How I first got published, part 5 – Revising and rewriting

The following is an encore from 2009, presented here in the hopes that the info will be helpful for aspiring authors. I’ve authored or coauthored five books since, and self-published another four, and most of this still applies. So enjoy. Hope it helps!

(If you’re joining me in progress, this is the 5th part in a series devoted to outlining how my co-author and I managed to get our book, A Year of Hitchcock, published.)

So here’s the part where the joy of getting a contract is smothered in the giant pile of WORK no one tells you about when you first start writing. Because make no mistake, writing is not what you think it is when you daydream about a career as an author. It’s WORK. Never forget that.

As noted in my last post, it took a full year from the moment we first made contact with a publisher interested in our work to actually getting a contract. And getting that contract meant agreeing to a whooooole lot of re-writing.

Sidebar: If you noticed we have not mentioned an agent, you are correct. We did not use an agent. Agents are all but essential if you want your fiction published, but with nonfiction it’s often possible to fly without one. We did. That said, we have a follow-up in the works, there is already some interest, but this time representation would be welcome, so if you’re an agent, contact me!

Before they would offer us a contract, Scarecrow Press wanted us to agree to a fairly significant revision to our manuscript, which was then titled A Journey with Hitchcock. The book was initially written in the first person, with each chapter containing a pair of essays as described in this blog post. Scarecrow wanted us to change the entire thing to a third-person commentary, as well as remove the most conversational aspects of the manuscript.

Big task, but ultimately we agreed. We did not agree because we were desperate to see print, we agreed because the idea just made sense. After all, who are we? We are not Roger Ebert. We are not Donald Spoto. We are two fans of Alfred Hitchcock who happened to come up with a great idea and had the dedication to see it through to completion. We are not the draw, Alfred Hitchcock is. No one cares about us as personalities, they just want the information we’ll provide. Clearly, third-person was the better route to go. We signed on the dotted line and got to work.

It was the best choice we could have made. The book is far and away better than the initial draft.

The revisions were a chore. We had to combine the dueling essays in one piece, which meant leaving a lot of our work on the cutting room floor. Had to change the whole viewpoint to the third person, which meant close attention to detail. And trim about 20,000 words to get us down to 100,000 words (which is still a hefty tome), which meant even more cutting. Don’t fall in love with your own words, folks, because you WILL be asked to murder a great many of them. At this point we had already been living with this text for more than two years, and to be frank I was tired of looking at it. That’s not to say that I’m not proud of the book — I’m VERY proud of it — just giving you aspiring authors a head’s up that this process gets exhausting. You will be reading and revising the same passages three, four, five, six times before you even get to think about ebook distribution. It’s the part of writing that weeds out the casual hobbyists, so be prepared for it.

The good news was, at the end of the process we had a far better book than when we started. And isn’t that what editors are for? To help you improve your work? Thanks, Stephen Ryan. You helped our book go from good to great.

Yet we still weren’t done. We had written our book. We had secured ourselves a publishing contract. We had turned in our final manuscript. But there was still a lot more work to do.

A LOT more work to do.

Next time, I’ll talk about all the stuff that happens after your book is turned in but before it hits store shelves. It’s more involved than you may realize.

Read part 1 (Introduction), part 2 (Ideas & Execution), part 3 (The Query), part 4 (The Waiting Game), part 5 (Revising & Rewriting), and part 6 (All That Other Stuff), and take a look at the resulting book. Learn more about Eric here, and find out more about his independent editorial services here.

1 Comment

  1. Jim McDevittJim McDevitt

    “That said, we have a follow-up in the works, there is already some interest, but this time representation would be welcome, so if you’re an agent, contact me!”

    A little funny in retrospect.


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