A Fool For A Client

Originally posted on Xchyler Publishing’s blog, Saturday, June 1, 2013

Scott the New X Author: A Fool For A Client

I got it! The Big Envelope. We got it, of course, but I opened it. And I got to take out The Contract, the one with my name on the top, with the name Diamond Jubal: A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk right there in nice black ink on a printed page. And Heidi’s signature in nice official-looking blue ink. It says that Jubal is going to be published. It says that, in the judgement of professionals whom I respect, I am an Author. I’m framing that contract.

I’ve always been a writer. Can’t help it. Wouldn’t want to. Son of two writers, sibling and parent of more. I’ve written my way through high school and several university degrees, making sure I got my grades by writing the crap out of my term papers and theses. Five thousand well-crafted words is a dynamite undergrad term paper. Starting in high school very good teachers taught me outlining, research, and writing to the outline. It became almost built in, almost too easy. It’s not a crutch . . . really it’s not.

But very little of that writing has been fiction. And none of it was professionally long term. And I’m finding that a very different animal. Now I’m working on a different craft, one that involves a whole new kind of day-after-day discipline, where five thousand well crafted words that used to take me a whole term are just one chapter out of twenty or more. That outline I was so proud of in college looks to me now like a kindergarten finger-painting. Now the outline of Jubal all by itself is five thousand words. Just the outline.

But it, and the other pieces of the professional novelist’s craft, the careful plotting, the pre-planned character development and arcs, the pre-planned reveals and foreshadowings and inclusions and the careful planning and balancing of not only of characters, but how much space each of them gets—etcetera, etcetera ad infinitum—that’s not habit and talent, that’s work.

Yep! The 1st page of the Jubal contract.In all of this I couldn’t be more grateful for the help, encouragement, handholding, cheerleading, and general hard-handed highmindedness of The X’s Editorial staff. They’re an amazing bunch, and their talents are talents that I didn’t fully appreciate before I came on board. Okay, let’s face it: I didn’t know what a good editor does. I knew what a proofreader does, and by golly I’m still pretty confident that I won’t make the proofreader work very hard. But I’m still learning what a good editor does. Let me share some of that with you:

You know how there’s an old saying that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client? You know how no surgeon in her right mind would ever think of operating on herself (Hollywood notwithstanding)? And you know how, even if you’ve been writing novels your entire adult life you still need a good editor? Same phrase again, different italics: you still need a good editor? Same phrase again, different italics: you still need a good editor? Am I getting this point across?

  • A good editor sees the forest, when we as authors are sometimes lost in the trees.
  • A good editor sees trees when we as authors are sometimes lost in the forest.
  • A good editor knows which trees need to be cut down, and which parts of the forest need not be visited.
  • And no, your mom telling you you write wonderfully, dear, doesn’t count.

Every single one of us . . . every.single.one . . . needs editing, whether we’re at one of the Big Boys, the mid-markets, the emerging indies (like The X), or even self-publishing. Those acknowledgements the big name authors put in, thanking their editors? It’s not just to be polite.

There’s such a stark and obvious difference in the books that have felt the touch of a good editor that a whole industry has sprung up: providing editing services for the self-published. They’re what I call “vanity presses”: they suck money out of the pockets of the vain and deluded, and leave them nothing but a pile of junk—only the pile of junk has correct punctuation. It might still be poorly structured, bad, bad writing, but at least the punctuation is right.

The fortunate few authors who get picked up by the X aren’t picked because they’re perfect. They’re picked because their editors feel they can team up with them—like an operating room team or a courtroom team—to put out good work. They’re picked because the X Team thinks enough of them to gamble on them. They receive that wonderful, blessed 9×12 envelope in the mail because the X Team thinks they can be edited.

The moral of this story: don’t think your life is complete because that envelope comes in the mail, because your life as an author is just beginning.

Co-authors Scott and Julie Tarbet

Next time on Scott the New X Author: The X’s Author Manuscript/Submission Evaluation, how to torture yourself to death with it, and how to learn from it.

Scott & Jewels Tarbet are authors of Diamond Jubal: A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk, to be released by The X for Christmas 2013.

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