This is directed at those of you who are, or who are about to be, in the process of publishing your first novel, especially if it’s with a major publisher. I’m going to tell you about something I screwed up with the idea that maybe you won’t, all right?
My first novel, Jar-head, or whatever it’s called, has this big, ugly blotch in it that makes me cringe every time I think about it. It’s the line (quoting from memory because looking it up would be painful), “All of our Houses are named after one of our native animals.” It doesn’t belong there, it sticks out, it is terrible exposition.
It wasn’t in the novel as I submitted it, I added it to editorial specification. Except, and here’s the thing, when my editor (the amazing Terri Windling) suggested it, she specifically stated, or rephrase in your own words.
I was a newbie writer, dying with the excitement that I was actually having a book published, utterly lacking in anything that could be considered self-confidence, and the very idea of disagreeing with an editor was, well, how could I do that? Who could do that? I couldn’t do that.
Now, let’s be clear: this is on me, not on her. She wanted a bit more exposition, which was not unreasonable. I could have disagreed with the need for it, saying, “Hey, you figured it out, let’s assume the reader will too,” or I could have agreed and done what she told me to—found an elegant way to get that information across. She would have been perfectly comfortable with either of those. But I was new, intimidated, nervous, so I just copied what she said, even though I kinda knew at the time it wasn’t right.
So, okay, here’s my point: It’s your first book, and maybe you’re as intimidated as I was, but it is still your book, and your editor knows that. We don’t go into the editorial process with an Attitude, with a feeling of, “Don’t you dare touch my sacred prose!” but it is also wrong to be so subservient as to not even question anything. You don’t want that, the reader doesn’t want that, and the editor doesn’t want that.
Here endeth the lesson.