Guest Post: Welcome back, Lamar! Lamar (L. R. Giles) has visited Seeking the Write Life a few times, and we always enjoy hearing from him. He secured a big six publishing contract last year...but I'll let him tell you the story:
A little over a year ago, Aimee allowed me to give a lengthy account of how I came to sell my debut YA Thriller FAKE ID (formerly WHISPERTOWN) to HarperCollins. She and I chat often on Twitter, and I asked if there was anything her readers might be interested in hearing about post-sale? She barely hesitated when she said, "The editorial process".
What Aimee wants she gets…
Before I start, a couple of quick notes:
*For the purposes of this post, I’m going with a broad interpretation of “editorial”, meaning everything that me, my editor, and my agent deal with jointly, not just the specifics of manuscript revisions. All of it is intertwined. Also, since the timeline aspect of my last post seemed to go over well, I’ll stick with the familiar.
*Because I’m giving you my in-the-moment experiences and reactions, some things may seems less than positive because that’s how it felt at the time. Let me be clear, I work with AMAZING people in this industry. I’ve gone on at length in other forums about my incredible agent, and I need to extol the virtues of my editor, too. My book is a better book because of their guidance. By telling you of various delays that occur when you’re a debut writer, I’m not indicting anyone. I simply want you to understand that every part of this process is a SLOW GRIND that you have very little control over. When it’s your turn, be prepared to hurry up and wait.
I get the first half of my advance. My wife takes a picture of me holding the check in a Heisman pose. (I’m not going to show you the picture.) With this money comes a set of dates that I’m contractually obligated to meet. My next draft of WHISPERTOWN is due on 1/23/2012. My editor expects to give me revision notes sometime in November. That means a two-month turnaround. Intimidating, but I’m a pro and I’m ready.
My birthday comes. I’m 32, and I realize that by the time my novel debuts in summer 2013 I’ll be 33 and a half (or so I think). Wow. Seems far and close at the same time. I enjoy a good dinner and some cake with my family while mentally preparing to meet my writing obligations. My Edit Letter will be coming any day now.
No Edit Letter yet. My agent assures me this is normal. “But, what about that date in my contract, the one that says I have to turn in a new draft in January or legal armaggedon will come to pass?” My agent says, “Lamar, I’m pregnant, and the baby is, like, tap dancing on my kidney right now. We’re fine, and I’m going to make sure I don’t have any internal damage. More soon.” Really, that’s not what my agent said, though she was pregnant at the time. She let me know that the dates in contracts are flexible because things change on a dime in publishing. Fair enough. Less stress during the holidays.
Still no Edit Letter. My agent is on maternity leave and I’ve heard little to nothing from my editor since signing my contract in August because she is SWAMPED. Surprise, surprise, I’m not the only book on the HarperCollins list in 2013. It takes a long time to edit a book, longer to edit it well. My editor is a seasoned pro responsible for a lot of things; some of those things take precedence over me.*
My contracted revision deadline comes and goes. I’m not overly concerned because my agent told me this was normal, and many of my writer friends are experiencing similar shifts in their revision dates. I’m lying if I say I’m not a little annoyed about the delays, but what can be done?
*No one likes waiting, but good notes from a good editor are worth the time. Maybe twice in my career, I’ve heard a writer say their editor got back to them quickly and had no notes because their manuscript was perfect. It’s great if that works for those scribes, but I’d probably have a panic attack if my editor gave me no notes. I’d think they either don’t care, or the manuscript is SOOO bad it’s not even worth the effort of small improvements. It’s better to wait than rush here.
Nothing to see here. Move along.
Let’s talk about going from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds. On 4/16/2012 I get an email from my agent. It’s an annotated PDF of WHISPERTOWN—essentially a scanned copy of my novel featuring all of my editor’s handwritten margin notes. It comes with a promise that a long-form Edit Letter is on the way. The date doesn’t stand out to me because of the sudden publishing activity. It’s the date I get laid off from my day job of 10 years. I want to take a moment to reflect on that…
If you’ve experienced a layoff (I hope you haven’t, but if you have…) you may understand how devastating/humiliating/depressing the process can be. In his memoir ON WRITING, and to a greater extent, in his novel DUMA KEY, Stephen King posits that there is healing power in art, writing and painting respectively. Now I have a reason to agree with him. As hard as it is to lose my job, there’s comfort in knowing I still have work to do. Also, I learn a humbling lesson.
My annoyance at the shifting dates was unjust. If I’d gotten my revisions any sooner, I wouldn’t have had the divinely timed comfort of getting my first set of editorial notes on the same day my company gives me a pink slip. If I’d gotten them any later, I would have undoubtedly suffered from the anxiety of being unemployed AND in publishing limbo. Everything happens when it’s supposed to. This is a lesson I have to remind myself of in May when I get more news I’m not really enthusiastic about.
Have a 2-hour call with my editor to discuss my long-form Edit Letter (9 pages, single-spaced…YIKES!) and how I will tackle WHISPERTOWN revisions. It’s a great talk overall, but there are moments of panic and sadness.
Panic – My editor feels I need a major rewrite due to a pacing issue. Two primary characters only know each other for a week in the original draft. They need more time together to justify later events. The expansion of this relationship sends ripples through the ENTIRE novel. There’s no way to cut and paste around this (not that you should ever do that anyway—maybe more on that in another post). This is just ONE change. Remember, my letter is 9-pages long.
Sadness – Due to my shifting revision dates, it’s almost guaranteed that WHISPERTOWN will not be done in time to make a Summer 2013 release. And Fall 2013 is a tough time to break out debut authors. Winter (Early) 2014 is looking like my window. This is the part where I have to remember the prior month’s lesson. Everything happens when it’s supposed to.
My new revision deadline is 07/31/2012. I get my attitude in check and get to work.
I get a new day job. It’s a blessing. Not even unemployed a full 2 months. A bigger blessing, because the first few weeks at a new job can be slow with orientation stuff, I’m off by 5 every day with plenty of time and energy to rewrite WHISPERTOWN in the evenings.
New day job is picking up, but I still beat my WHISPERTOWN deadline by 2 days. It’s a good month.
I’m told to brainstorm title ideas. WHISPERTOWN is going away. I’m not surprised. Based on previous conversations over the last 14 months, I know HarperCollins wants to call the book something else. I’m cool with that, though I can’t seem to come up with anything that POPS. I find I have a knack for truly terrible titles, though, to the point that my wife and I make a game of inventing bad ones. No, I’m not sharing.
My editor comes up with a title that is both obvious and perfect…I’m ashamed I didn’t think of it myself. WHISPERTOWN becomes FAKE ID. And, she’s pleased with my revision. Great news. Of course there’s still some tweaking to do, which is customary, but no more complete overhauls, which is splendid.
I’m told there may be an opportunity to write a prequel short story for FAKE ID, start thinking of some ideas. The day job is
hectic all-consuming this month,
but there’s always time to plot during coffee breaks!
The month just started, and I’m sharing my story with you great folks. Life’s good and I’m thankful for you and Aimee. The journey continues…for all us.
Any questions? Let me know at either of my social media stops:
Thanks for stopping by, Lamar - and I can't wait to see FAKE ID on my bookshelf! (Please make sure Seeking the Write Life is part of your launch tour... please?!)
Your Turn: Does Lamar's story include any surprises for you? If you have any questions for Lamar, you can ask them in the comments below, or on his twitter / facebook profiles.