Friday, January 20, 2017

Revision

I've been hearing a lot of talk about the revision process lately. Some authors, especially independent ones, are talking up the fact that they don't revise much, if at all. They simply revise as they go. Of course this saves a ton of time and the authors are able to put out more work that way. And work is content and content is money. Or, as the old cliche goes, content is king.

As for me? I come from the old school which pretty much dictated that you spend an entire year, minimum, on a novel of say, 60K words. Never was this arduous process more apparent in writing school (I did my MFA in Writing at Vermont College in the mid-90's) where my writing profs would grill me on a manuscript and all too often I'd be forced to go back to the drawing board starting with word one. This proved an invaluable experience for a young fiction writer of 29 or 30 years old. There is no better schooling than having to take beating after beating yet still persevering when many others would simply pack it up and head out to law school.

For all I know, student enrollments in MFA programs could be down or for all I know they could be way up. Whatever the case, publishing a book is no longer an achievement or at times, a seemingly impossible achievement. It's more a matter of course. Taken a step further, authors have choices like never before. For instance, over the course of the next three years, I will have three books published traditionally in hard-cover. The books will be in all the bookstores, and the novels will receive the usual trade reviews (good or bad), and all will be well. Twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, I would have focused entirely on those three books and spent the in-between time doing something else, like freelance writing or teaching or even writing a short story or two. Hell, maybe I'd do nothing.

But now, I can publish those three books, sign another contract with yet a second publisher, and on top of that, put out any number of books, novellas and short stories under my own label, Bear Media. My choices at that point are thus: do I go exclusive to Amazon KDP or do I go wide with a distribution outlet like Draft2Digital? In the end, I usually do both.

Choices...as a full-time author, you gotta love them.

But this revision thing bothers me a little. I take my work seriously, and I only want my best work to be published, no matter what form that publishing takes. Sometimes this takes serious revision. Sure, I'm a fast writer, and very prolific, but I also take the time to revise. So much so that I've driven some of my publishers crazy by insisting the galley proofs be gone over again, and again, and again, even if it means pub dates must be extended (in one case I insisted a book be revised post-publication!). In any case, it could be that I publish too much material. One of my publishers recently told my agent that "Vince is over extending himself."

Whatever...

Writing is what I do. I do it fast. But not at the expense of the revision process. Listen up writers, your books will remain long after the worms have had their day. Make sure it's as good as you can make it.

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3 comments:

  1. All writers write and revise their own way, they choose a publishing path be it indie or traditional, and most come, eventually, to see the other side of things.

    Five years ago, someone (probably Joe Konrath) convinced me indie was the way to make money (stigma be damned), and I deluded myself into believing I could put out as good a book independently as I could with a big publisher/agent deal if I found the right folks.

    I did what every self-respecting author is supposed to do (write, revise, revise, revise, beta, editor, proof—revise a bunch more) but have ultimately returned to my traditional publishing aspirations and roots because I was wrong. I couldn’t see my own shortcomings, and no one can. It’s the bane of the human condition. We writers fall in love with our words and become blind to their merit. I wasted five years grinding on sub-par work I’ve since unpublished despite generally favorable reviews.

    Why? It’s a complicated, long-winded answer that boils down to this: Read any unputdownable, ultra-successful bestseller and measure your work to that standard. When I did, the indie Kool-Aid tasted somehow less sweet. There will be people who will argue against this (and five years ago I might’ve been one of them) but indie is not synonymous with quality, overall.

    Yes, quantity is a good thing to have, but if you build a fifty book backlist in a year or two, you’ve sacrificed something somewhere (or you’d be making Patterson bank). All work is improved with the benefit of time. I don’t care how brilliant a writer you are, we all have a moment after-the-fact where we’re like, “Ah, man. I should have done THAT!”

    If I could do it all over again, I’d still have dabbled in indie because it taught me a lot about the process and the market, more so than it did about writing and quality. A well-rounded author needs to understand all of these things.

    An artist knows the difference.

    Art can’t and shouldn’t be rushed. The creation of a perfect thing takes practice, time, discipline, and insight. You can do what everyone else is doing and mass produce a long line of uninspired work, but art and money have never been kindred, and the readers, they’ll know the difference. You will, too, in your reviews and bottom line.

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    1. Good stuff Belinda...I agree, there's nothing that can replace the arduous process a traditional publisher puts the author through. Of course, even then there are plenty of mistakes, which drive me batty. As for the indie end of things, I don't get away without spending 3 or 4K on professional editing. It's just not worth doing things half assed, especially when you're making your living from this gig...

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