The e-version of this short story is now available. I did the editing.
What impressed me about the ms on the cold read was Shawn’s ability to generate new characters. Most of his work so far has had an autobiographical lean, and this is neither rare nor necessarily unwelcome–but one day, it comes time to fledge. I see him doing that as he gains confidence in that ability.
My part of the work was relatively modest, because with each new ms I find myself doing a little less surgery. He learns and grows, which some authors do not. We had to work over a few plot issues, seeking to avoid contrivance and create an effective and credible event flow. Those are sometimes hard for editors, or at least for me, because there is a continuum ranging from proofreading (you just look for errors) a full rewriting (few sentences may remain intact, and one may add or remove significant content). The various editing modes fall somewhere between those two, but for me the question is never far away: if I alter the story too much, will it cease to be the author’s story? There is no answer that fits all situations, but the author is the author, and I am the editor, and I have no fundamental yearning to encroach upon the author’s purview.
My usual method is to do a cold read, assess the ms and come up with some feedback and commentary prior to proceeding. There can never be two most current copies of the ms, so Shawn and I refer to it as ‘handing off the football.’ On the cold read, I think it essential to identify story inconsistencies, contrivances, credibility issues, or anything that I think a reviewer would one day pan. I would rather offer the author the opportunity to address those with his or her own ideas, so that the story remains as much his or hers as possible. I’ll offer suggestions if I have any (and I consider it my duty to arrange to have some), discuss ideas back and forth, evaluate ideas the author presents.
It went that way this time. Shawn’s a hardworking author, and was still taking time to work on the ms while he was supposed to be enjoying an idyllic getaway at the coast. I found some stuff that I felt he should rethink, and he did so. I got the football back and went to work, and I believe he accepted most of my edits.
The result is, in my opinion, a deft short story that has Shawn starting to fledge. The experience of reading his work is growing richer, and I foresee that growth continuing as his mastery of the storytelling art increases in breadth and depth. It is a pleasure to work with him and watch him succeed.
So what’s the lesson for aspiring authors? The guy is selling a lot of writing. If you want to do that, there are things you can learn from him.
- He isn’t touchy, either during the process or with the public. The gracious, approachable Shawn you see responding to his readership is the same Shawn I deal with. I’ve never had to tell him something sucked, but if it was the only honest way to convey my opinion, I could safely do so. He would ask the right questions: why does it suck, and how should it be fixed? Because if I’m saying that, I had better have some ideas, or I’m not much use. Shawn’s a friend, but this is business, and he’s a client who deserves to be treated like one.
- He takes full advantage of every service I’m offering him, which gets him the best value I can offer for his money. I told him to get in touch any time he wanted to discuss anything, from a potential project to a character that isn’t quite clicking. He believed I meant that. I want to help him, and he gives me every opportunity to do that. When you stop to think about it, I’m also helping myself, because my work will be easier later.
- Growth. It gets better each time. I may never break him of a few habits, but I have a few of my own I may never break. He incorporates feedback, and I see the results next time around.
- Marketing. Your work will not sell itself; that’s only true of endcap auto-sellers, whose series tend to jump the shark after a time. (W.E.B. Griffin, got my eye on you.) I’ve read dozens of excellent books that never sold well. If you think marketing is yucky, and you want to imagine that you can stake it all on your epic writing talent, you’re standing in your own way. Shawn can and will market his work, and that causes more people to buy it. A good product is the beginning; the next step is to bring the product to the attention of people with the power to click ‘Add to Shopping Cart.’
If you commit to those things, your chances leap skyward.