Finally, I’m back with the Taking Back the Past series. This week’s topic is For All Time, my second book, which is also the second story included in the upcoming Harlequin 3-in-1 re-issue, Sweet Passion. With this book, I learned some tough, but valuable, publishing lessons.
For All Time was the second book of the two-book contract that I had with Arabesque Books. I got the idea from my cousin who had recently lost her job. For All Time tells the story of a young middle-class couple whose marriage is challenged when the husband loses his job at the same time that the wife gets a promotion on hers. I had a lot of fun writing this story and I was excited about it being even better than my first book, Bands of Gold. Hey, I had a writing career to build and I was serious about building it.
Then reality publishing happened. The general process from manuscript to book takes a few stages. First, the author completes the mansuscript and sends it to the editor for approval. The editor reads the manscript and issues the author a revision letter with questions, comments and recommendations. I was fortunate in that my editorial letters always resulted in a better, tighter, stronger story. So while I can’t say that I liked getting them, I can say that I appreciated them.
So the author receives the letter, reviews it and, after considering how to address all the listed items, makes a call to editor to clarify any concerns and to let the editor know how she plans to handle the items outlined in the letter. Note that the writer is not obliged to do everything the editor requested, but she is obliged to consider each item. During this phone call, the editor and author go back and forth a bit and finally agree, in broad terms, on how the manuscript will change or not change.
The author then makes the changes, and any other changes she thinks will make the story stronger. Many authors, me included, appreciate this final opportunity to make changes in the manuscript and use it as a opportunity to improve the story. Once the changes are completed, the author sends the revised manuscript back to the editor. If all goes well, the author gets a phone call from the editor a few weeks later saying that the manuscript is accepted and any associated advance money is being sent to the author. At this point, the author celebrates.
A few months later, the author receives galleys in mail. Galleys are book pages printed on standard copy/printer paper. The author’s job is to read the galleys to make sure that no errors were introduced into the manuscript during the typesetting process. Typically, the author gets a few days to do this. If everything in the publication process is working well, the author may have a few typos to correct and a few missing words to insert. If things are not working well, the author may realize that book that is being published is quite different from the book she submitted. The latter is what happened to me with For All Time.
When I got the galleys, I found that the book the publishers had typeset was my original manscript before I made the revisions. I was horrified! Remember, I had spent a great deal of time addressing all my editor’s concerns and making other improvements in the story, and now none of those were in the book. All that was there was a much weaker story than the revised one I had submitted to my editor. I immediately went into panic mode and wondered if I had sent them the wrong version book when I sent in the final edits. I checked and I hadn’t, or that’s the way I remember it, but to this day, I can’t definitively say who was at fault.
My next step was to call my editor. She told me to make the corrections on the galleys. I did so, feeling a sense of relief that the weaker version of my story would never hit bookstore shelves. Guess what happened? You’ve got it. The changes that I made to the galleys didn’t make it into the book, after all. I think this was the first and last time that I read a book that I wrote after it was published. Talk about a feeling helplessness! Well, that’s exactly how I felt–helpless. All I could think was that something that was not my best work was now being sold with my name on it. And there was nothing I could do about it! I knew my career was over!
When I think about it now, I know I was being a bit niave in thinking the publisher would make the changes. You see, the contract that most authors sign with their publishers have a clause about introducing changes at the galley stage. Mine said something like I would be charged so much per page for changes over a certain limit. Now, I was more than willing to pay this charge just to see the correct version of my book hit the shelves, but I wasn’t given that option. Publishers have priorities and, though it pains me to say it, me and my $4.99 paperback were probably not that high on the priority list. I fully understand that, but it hurt then and it still hurts now.
As I said before, For All Time marked the last time that I read one of my published books. There’s too much agony in seeing things that need changing and knowing that I can’t change them. I’m not talking about publisher introduced errors only; I’m also talking about those things that I put in the story on purpose but that were wrong. For example, in For All Time, I had my hero getting unemployment benefits. A reader wrote to me and explained that I had explained the unemployment benefit process wrong. Of course, she went on to explain the correct process, but what could I do with that information? Well, I could store it in my memory bank, and I did, but there was nothing I could do to make a change in the book.
So, for me, the best way is to let the book go. Once I send in those final revisions, it’s gone. I’ve done my duty and I pray the rest of the people in the process do theirs. I guess it brings new meaning to the phrase, “Let go, and let God.”
Not surprisingly, I began looking for an agent shortly after this incident. I had negotiated (or, not negotiated if you remember the story) my first contract myself and realized that I needed professional help. I’ll tell you about my agent search in next week’s post.