I hadn’t anticipated writing about this topic under marketing my novel. On reflection, I think it is where it belongs. It is about making mistakes and learning from them BEFORE the book goes on sale. I said I would share my mistakes, so you can avoid making the same ones. Here goes.
Today I had a discussion with one of my editors. He is a perfectionist, which is why I like him reading my stuff. He kicks my ass when I make mistakes. He makes me a better writer.
The conversation today went something like this:
“I have a couple of thoughts about the manuscript. First, I want to tell you it is difficult to keep track of the story when you send me only a chapter at a time. ”
“The re-write process is taking longer than I anticipated. I feel less guilty if I give you something.”
“Oh, you are re-writing before it gets to me?”
Oh-oh, I think. This sounds ominous.
“Yes, that’s why you aren’t finding a lot of mistakes. You aren’t returning pages to me with many marks. I’ve already edited the chapter during the re-write.”
“Like I said, it’s a long time between chapters, so I am having trouble retaining the story line between edits. I read so much in between your chapters. I want to mention a suggestion to you. I have to think about it in my own writing. It’s how a writer introduces backstory. The chapter I just read has a lot of backstory. I can’t remember what happened in your earlier chapters.”
More discussion follows on the skill of integrating backstory into the actual plot.
“Yes, I understand what you are saying. I just read an article about Sue Grafton. The article described her mastery of mixing backstory directly into the storytelling. I will make a point to read one of her novels solely to study that technique, so I can improve my skill. I know of a different writer who warns authors who use “data dump” to tell the backstory that they are boring their readers. So I understand what you are telling me; I need to be careful about loads of background weighing down the pace of the story.”
“In my novel, chapter one starts the story. Chapter two goes to backstory. In chapter three, I go right back to the story line.”
“Are you telling me I’ve used too much backstory?”
“I am saying ‘maybe’ because I can’t remember the detail of your earlier chapters. I know this chapter had a lot of backstory.”
There are two lessons here for you and your work.
First, think about how you tell backstory. Don’t bury your reader in it. I’ll have to look at my manuscript, once all the editing is complete, for how I have handled the history of the characters. I may have to re-order chapters to avoid too much in one night’s reading. My nightmare would be having to re-write the story to fix the problem.
Second, give your editor the entire manuscript–or at least a big chunk of it–at once, not a chapter at a time as I did. It handicaps the person who is trying to help you improve your work. My editor reads so much other material between my chapters that he can’t recall the flow or detail of my work. He’s limited to remarking on each chapter as a stand-alone piece.
I was planning to finish another chapter this weekend to hand over to the editor. I will hold it now until I have several chapters ready to be edited. At least that way he will be better able to critique the flow of my story, whether I have loose ends dangling, and the like. The upside to handing over the whole thing is I get a better editorial commentary on the novel. The downside is there may be many more editorial notes about corrections I need to make.
But, wait, that’s an upside, too.