Monday, July 13, 2009

A Dose of Reality

How quickly reality hits creeps in, especially when you discover how little you know about how things work.

In the first few weeks since Echelon Press ( agreed to publish my first novel, Killer Cows, every morning I’d turn on my computer, re-read the acceptance letter, and do my happy dance (which embarrasses my 14-year-old daughter to no end). I’d published stuff before, mostly short stories, but nothing like this, nothing which involved signing a contract.

My first contract. Time for another happy dance, this time with a little moonwalking thrown in.

Realizing something you spent a year of your life writing is actually going to be published and read (by people you don’t know) is a feeling like no other. I’m no longer just a writer...I’m an author. God, I love the sound of that. Until now, the only person who cared about my work was me.

So far, it’s been great working with Echelon, who’ve been very patient with all my questions, and helping me with stuff I’m required to provide (bios, jacket blurbs, author photo, this blog site, etc). I’ve been corresponding with other Echelon authors and reading their blogs. Some of it’s been hard work (I’ve never done my own bio, and jacket blurbs are harder to write than most people think), but overall I’ve enjoyed the experience.

But the reality of being an author hit me soon after, in the form of Jennifer Turner ( An Echelon author herself (known to readers as J.R. Turner), Jennifer is working with me in editing Killer Cows, and our first contact was monumentally humbling, to say the least.

It’s important to note that I don’t personally know any other writers. I’ve never had the opportunity to participate in workshops or forums, and none of my friends or colleagues do this in their spare time. People have read my work and given feedback, but not a writer’s feedback, someone who would really scrutinize my words line-by-line. All I ever heard was whether or not they like the story. That was fine by me; I was always pretty confident in my writing ability, anyway, never needing to be told how to tell a story.

When I got Jenny’s email, listing her suggestions for various changes, I was excited to get down to the business of fine tuning the novel, which I prematurely assumed would consist of a few tweaks here and there, perhaps eliminate some unnecessary passages.

Wrong!!! Thanks for playing, Dave. We have some nice parting gifts for you, but no happy dance today!

The list was huge, almost none of it having to do with the story itself. Stuff like too much passive voice, more telling than showing, overuse of dialogue tags and dozens of misspellings I never caught (even after I’d edited and revised the book a dozen times). Jennifer personally went through the first forty pages and attached the manuscript with her suggestions printed in red, then instructed me to go through the rest of the manuscript to address some of these issues. With mounting dread, I opened the file. There was so much red splattered on those first forty pages I thought Jason Voorhees must have chopped through it with his machete. I initially thought, "you’ve got to be joking. No way does my book need this much reworking! I spent too much time on it already! I’m trying to get my third novel finished and now I gotta do this?"

But I signed a contract, so with a heavy sigh, I began trudging through Killer Cows for the umpteenth time, rereading my work along Jennifer’s suggestions for changes, my ego dropping a notch or two each time I hit her red passages, the entire time thinking, this isn’t an’s a freaking re-write.

I first hated addressing Jennifer’s numerous suggestions, until I noticed they were all good ones. It soon became very clear I had some bad habits no one else ever pointed out before. I can’t count how many times I read those dreaded red passages, slapped my head and said, "Of course! Why didn’t I notice that before?" It wasn’t long before I started to depend on Jennifer’s tips, because nearly all of them improved the narrative dramatically. So when they stopped after forty pages, I felt like someone flying solo for the first time after lessons were over. Humbled beyond belief, I thought it was a minor miracle Echelon accepted the book at all.

At the same time, I remembered Echelon isn’t some small press magazine with a circulation of 2,000. It’s a business, a business interested enough in the words I did write to take a chance that Killer Cows could be something good, something special. Knowing that made it easier to revisit a novel I was already sick of.

Thank God my day job allows me to have summers off. I would need them. Putting my third novel on hold, I spent a week of eight hour days going through the rest of the book, this time really looking at each passage with Jennifer’s suggestions in-mind, wincing at every redundant sentence, useless dialogue tag and line that made more sense in my head than it did on the printed page. For the first time in my life, writing was an actual job.

By the time I was finished, I’d trimmed Killer Cows down to 66,000 words (the initial draft was over 80,000), and it’s a hell of a lot better. Is it perfect? I doubt it, and it was with newfound humility that I sent the revised version back to Jenny for her feedback.

I don’t know what Jenny is being paid for her editorial services, but I do know it’s not enough. There’s nothing like having a real writer, who doesn’t know me personally, examine my work with the sole purpose of making it a better read. I don’t think my revisions to Killer Cows are finished, but it’s definitely a better book than it was when I signed Echelon’s contract.


  1. Great post, D. M. We've all done the happy dance, along with the "edit limbo." You're not alone!

    And, Jenny is great, isn't she?

    Just imagine yourself doing your happy dance and moon walk when you get that first box of books.

    Good luck with the editing!


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  3. Now you've got me trembling! My first book is with an Echelon editor and I'm waiting to see what she recommends. I'd better come down off Cloud 9, put on my wounded-ego armor and get ready to face reality.

    I applaud you for admitting Killer Cows is a better book after the edits. It's on my list of to-be-published.

  4. Dave... Did you come over to my house and live the last three weeks with me? This story is exactly mine. (Rochelle is editing mine though)*BIG HUGS ROCHELLE!* Even your weaknesses sound exactly like mine! I've never met you but somehow I think we're in the same twilight zone episode.

  5. Aww, shucks *blush* I guess I don't have to take my Almond Joy out and beat you after all ;)

    We have ALL been there. I'm only passing on what all my great editors have taught me over the decade I've been doing this professionally. I should be thanking you because you're allowing me to pay it forward :)

    Just think too, your next books will be stronger for what you gain during this process. I know all of mine have. Every book I write gets better and better and I have Echelon (Karen!) to thank for that because if she hadn't taken a chance on me long ago, I would still be chasing my tail.

    Besides, you've got a great story going! I'm eager to see this book all set to go, and of course, get my own autographed copy :)


  6. I really enjoyed this post. Thanks for your honesty in portraying the process you went through. Luckily, you also got to meet Jenny Turner - she is one of the best people I've ever known, plus she's dedicated to her craft.

    Congratulations on your book! And kudos to you for having the perserverance to go with Jenny's report and do the rewrites needed to make your manuscript shine. That's where some writers drop by the wayside, so you can be proud you stuck it out and did what it takes to continue learning as a writer. I don't think the learning ever stops!

  7. Thanks for being so honest, Dave. It took guts to write that blog. Be assured, all of us need editors to make our work better. We're simply too close to our stories to see our mistakes. Fortunately, Echelon provides editing for its authors. Not all indie presses do, and then the author wonders why his/her books don't sell. Good editing is the key to good writing.

  8. Great post, Dave. I actually enjoy the rewriting and editing process. I work with an outside editor while I write, sending him chapters as the book moves toward the conclusion. Mike is a great guy with a strong sense of humor and some of his "suggestions" actually have me rolling on the floor, but some certainly can be hard on the ego, like the time he sent back my latest chapter, saying he took umbrage with it. What the heck. I figured he must be having a bad day. But to humor him, I went ahead and made the changes, and I'll admit the changes didn't hurt the book that much. In fact...

    By having my work edited on the fly, so to speak, there are not a whole lot of revisions necessary after I send the MS to Echelon, makes Karen wince a little less when she reads my stuff.

    Jeff Sherratt

  9. I am not a writer yet but plan to be someday. Well, I do write but not anything that I will ever publish. that is still waiting to be written. I follow other writers blogs but this is the most insightfully written article that I have yet read! I really appreciate the way in which you shared the details!