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Torgo
09-13-2013, 07:02 PM
So, I've just had a middle-grade book land on my desk, acquired a while back by an editor who has since left the company. (A very good editor, too.) The problem is it's awful. Messy, unfocused, illogical, unfunny. The manuscript needs rewriting from the ground up, with work required on plot, setting, characters, framing device, everything. It is not so much a fixer-upper as it is a tear-down. I would not have bought it.

About an hour ago, having finished annotating the document with annotations which must never be released to the author, I spotted something I'd missed: this is the ninth draft.

I've worked on books before that I've taken over from colleagues and had to do lots of work on, but in those cases I was looking at second-draft sort of things. I was coming in, if not for the curtain-raising, then at the end of the first reel. This is a first for me. So broken, and so late.

I'm going to have to ask the author for a radical and extensive rewrite, when clearly said author will quite legitimately feel we are reasonably happy with it, because it's been through so many rewrites already. I'm not looking forward to that.

From an authorial point of view: in the author's place, how would you like this news delivered? I'm leaning towards old-school: in-person, over lunch and possibly a bottle of wine or two. (Apparently they're very nice, but I've never met or interacted with them before.) Any advice? If not, it was cathartic to whine about it a bit, anyway.

Calla Lily
09-13-2013, 07:14 PM
I vote for in-person. I'm pretty hard-shelled and my agent knows it, but when he has bad news, he calls.

This is wicked bad news, so I think in-person is the best way. Do you know if this author is volatile? In other words, should you choose a crowded restaurant? Seriously.

Melville
09-13-2013, 07:20 PM
Before you meet, can you get a hold of the draft that the original editor bought?

Sometimes too many directed re-drafts destroys a work... it MIGHT just be that you will see something you can work with in an earlier draft.

Deciding on whether to meet with some one for this kind of catastrophic bad news probably should depend on the gun laws where you are.

In the USA (where I live), I'd never meet with someone under these circumstances who I didn't know. In the UK and Canada, I probably would.

buz
09-13-2013, 07:23 PM
As a shy person who does pretty badly with real-time conversation, and who becomes instantly Super Anxious when one person's attention is completely focused on me, I might actually prefer to hear such a thing in writing and from a distance. My shame and embarrassment might flood all rational thinking skills upon hearing it, and having it in an email would allow me the ability to walk away and get a grip before dealing with the actual matter at hand.

However, if you have no way of knowing what kind of person the author is, I can certainly appreciate that taking someone out in person and easing them into a more casual or conversational setting could blunt the trauma, so to speak :D Even as a socially inept anxiety freak, I would probably appreciate the inherent consideration in such a gesture, even if it would drive my acute stress levels through the roof... ;)

ETA: Little Anonymous Me had an interesting idea...I can't quite imagine how I would feel, as I've never had that happen, but if you do go with an in-person meeting, I think it would be well worth discussing it in email first so that it's not dropped out of the sky on their head, so to speak. ;)

usuallycountingbats
09-13-2013, 07:23 PM
Is it possible for you to speak to the acquiring editor to discuss their thoughts or is that Not The Done Thing in publishing? I genuinely don't know by the way.

I have peer reviewed a lot of stuff, and whilst it's not entirely the same, it is similar, and my experience is to always ring at the very least and where possible sit down in person. It helps you gauge how to break the news, and frankly if you do it by email, I always think it comes across as gutless and not having the courage of your convictions. At least when you sit down together you can help thrash out how to turn it from useless to passable. I know sometimes people whose work I've reviewed needed to have a bit of back and forth to understand why their report wasn't client worthy, and certainly I've then had a lot less to do when I see the next draft.

All of which is a long winded way of saying in person with enough time for you to discuss the issues in some depth and come up with a way forward you are both happy with.

Williebee
09-13-2013, 07:27 PM
Seconding the in person, if it is possible/at all practical to do so.

Also Seconding the researching to see what any earlier versions or the earliest version looked like. You may discover that the progress has not been substantive, or in fact destructive.

Good luck!

Little Anonymous Me
09-13-2013, 07:28 PM
Can you do a mix of the two? I generally prefer getting bad news via email or some such, as I can scream and be a psycho in private. Then I like to meet with the person when I've had a chance to screw my head on straight and talk it through with them. I also agree that getting your hands on an earlier draft might be worth it---unless you've got one stubborn author, it's probably a world away from what came in. (At least, I hope like hell it is.)

Parametric
09-13-2013, 07:32 PM
I would hate to be confronted with this in a public place with no escape. Email allows me to take some time to get my feelings under control before replying calmly.

escritora
09-13-2013, 07:35 PM
What about a combination? Send along thoughts via email and extend an invitation to lunch to discuss further. This way the author is prepared for the conversation. (As to what I'd prefer: no lunch. phone, email works for me.)

stormie
09-13-2013, 07:35 PM
The ninth draft of an MG novel?! Whoa. It's not easy writing for kids, in fact it's far harder than writing for adults, but still....

Check out the original ms. if you can. Then I vote for meeting the author(s) in person. (I like the bottle of wine. :) )

mirandashell
09-13-2013, 07:37 PM
I would probably email with the initial news and then say something like 'if you want to meet up and discuss it, we could have lunch at (a nice restaurant). Give me a call...

Cos I'm another one who would hate that sprung on me in public.

usuallycountingbats
09-13-2013, 07:39 PM
I don't think you have to spring it on someone though. I'm presuming the approach would be along the lines of an email saying you've taken it over, you want to help make sure it's great, can you meet in order to discuss what's been said so far and how to take it forward. You'd have to be really bad at your job if you invited someone to a meeting then ripped into them in public! I'm using a generic 'you' by the way here!

I've had some reports across my desk which were borderline illiterate and there's no way they could have gone out to a client without a total rewrite. None of the people who wrote them were put in a position where they had to get their emotions under control because I didn't make them feel shitty about their work. I made it clear I was there to help them and they could always always ask me for my opinion.

I know it isn't quite the same thing, but I think you can deliver this kind of news in a supportive way which doesn't make someone feel horrible. In much the same way that an Internet forum is a brutal place to get a critique of work, but in person you can have a dialogue so the same thing feels much less brutal?

Maybe I'm utterly wrong though, maybe publishing is too different?

Perks
09-13-2013, 07:41 PM
Yeah, I'd have to say that I'd prefer to get this news in an email - which will probably take you nine drafts to get right. It would be too embarrassing and cornering to get this news for the first time face-to-face in public. Maybe tell them and invite them to lunch to talk about it further?

I'm so sorry, Torgo. This sounds like a nightmare scenario. I like the idea of seeing if you can have a peek at the first draft. Maybe it's got something to it that has been now over-thought or over-written? Wishful thinking very occasionally pays off, right?

Torgo
09-13-2013, 07:41 PM
Cor, 6,000 posts for me! Thanks for the replies, folks, it's helping me to formulate a plan.


This is wicked bad news, so I think in-person is the best way. Do you know if this author is volatile? In other words, should you choose a crowded restaurant? Seriously.

Apparently very nice and friendly, so I doubt I'd need to take my pepper spray!


Before you meet, can you get a hold of the draft that the original editor bought?

Good point. Might be tricky, but will give that a shot.


I might actually prefer to hear such a thing in writing and from a distance. My shame and embarrassment might flood all rational thinking skills upon hearing it, and having it in an email would allow me the ability to walk away and get a grip before dealing with the actual matter at hand.

Yeah, I hear that. It's also not unusual to have an author smile and nod and go off apparently happy from a sit-down, then get a stinker of a letter from the agent.


Is it possible for you to speak to the acquiring editor to discuss their thoughts or is that Not The Done Thing in publishing? I genuinely don't know by the way.

Maybe. I would have to tread quite carefully, to avoid implying "what were you thinking!?!?!" It's kind of a puzzle because the editor in question is, indisputably, one of the best.


Can you do a mix of the two? I generally prefer getting bad news via email or some such, as I can scream and be a psycho in private.

That's not a bad idea - possibly soften up in person without getting into detail, then send the horrible detail via email. At least then the notes aren't coming from a complete stranger.


I would hate to be confronted with this in a public place with no escape. Email allows me to take some time to get my feelings under control before replying calmly.

I hear that too.

seun
09-13-2013, 07:46 PM
As odd as it might sound, I'd probably want this face to face in your office. A lunch would feel too informal. Plus it's hard to eat and talk seriously.

Maggie Maxwell
09-13-2013, 07:51 PM
I'd definitely want the news over email with possible meeting in person after. I'm nice and wouldn't freak out yelling, but I might break down sobbing in the middle of the restaurant, and I don't think anyone wants that. Like other have said, email first allows the person getting the news to have their strong emotions in private instead of in a public, confined area.

Torgo
09-13-2013, 07:54 PM
As odd as it might sound, I'd probably want this face to face in your office. A lunch would feel too informal. Plus it's hard to eat and talk seriously.

Which is how I'd normally have this kind of conversation, I suppose. I just suddenly feel the need for alcohol.

seun
09-13-2013, 07:55 PM
Which is how I'd normally have this kind of conversation, I suppose. I just suddenly feel the need for alcohol.

Bring a few cans to the meeting.

usuallycountingbats
09-13-2013, 07:55 PM
Can you phrase your question to the acquiring editor along the lines of 'this has landed on my desk, I see its been through a lot of rewrites, could you summarise the thought process for me because I don't want to annoy the author by asking them to change something back'? That might give you some insight into what they were thinking whilst coming across more like you want to defer to their knowledge?

Torgo
09-13-2013, 07:56 PM
Bring a few cans to the meeting.

Ha! Come in, shake hands, wordlessly wheel in the drinks trolley.

usuallycountingbats
09-13-2013, 07:57 PM
As odd as it might sound, I'd probably want this face to face in your office. A lunch would feel too informal. Plus it's hard to eat and talk seriously.

I don't think that's odd at all. It sounds professional to me, and it's how I'd do it. I just assumed editors met authors in restaurants so that was the done thing!

Torgo
09-13-2013, 07:57 PM
Can you phrase your question to the acquiring editor along the lines of 'this has landed on my desk, I see its been through a lot of rewrites, could you summarise the thought process for me because I don't want to annoy the author by asking them to change something back'? That might give you some insight into what they were thinking whilst coming across more like you want to defer to their knowledge?

Yep, something along those lines.

heza
09-13-2013, 08:10 PM
Good point. Might be tricky, but will give that a shot.

If you can't get it from in house, could you perhaps ask the author for the original draft? I don't know what the etiquette is there--or if it's a problem of implying that the house somehow lost the first draft--but if I knew that my MS was changing editors, I wouldn't think anything of it if the new editor asked me for the draft so as to get a handle on the history of the changes.


Maybe. I would have to tread quite carefully, to avoid implying "what were you thinking!?!?!" It's kind of a puzzle because the editor in question is, indisputably, one of the best.

I obviously don't know the details surrounding the acquiring editor's move, but there have been times in my life, despite being good at what I do, that I've fallen down on something:



When my mom got sick and I had to quit my job (suddenly) and wrap things up (very quickly) so I could go take care of her. Some things couldn't be done in time and some fell through the cracks.
When my dad got sick and had treatment in my city, necessitating my being with him all the time. I was barely in the office and sort of started to phone it in during that time.
When I've had my own severe health problems and just wasn't anywhere near 100%.
When I've been quitting a job I really disliked and the employer was making my exit very unbearable.

Not saying any of those are similar to this situation--just illustrating how these things might happen.



That's not a bad idea - possibly soften up in person without getting into detail, then send the horrible detail via email. At least then the notes aren't coming from a complete stranger.

I like this idea. I think it's what I'd prefer. If I got a new editor, maybe lunch could just be a get to know you session, and then during lunch you could reveal your plan to review the change history and see if you agree with it all and how you're already finding opportunities for greater potential you'd like to detail later in email.


I'm not sure how these situations work. Is there any way to spin this as a positive process? Or is it just that bad and any revisions suggested will be really obvious to the author as a complete overhaul of a crap work?

jjdebenedictis
09-13-2013, 08:17 PM
As a writer, I would also vote for the bad news in email first. I would want to have privacy and space to freak out in.

However, I think you should ask for a face-to-face meeting with the writer in that initial email. That way, they know you want to engage and work with them and are not trying to keep them at arms' length.

Email can be impersonal, but that is a good thing if the person needs some time to get their emotions back in the bag. Switching the scenario to personal right away then offsets the coolness of your initial hands-off approach.

Marian Perera
09-13-2013, 08:25 PM
Ha! Come in, shake hands, wordlessly wheel in the drinks trolley.

Or the AED.

I definitely would not want to hear such news for the first time over a meal in a nice restaurant. It would take my appetite away. Email would work better, even if it was a vague email like, "we need to discuss some problems in the manuscript". Then I'd appreciate a face-to-face meeting in your office as soon as possible, so I wasn't worrying about the problems for too long.

Torgo
09-13-2013, 08:30 PM
If you can't get it from in house, could you perhaps ask the author for the original draft?

Eh, it's just it might be a hassle to get it from in-house, for various reasons I won't go in to, and to be honest although I'd be interested to see the various versions it's been through it doesn't address the basic problem, which is that it's really not very good. I seriously doubt that there was a draft four or something that was miles better, because the previous editor is honestly one of the very best. (But it's puzzling, because what was it acquired on? Maybe we bought the sixth draft or something.)


I obviously don't know the details surrounding the acquiring editor's move, but there have been times in my life, despite being good at what I do, that I've fallen down on something:

Nothing dramatic.


I'm not sure how these situations work. Is there any way to spin this as a positive process? Or is it just that bad and any revisions suggested will be really obvious to the author as a complete overhaul of a crap work?

I'm going to do my best to make the rewrite process fun, but there are limits when you've written nine drafts. Because the book's supposed to be funny (it isn't) I'm thinking if we can get any kind of comedic rapport going we spend an afternoon thinking up good jokes, which can then quietly displace the bad ones.

(Give me a picture book any day!)

Marian Perera
09-13-2013, 08:38 PM
I'm going to do my best to make the rewrite process fun, but there are limits when you've written nine drafts.

I once read about a Stanford graduate student who had been trying to get his PhD for 15 years. When the latest in a long line of advisors asked for further changes to the dissertation, the student killed him with a hammer.

Torgo
09-13-2013, 08:40 PM
I once read about a Stanford graduate student who had been trying to get his PhD for 15 years. When the latest in a long line of advisors asked for further changes to the dissertation, the student killed him with a hammer.

Figures. *writes 'check for hammer' on Post-it*

Hey, here he is! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Streleski)

___Mag
09-13-2013, 08:45 PM
In person, for sure. In writing, they can't see how dead serious you are when you tell them the entire thing needs to be rewritten. Facial expressions, a pause in the right place, the exasperation in your body language...

Marian Perera
09-13-2013, 08:48 PM
Figures. *writes 'check for hammer' on Post-it*

And when I was in grad school and mentioned this to a professor, he replied, "That's nothing. I heard of a student who shot his whole committee."

Torgo
09-13-2013, 08:52 PM
In person, for sure. In writing, they can't see how dead serious you are when you tell them the entire thing needs to be rewritten. Facial expressions, a pause in the right place, the exasperation in your body language...

I don't think I'm going to betray any exasperation - that's not a great way to start an editorial relationship. What I need is just a bit of rapport and for them to know I'm not a monster or an idiot before I start swinging the crowbar.

Little Anonymous Me
09-13-2013, 09:14 PM
And when I was in grad school and mentioned this to a professor, he replied, "That's nothing. I heard of a student who shot his whole committee."


Good to know they'll be as afraid of me as I am of them. ;)


I think lunch first is the way to go. It'll give you the chance to see how the author sees it. (They might think it's an unholy mess too lol.) Maybe the edits suck because the book was being propelled by your colleague in a way the author wasn't happy with and this was the result. (Not knocking your co-worker.)

Phaeal
09-13-2013, 09:28 PM
Tough situation, for sure. My vote: A hint in the initial email that further work is pending, then an office meeting. Catered, if you really want to do the food and drink (especially drink) thing. Or, hell, just pull the Scotch bottle out of a bottom drawer and score noir points.

Mr Flibble
09-13-2013, 09:33 PM
Sin the author's place, how would you like this news delivered? I'm leaning towards old-school: in-person, over lunch and possibly a bottle of wine or two. (Apparently they're very nice, but I've never met or interacted with them before.)




Can you do a mix of the two?

For me perhaps a bit of both - but definitely the wine! :D It might help cushion the blow.

I think I'd fire off an email, say that obviously you aren't the acquiring editor, and therefore you have some different thoughts about the book and you'd like to discuss them. Give them a few brief deets of the major issues and then say something like 'But it'd be great if we could meet up so we can discuss them and I could get your views and we can make sure we're both aiming for the same thing'. Gives them the chance to get their head around what you're actually going to be asking, without perhaps causing existential despair* (because you'll have said, oh, it's all fixable, but I like to talk these things over, let's do lunch etc) and maybe also you can ascertain what the previous drafts have been about/what was covered? (If you ask in the vein of 'Just so that I know...)

Then meet/discuss etc. Mayhap they'll have some ideas of their own once they've seen the basics, and you can explain why you feel the changes are necessary -- that often helps me anyway, if I know why. Hopefully they'll then feel a bit more positive when your red pen of doom descends...

Showing that you're keen to discuss would take the sting out of it, I'm sure. As would the wine.




*I was once asked what I thought the secret of a good relationship with your editor. My answer -- never give them your first reaction to edit notes! You don't want the author crying/ranting/having a breakdown/shouting incoherences over their lunch because it's their very first exposure to the major changes you want. Not conducive to a great relationship, because they'll always remember that...

ETA: I once had this happen to me -- the acquiring editor (at a small press) moved after I signed, and I got someone who very much didn't care for the MS (it was fairly obvious) which would have been fine if she'd been more keen to discuss/explain changes that made no sense to me (and I'm fairly sure the previous editor wouldn't have asked for, or would at least have asked nicely and explained WHY the changes!)

robjvargas
09-13-2013, 09:47 PM
Very slight variation on what's already been posted.

Notify in email, and let the author decide whether to meet in person.

Since you're not privy to the previous communications (or are you?), you don't really know the path this thing has taken. Maybe the author overshot edits, or there's been a lot of back-and-forth because the author is married to something about the story, refusing to revise. I could probably think of half a dozen other ways this got to here.

A previous draft (or all of them) would likely help, but I'd rather have all the previous communications.

I would also say bring this up to your senior editor. They might have an explanation.

MartinD
09-13-2013, 09:56 PM
Is it possible that you're just not the right editor for this?

If I was an editor and received the Twilight manuscript ( in it's published form), I would have despaired over how to fix it...because I just didn't get it. Not a problem with the story, it just wasn't for me.

Can you move this manuscript to a different person, for feedback if nothing else?

Cyia
09-13-2013, 10:03 PM
Torgo, might I weigh in from the author's side of a long revision process?

Confession time -- Arclight went through probably 5-7 drafts after acquisition. I honestly don't remember, but it was excruciating and frustrating - mainly because I thought I was addressing the editor's comments, and she kept getting back drafts and wondering why so few of her notes had been addressed.

She was sending me handwritten notes on a hard copy of the MS, mainly in pencil (and some of which got rubbed out in transit from the pages sliding against one another.) I have difficulty editing from hard copy, which I didn't know until I started the editorial process. It's a processing error with the way I take in information. (For example, if you mark through a line on a piece of paper, the line is still there, just under the pencil, and I can't read around it. I have to physically remove it from what I'm reading to be able to go on to the next part, which you can't do with a printed page.)

The whole thing was a communication glitch. When she did the final revision pass for Arclight, she did them in track-changes, and BOOM! It was like someone handed me a translation program and I could finally understand what she was saying, which meant I was able to actually address it.

Maybe this author is having a similar issue. Try the live conversation approach, but also make sure that your editing notes are done in a way she can process.

It's worth a shot, and I know in my case, once we figured this out, the edits went quickly. Arclight's sequel is longer than book 1, and I'm on final edits after 2 rounds.

kaitie
09-13-2013, 10:03 PM
I just have to say that I'm a crier, and I would hate to be somewhere a person would see me cry. I'd probably rather have something like this via email or telephone. I know that may not seem as professional, but it would make it easier for me to deal with than have to worry about "omg, I'm crying like an idiot in front of this person." In public would be a billion times worse.

ETA: Also, is it possible to get a second opinion? I just recently read a Terry Pratchett book (one of my favorite authors) that I totally hated. I'd bought it because of all the books Pratchett has written, it's my boyfriend's favorite. I had so many issues with it and just really didn't enjoy it. He picked it up again after I finished and reread it and was laughing through the whole thing. Somehow it worked for him, but it didn't work for me at all. I'm sure some of those issues I had were legitimate, but others were most likely just my style.

Maybe this book just really isn't your cup of tea?

Cathy C
09-13-2013, 10:03 PM
Here's my best suggestion:

Email the author and let him know you've taken over from the previous editor and let him know you're a "little confused" on the manuscript that landed on your desk. Say something to the effect of, "Hey, did you and Bob ever discuss [insert plot point]? I'm wondering if the version of the manuscript on my desk is the most recent."

The answer is going to tell you a bunch about the writer's personality and break the writer in to the concept there are some new things to adress.

And hey, maybe you really DON'T have the most current one. :Shrug:

raburrell
09-13-2013, 10:16 PM
My two cents - as an author, it can be very difficult to talk intelligently about major revisions when you haven't had a chance to process them. You're basically getting a live reaction to an edit letter, when as most of us know, even the most daunting requests upon first read can often feel much more doable after a bit of time to process.

I'm speaking from recent experience here - I normally have an excellent editorial relationship with my agent, but we met not too long ago in person to discuss some changes she'd suggested which were much more extensive than she led me to believe they were - in theory, this would've been okay, but it was really difficult to have to come up with ways to address them instantaneously like that, and in the end, it wasn't a productive conversation.

So, from my experience at least, I'd suggest using caution with this approach.

Fallen
09-13-2013, 10:33 PM
I would hate to be confronted with this in a public place with no escape. Email allows me to take some time to get my feelings under control before replying calmly.

Well, from someone who's been asked for extensive rewrites, to the point I changed genre and whole approach, email was so much better.

It gave me time to think of suggestions and really look at the project from a new perspective, just generally not feel like I'd been backed into corner and was expected to think on the spot as far as ideas went.

The editor said it within the space of one paragraph, was professional, and gave me enough faith in my ability to get the job done.

Jury's still out on whether the new aproach is any better, :gone: but I now know I can trust the editor's decision on whether it is or not, purely because of the frankness and honesty he's previously shown.

kaitie
09-13-2013, 10:38 PM
My two cents - as an author, it can be very difficult to talk intelligently about major revisions when you haven't had a chance to process them. You're basically getting a live reaction to an edit letter, when as most of us know, even the most daunting requests upon first read can often feel much more doable after a bit of time to process.


This too. I know that for me, when I get something critical, my first reaction is emotional, not logical. Which makes a lot of sense, too, considering the stress and worry that often goes with waiting in the first place. I get nervous when I send anyone my writing. Generally speaking, if I get bad news on something, I have the initial "I'm awful and suck and this is proof" break down, but then after a little while (and usually only a little while) the emotions wear off and I can recognize that there is an issue. I can seriously go from crying and feeling like it's hopeless to determined and motivated and glad I know what needs fixing in a few hours.

The thing is, that emotion thing just always comes first for me. I know not everyone is like this, but this is how it is for me.

Polenth
09-13-2013, 10:52 PM
For me personally, I find having formal business lunches really oppressive (and no matter how casual you try to keep it, you're a business associate and you want to talk business). So to have all that pretending to be social, and then have the bad news, would be very stressful and unpleasant. My only thoughts would be how to end the conversation, so you wouldn't get anything useful from me face-to-face.

I'd go for the option of saying there are issues via email, and asking if they'd like to meet to discuss it or have it by email. Let them set their boundaries where they're comfortable.

Bicyclefish
09-13-2013, 10:59 PM
I vote for the combo email/face to face follow up, but, not knowing anything about her/him, I suggest letting the author decide what they want with respect to the latter but mentioning options: lunch, coffee/tea/alcohol, an office meeting, etc. The news might make some people and they may find the idea of eating a meal uncomfortable but be okay sipping liquids. Others may prefer a private meeting at the office while yet some might find that intimidating.


[EDIT] As I post Polenth (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/member.php?u=19301) says essentially the same thing. JINX!

Williebee
09-13-2013, 11:11 PM
And, btw, Torgo? Your level of consideration and effort on this is very heartening. Thanks.

Calla Lily
09-13-2013, 11:32 PM
^ +1

Torgo
09-14-2013, 04:48 AM
Since you're not privy to the previous communications (or are you?), you don't really know the path this thing has taken. Maybe the author overshot edits, or there's been a lot of back-and-forth because the author is married to something about the story, refusing to revise. I could probably think of half a dozen other ways this got to here.

Definitely going to have to get some more background. Actually, discussing what's been done already is something I probably need to do with the author; there are some ways that conversation could go that would be a low-stress way of getting to what needs to be done.


Is it possible that you're just not the right editor for this?

...

Can you move this manuscript to a different person, for feedback if nothing else?

On the second part, I'm already kind of stepping in to fill a gap, because all the other fiction eds are flat out at the moment - my usual brief is picture books and digital. But I accepted it largely because I've done a very similar series before in another job, and it's the sort of thing I know I can work with successfully. I admit I did scratch my head a bit about whether I just wasn't getting it - the editor who acquired it, I respect immensely - but then other feedback from within the dept. has been mostly of the 'please could somebody else deal with this' variety. I think the history of it is probably somewhat tortuous.


Maybe this author is having a similar issue. Try the live conversation approach, but also make sure that your editing notes are done in a way she can process.

Agreed. I think what I'm going to do is this: we have to have a conversation anyway about who is going to be the artist (it's illustrated fiction.) So I will get the author in to the office for a chat about that, and get some kind of rapport going. Possibly a bit of lunch, a glass of wine, and back to the office. If all going well, I'll talk a bit about what I think is the main structural issue - it's book 1 of a series and it does a lot of setup that then doesn't pay off in any way related to the story of book 1. Suggest a bit of rebalancing of the narrative to bring out the strengths of the book, which I think is reasonable without being daunting. Then we've got another draft on the go, and I can send detailed editorial notes through.


My two cents - as an author, it can be very difficult to talk intelligently about major revisions when you haven't had a chance to process them. You're basically getting a live reaction to an edit letter, when as most of us know, even the most daunting requests upon first read can often feel much more doable after a bit of time to process.

I'm speaking from recent experience here - I normally have an excellent editorial relationship with my agent, but we met not too long ago in person to discuss some changes she'd suggested which were much more extensive than she led me to believe they were - in theory, this would've been okay, but it was really difficult to have to come up with ways to address them instantaneously like that, and in the end, it wasn't a productive conversation.

So, from my experience at least, I'd suggest using caution with this approach.

Yeah, I think the face-time is basically to put a human face on me before the notes descend on them. I don't want to belabor them with notes in person, for all the reasons stated.

Thanks so much everyone for helping me sort my head out about this one. It's a trickier situation than I've had to deal with for a while.

Ken
09-14-2013, 05:10 AM
... depends on the author.
Are they new to the game?
If so, no worries. Such sort
are usually desperate to be in print.
So long as you're still going to press
with their book they'll be fine with whatever
you tell them. Heck, they may even hug you.
If they're seasoned, by contrast, then they may
well throw a fit. Better to let an assistant
handle them in that case over the phone.

Torgo
09-14-2013, 05:15 AM
... depends on the author.
Are they new to the game?
If so, no worries. Such sort
are usually desperate to be in print.
So long as you're still going to press
with their book they'll be fine with whatever
you tell them. Heck, they may even hug you.
If they're seasoned, by contrast, then they may
well throw a fit. Better to let an assistant
handle them in that case over the phone.

Ha! I should be so lucky, to have an assistant. (You're being ironic, right? In all seriousness, I wouldn't set out to treat authors like that, new or seasoned; the idea is to get over any initial awkwardness and establish trust and a meeting of minds. Any other way - and if an author and editor don't click, it's a distinct possibility - it's a slog.)

Ken
09-14-2013, 05:24 AM
(You're being ironic, right?

... more or less.
Some truth to the scenario,
desperation of some new authors,
but of course I'd never suggest they should be
treated as such :-)

G'luck !

ps You've got a cool job there,
even if it is challenging at times.

RedWombat
09-14-2013, 06:55 AM
I'd vote email first, because yeah, time to scream and pace. Include an appointment for phone call the next day, to give them processing is but let them know you're sincere.

But also--can you talk to their agent? I know the agent agitates on behalf of the author first and foremost, but if it's really been nine drafts, said agent might be happy to rant about how the other editor never really got it and give you some insight into what the hell happened.

Lineykins
09-14-2013, 10:50 AM
Torgo - if the manuscript is really that bad, have you considered not publishing it? As a writer myself, I can't help but empathise with the author, but it is not unheard of for a manuscript to be pulled when an editor leaves a publishing house. I guess you must still see some promise in the writing - or perhaps it's because you are a "top bloke" (Aussie expression).

I think if you are going ahead, it is best to be quite direct about your concerns (though you will do this in a polite/compassionate way I am sure - as is evidenced by this thread) - otherwise you could get "draft 10" and if it's still a mess, then the agony is prolonged for all concerned.

I would be inclined to meet with her in a office (private) environment and have a frank discussion about the history of the manuscript and your concerns. It is important for you to know the full story, and for the author to be given a chance to tell her side of things. It may be that the author is "over" the manuscript and might even be relieved to have things finish up with it. Equally (and I know this would apply to me) she might be grateful to have the opportunity to work with a new editor and to rewrite it into something you can both be proud to publish. It sounds like she might be in a limbo-type situation at the moment (how long since her contract was signed?) which must be worrying her.

All the best with this - an awful situation for both you and the writer.

GeekTells
09-14-2013, 12:28 PM
Is it possible to access the chain of communication on this manuscript before you got it? The earlier drafts mentioned above, editing notes from the acquiring editor or his/her assistant(s), email correspondence, and phone logs might give you a better understanding of how it wound up in the state it's in.

That better picture would theoretically give you a lot of insight on how to approach the author.

Best case scenario is that the third version of the manuscript is the bee's knees and you and the author live happily ever after as BFFs.

Clearly I know little or nothing about how publishing houses really work—and I realize you weren't looking for advice on how to handle this manuscript—but it seemed like context would be your friend in this situation.

Cebern
09-14-2013, 01:21 PM
I think an e-mail would be best. I'd find it far more embarassing to be told my ms was not up to scratch in a public place (or even in a not-so public place).

I'm not sure how committed you are to this book (financially or contractually) but my gut instinct would be to abandon it. Tell the author as nicely as possible that you've inherited his or her book from the previous editor and simply don't feel as passionately about it. Sure, it's a kick in the stomach for the author, but I don't think you'd be doing the author or yourself any favours by prolonging the situation.

Marian Perera
09-14-2013, 04:02 PM
I'd vote email first, because yeah, time to scream and pace. Include an appointment for phone call the next day

Thanks for specifying the next day. One of the worst times of my life was when a phone call let me know I was in deep shit, but there wouldn't actually be a face-to-face meeting for three days. Those three days are a blur now. I must have eaten and slept, but I can't remember doing that or anything else.

Torgo
09-14-2013, 04:56 PM
Torgo - if the manuscript is really that bad, have you considered not publishing it? As a writer myself, I can't help but empathise with the author, but it is not unheard of for a manuscript to be pulled when an editor leaves a publishing house. I guess you must still see some promise in the writing - or perhaps it's because you are a "top bloke" (Aussie expression).

I can't pull the book, for various reasons I won't go in to. It's not so much that it's unsalvageably bad - I've been through it and I can see how to improve it lots - it's just that it requires a lot of work from the author's side, and nine drafts in, there's edit fatigue to worry about.

Amarie
09-14-2013, 05:33 PM
I'm still shaking my head over nine edit rounds. It sounds like you are going to need something far more extensive than a regular editorial letter, like detailed instructions chapter by chapter. Otherwise the writer will feel like they are just continuing to flail around in the dark. And making something funny that's not is really tricky. Can the writer even write funny? It's a unique skill not everyone has. I'd wonder if the original manuscript was humerous, if not, when did the idea come that it would be?

Old Hack
09-15-2013, 12:46 AM
If the author has an agent I'd definitely talk to the agent first, and ask about the book's history. If the agent is a thoughtful or communicative sort.

If not, then a meeting to establish that rapport and to bring up the subject of further revisions, with a more detailed email to follow.

I'd see if I could find the previous versions anywhere, and see if I could work out why it's had nine drafts and it's still not publishable.

And I'd pour myself a nice big glass of wine. Cheers!

Zaffiro
09-15-2013, 02:53 AM
I was going to say exactly what Old Hack said: talk to the agent first. In fact, if the author has a good relationship with the agent, and especially if this is a debut author who's likely to be more easily freaked out, it might be an idea to have the agent give the author the first heads-up. ('Torgo's taken over your book, he's a wonderful editor and he's got faith in the book, but he does think it needs some more work...') That means the author gets a chance to have a panic fit, and the agent gets to soothe him or her down, without that part playing a role in shaping your relationship.

If this had been me, when I was on my first book, I would probably have preferred to have that first heads-up from my agent. My agent was someone I knew and trusted enormously, while a new editor would've been unknown territory. So if my agent had told me 'The new editor wants a lot more work, but don't worry, he knows what he's doing and he has the book's best interests at heart, this is going to make it stronger,' I would've been more likely to see this as a positive thing, rather than panicking that the new editor just didn't get the book and I was going to be stuck in rewrite hell forever.

Sorry if I'm incoherent - I'm wrecked - but you know what I mean.

___Mag
09-16-2013, 08:24 PM
@Torgo
If I read something that I think will ruin someoone's life if they leave it in the book, I show my exasperation. Especially if I have told them calmly several times that they really should rewrite. I feel that by showing my true reaction they will see the potential readers' possible future reaction.

Torgo
09-16-2013, 08:32 PM
@Torgo
If I read something that I think will ruin someoone's life if they leave it in the book, I show my exasperation. Especially if I have told them calmly several times that they really should rewrite. I feel that by showing my true reaction they will see the potential readers' possible future reaction.

Not really my style. I don't think I've ever got stroppy with an author in person.

(Nothing about this is going to ruin anyone's life, and I haven't made any suggestions to the author yet, so we aren't at the point of exasperation yet in any case.)

kaitie
09-17-2013, 07:40 AM
@Torgo
If I read something that I think will ruin someoone's life if they leave it in the book, I show my exasperation. Especially if I have told them calmly several times that they really should rewrite. I feel that by showing my true reaction they will see the potential readers' possible future reaction.

This seems extremely hyperbolic. I doubt there is much written that will ruin someone's life (Save the Pearls notwithstanding).

And in the end, the author still gets the final say. Honestly, this sounds like a really negative way to handle anything. Are you an editor? If not, I don't see why you'd need to tell someone calmly several times how to do things. The book is theirs and if they disagree, they disagree. Such is life. It's not the end of the world.

If you are an editor, this seems highly unprofessional to me. Give your opinion calmly, and the author either agrees and attempts to change it, or disagrees and you try to work something out. If you have a fundamental disagreement, you don't work together.

An editor's relationship with an author should be one of shared vision and cooperation. Showing exasperation is unprofessional and goes against both of these elements.

Old Hack
09-17-2013, 10:34 AM
@Torgo
If I read something that I think will ruin someoone's life if they leave it in the book, I show my exasperation. Especially if I have told them calmly several times that they really should rewrite. I feel that by showing my true reaction they will see the potential readers' possible future reaction.

I've rarely come across passages in books which would ruin a writer's life if it made it into print, but now I'm wondering what those passages might be.

If you're an editor, then you should know that while you can advise your writers to make changes to their work you can't reasonably insist that they do: it's their name on the cover, they get the final say on the work.

If you're not an editor, then I'm not sure it's any business of yours to insist that "they really should rewrite".

Perks
09-17-2013, 04:43 PM
If the author has an agent I'd definitely talk to the agent first, and ask about the book's history. If the agent is a thoughtful or communicative sort.

If not, then a meeting to establish that rapport and to bring up the subject of further revisions, with a more detailed email to follow.

I'd see if I could find the previous versions anywhere, and see if I could work out why it's had nine drafts and it's still not publishable.

And I'd pour myself a nice big glass bucket of wine. Cheers!

Amended for dosage. A glass ain't gonna cut it.

___Mag
09-17-2013, 06:15 PM
I had one author who chose to leave the homophobic word that starts with F in her book (not part of a character's dialogue). She printed 2000 copies in China and was refused acceptance into major bookstores.

In retrospect I wish I had kept insisting she remove the word. I would have done her a big favor.

Torgo
09-17-2013, 06:22 PM
I had one author who chose to leave the homophobic word that starts with F in her book (not part of a character's dialogue). She printed 2000 copies in China and was refused acceptance into major bookstores.

In retrospect I wish I had kept insisting she remove the word. I would have done her a big favor.

...was it a children's book, or something?

kaitie
09-17-2013, 08:34 PM
Was she in China, or just had it printed there?

Sounds self-published in any case, which would have a heck of a lot more to do with bookstore acceptance than a single slur. Books get published all the time with slurs and naughty words. I'd be surprised if the bookstores even bothered to read it.

I'm not saying I approve of an author using a slur out of prejudice, just that I don't see that being cause not to be accepted into bookstores.

muravyets
09-17-2013, 09:19 PM
Hi, Torgo. This is a hell of a situation to be in. Not having first-hand experience with the business of publishing, I can only view it from my history dealing with designers and clients as a copy editor in advertising/graphics, and as project leader in various contexts, and as someone who hopefully will get edit letters some day.

If I were in your place, I would first research the hell out of the history of this dog in order to figure out how something this bad got this far. If possible, I'd talk to the acquiring editor and get copies of earlier drafts.

If the author has an agent, I would definitely talk to the agent and learn about the author and his/her history with these prior edits.

I would then try to make this ton of bricks I'm about to dump on this author's head into a good thing, a fun thing, a nurturing thing that will make him/her feel great about working with me going forward. I would definitely go with the combined email/meeting plan.

I would start with the email because, for myself, I hate getting blindsided. I would react badly to a whole new edit letter from a whole new editor that basically makes me start from scratch after nine drafts. I would also react badly to a mystery request for a meeting that did not tell me what the meeting was for, only to be hit with this bad news when I got there. I would try to make the email as positive and forward-looking as possible while still letting the author know I have issues I want to discuss in depth in person.

At the meeting, I'd aim mostly for just getting the author on the same page as me and to establish the beginnings of a new working plan. I wouldn't expect full acceptance out of just one meeting. I would try to keep the focus on the mutual goal of getting the book published. If I could possibly reveal that the author wasn't happy with the previous process, I'd try to make him/her more optimistic about the prospect of me coming in to save the day.

I'd try to end with some beginning benchmarks, a promise to follow up in the usual manner, and a hearty handshake. Then, alone, I'd pray and get a drink.

___Mag
09-18-2013, 04:35 PM
@Torgo
Teenage themes, but the narrator was speaking in this instance, not a character.

___Mag
09-18-2013, 04:39 PM
@Kaitie
We also self-published a magazine and had a print run of 10 000. It was accepted by the same large bookstores which refused the previously mentioned author.

I prepared both publications, from A to Z. So, I suspect it was the content.

Old Hack
09-18-2013, 05:18 PM
I doubt very much that it was that one word which led to bookshops refusing to stock the book.

jjdebenedictis
09-18-2013, 07:53 PM
@Kaitie
We also self-published a magazine and had a print run of 10 000. It was accepted by the same large bookstores which refused the previously mentioned author.

I prepared both publications, from A to Z. So, I suspect it was the content.Yeah, but "content" involves more than one use of one word. I'm also not buying your interpretation of what happened there.

kaitie
09-18-2013, 08:41 PM
Could I ask the name of the magazine? And how you managed nationwide distribution? How many bookstores was it carried in? How many of the 10,000 sold?

I guess I sound like I'm being a hardass, but I don't buy that a single word was the reason, and honestly, it doesn't sound to me like you're a professional editor, which also makes me question how much experience you have had and the authority with which you make statements that editors should behave in the way you're suggesting is proper, which to me seems like outright dangerous and unprofessional advice.

So yeah, I'm being a bit of a hardass.

Namatu
09-18-2013, 10:45 PM
Torgo, you've already gotten good advice from others so I'll just offer my sympathy and support - and my concurrence that there should be wine. It sounds like, aside from approach, the biggest challenge may be getting the author enthused about doing another round of revisions.

mirandashell
09-18-2013, 10:47 PM
That's true. If I was the author, I'd be wondering why the publisher bought this shit in the first place.......

Mr Flibble
09-19-2013, 03:09 AM
I always think that when I get edit letters anyway. I think it's stage 3, right after the crying jag and the despair.

Also, if I get an email in the next couple of days asking me to come into a meeting because my editor wants a little chat....

JournoWriter
09-19-2013, 05:15 AM
Depending on the circumstances, the author could very well already be questioning the professionalism of the publishing house / former editor. Nine drafts is a *lot*. The history is very important here - you need to be as forearmed as possible.

muravyets has it dead-on.

RedWombat
09-21-2013, 11:50 PM
Y'know, it occurs to me, somewhat belatedly...I don't know the circumstances, obviously, but I've been privy to a situation where a book was acquired based on Famous Name and not much else, and when it turned out Famous Name couldn't deliver a workable manuscript on time, it really did go to a gazillion drafts, and I kinda suspect that the editor eventually just strung it together themselves because...well...that was the only way the book was going to get written, and they had paid a pretty good chunk of change because of Name. (Not standard practice at all, you don't have to tell me, but desperate times, desperate measures, stupid quantities of money on the table, an editor's head on the chopping block...such things may lead to extremely aggressive and creative editing, shall we say? This is purely conjecture on my part, I hasten to add, but I think educated conjecture.)

While this publisher only bought one book and would not work with the author again, some of the foreign houses bought the whole projected series, not realizing that they were seeing a heavily reworked book that had been cobbled together by a desperate editor out of Name's rather dubious manuscript.

At that point, the only thing to do was get the agent to convince Name to hire a ghostwriter.

This is likely not the scenario you're working with at all--I don't even know if what you've got is fiction!--but if it's really that rough and there are political reasons one cannot simply not publish...well...there are people out there who can turn a sow's ear into a silk purse if you give 'em enough money. I don't know if there's enough at stake here to warrant that, of course.

mistri
09-22-2013, 03:05 AM
This reminds me of an author I was given at a publishing house I worked at for a short time. They were an established author, but a terrible writer. Passable stories, awful writing style. I'm amazed she'd ever been picked up out of the slush to begin with, but at this point she'd been with the firm for years, delivered on time and the readers seemed to like her (sales were steady if not huge). I was helping out another editor, and it wasn't really my place to tear her MS apart - more to fix what I could with line edits.

Don't think I'm moaning about Twilight or 50 Shades writing - I mean very, very amateurish. I don't want to be too specific, but one example is that they used ellipses in nearly every paragraph... just for tension... or when the character was thinking... or when she'd just run out of juice...

I used to cross most of them out and hope she wouldn't reinstate.

I found the same author on a shelf today in a supermarket. There were still a lot of ellipses. But I bet there were 10X as many in the original MS.

(sorry I don't actually have any advice)

Torgo
11-11-2013, 04:22 PM
*pops head in* So a few weeks ago I went for lunch with the author in question and we had a very good and productive meeting; I think we're going to be able to untangle this manuscript and get it working properly. Thanks to everyone for the advice - much appreciated.

richcapo
11-11-2013, 04:37 PM
"I have an editorial problem"

I have one, too. No editor wants my book.

Calla Lily
11-11-2013, 06:23 PM
Torgo, that's excellent!

slhuang
11-11-2013, 06:41 PM
That's very good to hear, Torgo. :) That was a really hard situation. I'm glad it's working out!