WHAT I LEARNED THIS WEEK: The smart author is willing to rewrite


I spent the week going over the second drafts of upcoming novels by two authors whose books are on the 2009 Del Rey schedule. Note I said second drafts. These came in in response to long letters requesting changes to the novels’ first drafts. And in response to each of these second drafts, I wrote up still further notes requesting a third and final draft.
These are not baby authors I’m talking about. Each has numerous books to his/her credit. Even so, these authors understand that each new book is a fresh chance to win new readers–or alienate old ones. A smart author will accept valid criticism no matter what the cost in rewrite time.
My thanks to this week’s writers–and you know who you are–for going to the trouble of responding both carefully and cheerfully to my editorial notes. One of my personal maxims is that the manuscript doesn’t exist which does not need editing. Yet we’ve all read published books that could have been so much better with certain changes made. Reviewers and online commentators often say, “Where was the editor?” And it’s true, sometimes the editor hasn’t done a serious job on the book, or hasn’t pushed the author hard enough to make necessary changes.
Other times, though, it’s an author’s stubbornness that results in a less-than-satisfactory finished product. [more after the jump]

Sometimes it’s self-puffery at work. “The ego has landed” was a catchphrase we used around the office to refer to one long-ago writer. Another was so convinced of his own brilliance he would make only the most minor changes in wording; suggestions regarding plotting and characterization were airily brushed aside. When my reservations regarding the manuscript were later voiced by book reviewers, quiet vengeance was mine.
At the end of the day what comes out in print belongs to author, not editor, and so the author always has the final word. But I’ve always found that a partnership effort gives best results. Currently British editor Simon Spanton, agent (and former editor) John Jarrold, Del Rey editorial assistant Kaitlin Heller and myself have all just finished commenting on the first draft of Robert V. S. Redick’s fine The Rats and the Ruling Sea, sequel to the upcoming Del Rey title The Red Wolf Conspiracy (already out in the U.K. from Orion). The author was therefore gang-edited; nevertheless he was grateful for the comments and eager to incorporate them into his next draft. Wise move, Mr. Redick–may success be yours!