. I got upset.

LB: I saw your response on your FB page to my question.  You shouldn't be upset or feel bad.  It wasn't a criticism of BT in any way, just an observation along the way. Hell if not for you and Nigel it wouldn't even be in print so I'm happy.  We'll get where we need to be in time. Meanwhile it was just chronicling the latest adventure in this writer's life.

Then later...

LB: Oh the editor-writer relationship can be rocky but it doesn't mean anything. That is, at least for me, it's separate and outside our relationship. It's work. I realize you're trying to get the best out of me and sometimes I want to scream I have no more left to give. LOL   So yes we're good and of course I stil love you (doesn't mean we won't stil argue over edits so don't get your hopes up.)

DM: Working on the train...the best laid plans, as they say. I got as far as [plot spoiler removed] and I think that combined with fatigue and listening to Symphony of Science, I was feeling a little emotional and I am no way going to cry on a train full of Mancunians and Wiganers! I stopped reading...

LB: What's a Mancunian? and Wiganers?

Yes! I know stuff!

LB: Curiousity question--I saw your note that you changed some emdashes to ellipses where one charcter interrupts another.  I thought we were using emdashes for interruption and ellipses for trailing thoughts.  Just asking so I know which to use for next book.

Can only assume this was a royal 'we', as I didn't agree to this. I did later, for the sake of P&Q! Emdash-happy all the way...

DM: Emdashes vs ellispes. It's up to you, but I use emdashes for change of direction or where brackets could be used, and ellipses for thought processes and interruptions. I'm not bothered especially, so whichever you want to do (beauty of independence – we can cater for author preference in most cases), but you are a bit emdash-happy!

LB: Note please, I am taking the high road  and ignoring you calling me emdash happy!

DM: Go—ahead—see—if—I—care—because—I—don't...

June arrived, along with the Acknowledgements page.

DM: Just read the Acknowledgements.





Sorry. A bit. Maybe.

Oh, and I've paraphrased you. I may yet steal your bubbles.

LB: awww...yes exaperating you..but you have good instincts and insights so I trust you.   Ah hah.  I knew you loved my bubbles no matter how much you objected to them!  Bubble away (I  stil have bubbles in [A REALLY HOT SCENE IN THE BOOK - GO READ IT!] ;-))

And I'm winning the emdash battle.

LB: I prefer emdashes for interruptions but honestly, I don't know that it's worth the effort to hunt through the whole book and change. We can make a note of it for the next book.

DM: Yes, indeed, we do need to do that (disclaimer). Even though the character does seem like you, and is also called Jose, who coincidentally happened to be the name of one of the author's schoolmates, it is entirely coincidental. We swear. :)


DM: I'll figure out where to put that. Properly, I mean, rather than my usual (not) sarcasm!

LB: Please notice no emdashes were harmed in the writing of this email

DM: And he says I'm sarcastic

Late July, and things had settled down a little, between the author and editor at least, but there was an entirely new battle raging on the trying to pin down a cover front. I won't discuss it here; suffice to say, the best laid plans...

LB: Hey we haven't spoken in awhile so thought I'd check in and see where we were with Unbroken.


(insert major editor crisis of confidence here. Author comes to the rescue with ideas for cover)

DM: Yes, these could work, which will undoubtedly upset my daughter as your idea is the same as hers (the two held hands), but she was having a problem finding a photo of two male hands.

I can work with this, I think. Will have a go and eat humble pie!

LB: As for Beth, you can simply tell her you rethought her hand idea and decided you really like it. ;-)

Yep, that'll work...

And so the editing process was at an end. The final product, Unbroken, is now out there in the world for you to see and judge for yourself. Go read, tell us what you think, but be nice.

I'd like to say I'm taking a well-earned rest. However, WHILST there's still coffee to be drunk...

Larry Benjamin: I still salute you. You're still fabulous.

And still emdash-happy.

To be continued—