By Karyn Langhorne
She sounded young. Really young. I took a deep breath, and answered, hoping I didn’t sound old. Really old.
“I’m Selina . . . and I’m going to be your editor on this project. First let me tell how much I loved your book.’
She might be young, but she was certainly smart. Anyone who loves my book has to be smart. As well as attractive, intuitive, talented, articulate, engaging, educated . . .
For me (and I suspect for most of us), one of the drawbacks of becoming a writer is that I’ve become very familiar with rejection. Before December 2003, I had heard “no” so many times, I’d begun to believe that the whole world hated me and my writing and that the only reason I kept doing it was because I was either too pigheaded, or too stupid to stop. Hearing someone say something NICE about my writing immediately turned me to mush.
When Selina told me she loved my book, I started grinning so wide my daughter could see the gleam of my teeth in the playroom two floors below. And if hearing her praises for A Personal Matter wasn’t enough, Selina, smart woman that she is, followed up her advantage by asking, “Tell me about the new one.”
I’m pretty smart myself (or at least I like to think so), but that question made all of my intelligent questions about what it would be like to work with the publisher, what my new editor expected of me, what I should expect of her—you know, IMPORTANT stuff — go straight out my mental window.
She wanted to hear about the new project. She wanted talk about my writing!
No one ever wants to hear about my writing. No, that’s not exactly true. Friends and family ask, and they don’t mind hearing a short answer like “Fine” or “Working on something new.” But beyond that, their eyes glaze over and they start looking at me with the same look people give computer geeks and the desperately intoxicated. Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about, like you’ve never gotten the look. Until you’re as successful as Nora Roberts, John Grisham or Steven King, every writer gets the look. The look that says: That’s enough already. The look that says: You’re over your limit, bub. No more words on that subject for you.
Of course, if you become a really successful writer, people want to hear you talk about your writing all the time . . . as if you know some magic secret that changes crummy words to great ones, that performs alchemy that converts the worst of ideas into best-selling novels. When you become a best-selling novelist, people will flock to hear you talk about your writing in the hopes that you might share the magic with them and then they too could live the life of fame and fortune —
But I digress.
Selina wanted to hear about my writing. And she actually listened while I tried to explain my new and not quite completed project. She actually asked questions about it. Wow, I thought, still talking a mile a minute about possible directions for the story line, similar novels already on the market, etc. I like her. I like her a lot.
I was so busy talking and liking that I almost missed what she was saying. Which turned out to be something about a revision letter.
“Revision letter?” I repeated, reconciling the words “loved your book” and “revisions” in my brain. “What’s that?”
The revision letter, Selina patiently explained, outlines the changes the publisher feels are necessary. In a week or so, she would send me said letter, along with my complete manuscript. I would make the changes and send them back to her.
“Since we’re on an accelerated schedule,” she told me cheerfully. “You’ll have about thirty days. I’m sure that won’t be a problem,” she adds. “Your work is so strong, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble with the revisions.”
Did you catch that? Did I say Selina is smart?
“Mostly you’ll need to cut it a little,” she continued.
“How much?” I asked, mentally imagining a little tightening here, tinkering there.
“Eighty pages,” she replied with that same bright, youthful energy.
The manuscript as submitted was 487 pages. Eighty pages is like . . . I do some quick math . . . 20% of the book.
“But that won’t be a problem for someone as talented as you, I’m sure,” Selina keeps right on going as if there isn’t a long silence at the other end of the line. And now I’m trapped by my own love of compliments.
“No,” I say, hoping that I sound neither old, nor ignorant, nor scared to death—and feeling every one of them. “That won’t be a problem.”
We hung up shortly after that. Reluctantly, I turned to my computer, opening the file named “A PERSONAL MATTER-final.doc” watching 487 pages load into my word processing program.
Final document? Apparently not.
Next Month: Selina’s Side of the Story. My editor has kindly offered to write next month’s column, sharing with AbsoluteWrite readers what she was looking for, why she chooses the manuscripts she chooses, what I did right in getting her attention (and wrong) and how other writers can put their best foot forward in getting published.
Karyn Langhorne Folan is a “recovering” lawyer and a long time writer, with over 25 books so far. She’s written for the groundbreaking educational novel series, Bluford High as well as an exciting line of post-apocalyptic fiction called Ashes, Ashes. Karyn Langhorne Folan has a Website.