My first novel is being published in a few days. Eeee and all that there. But what does it actually mean, to be published? Has it changed how I approach new projects? Has it made me more aware?
First, a wee bit about the journey to publication – I underestimated how much work was involved. I’d done the getting-an-agent (for that matter, I’ve done the losing-an-agent bit), I’d prepared a mss up to submission-quality, I’d copy-edited shorts for publication, I’d been critted and edited. I thought, from a practical level, I was pretty set to go.
I have bad news, oh aspiring writer friends. There is a whole end of things you haven’t seen yet. The edits are tougher. They don’t pull punches. There’s no massaging of egos – the editor has an investment in this book. Step up. And then step up again. And again, until it’s right.
This time, the edit will focus on the stuff that isn’t right because it’s damn hard for you to write it. You’ll be gritting your teeth and mushing your fists against your temples, trying to figure out how to make something already good, and written about fifty times, better. Best to hope you get on with your editor when you get there, and that you absolutely trust them – both went a long way to making the process easier for me.
And then there’s a copy-edit. Reviewing comments over 560 pages of a mss. Considering how to change things to keep your voice and tidy up a section just so. Musing over comma changes and colons and semi-colons, and having to woman up and just change the darn things. It’s like a red-penning in school, just when you thought you’d nailed the grammar bits and pieces. It gave me a headache.
Some things have changed. For instance:
Critting – I don’t do much of it anymore. Mostly because I don’t have time. (The one thing I’m working on is going so slowly, the writer is having to exercise amazing patience waiting for me.) But I’m also doing less of it because I don’t want to wallop confidence. When it’s another aspiring writer saying Fix that, or Think about that, we can ignore them because they know no more than we do. But I have always thought of published writers as knowing what they’re doing, which might add more weight to a crit than I’d like. Because I really don’t know more now than I did last year.
In fact, I don’t know what I’m doing now anymore than I did five years ago. Sure, I can whack out a better first draft and I’ve probably killed most of my horrors. I even know where to put most of my apostrophes. But I still have trouble shaping a story without howling plot issues. I still rely on beta readers to help me in the early stages – I need wise eyes to make it better. I don’t think I ever won’t.
Peers – my peers haven’t changed much, but I rely more closely on a smaller group. We’ve mostly grown together and, believe me, if my regular critters and brain-stormers haven’t been published yet, it’s only a matter of time. Because they can all write at least as well as me, often better. That’s the way of the writing world, and some of it is about the breaks, and some about the time we have to write in (I churn out more than most), and some just about what we want from the game.
I still have the same – mostly – set of central beta-readers. But, unlike with my first book where I asked for loads of opinions, and needed to find trends to understand my writing, I mostly stick with a more limited number of opinions these days. (Mostly the same three saints.) I think it’s because I’m more confident and need only the odd prod rather than wholesale changes. Or it might be a trust thing – they’ve been right about most things over the years, so I know to listen. But, mostly, I think it’s the growth thing – we’re on the same curve. None of us are static as writers or critters (even if we don’t all write at the same pace, or the same amounts).
I need those peers. Because being published doesn’t mean I magically spit out stories. It doesn’t mean I plot any better. It doesn’t mean I don’t angst about what the first scene should be, or if that sentence makes sense, or if my characters work. All of that might get easier – in the sense that I figure I’ll get to the end somehow since I did before – but it doesn’t go away.
Which brings me back to the first question – has being published changed things? For me, the answer is no, not materially. It’s made me more respectful to published authors. No matter how horrid the book, they’ll have worked for it. Most for no pay at the start, just speculation and hope. It’s also embedded best practice into some of what I do – the honing of sentences earlier, striving for strong words in the right place, a little more awareness.
But, essentially, I’m still the same writer, fumbling in the dark for a story, driven by something I don’t entirely understand, hoping things will work out at the end. And you know what, they do. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself as I look at my new project and wonder what it will be in a year or two’s time. (Did I mention I’m more patient. I am. Because publishing is slow: enjoy the journey.)
Jo Zebedee writes science fiction and fantasy. Her first novel, Abendau’s Heir, book one of the Inheritance Trilogy will be published by Tickety boo press on 31st March. She does have a life outside writing, which involves not-so-young-children, animals, jobs and a spot of gardening.