Paddling Like Crazy

Regular readers of this blog know that sometimes I include insights into the world of publishing. Today is one of those days.

Over time in this blog, I’ve discussed the various stages of editing. “Pre-submission editing is done by my at-home editors; Line editing with the editorial letter, is done by my book editor; Copy editing is done by people who know way more about English Grammar than I do; and First Pass or Galley editing is done by me and several others once the manuscript is in typeset mode.

Today we’ll be talking about editing phase number two—line editing and editorial letter. Here’s how that works. The author submits a completed manuscript. The editor goes through it, doing some copy-editing in the process, and then sends the author what’s called “the Editorial Letter.” In it the editor outlines where there may be holes in the plot and what changes must be made before going forward.

The words of my first-ever editorial letter, received in late 1983, are still engraved on my heart: “Until Proven Guilty takes place over a period of several days. All days are consecutive. No days are skipped. Unfortunately, between the first Thursday and the first Friday, there is an extra unnamed day. Please fix.”

So I did. I was able to extract most of the scenes from that “extra” day and duct tape them into other spots in the book, but there was one scene that was left on the cutting room floor. It was a scene in which Beau goes to a hotel looking for Anne Corley, the new mystery woman in his life. When she isn’t in her room, he ends up drowning his sorrows in the bar where she comes looking for him. (Two things to say about that. Number 1: I had more than once dredged my former husband out of bars where he had no idea I’d be able to find him, doing so by spotting his truck parked on the street. Number 2: I thought it was a pivotal scene that demonstrated the instant and very mutual attraction between Beau and Anne Corley.)

Bottom line, I still miss that scene. And now, those of you who have read UPG can join me in mourning that missing scene as well. It’s the one that go away.

After that I learned my lesson. Once I started keeping a name file for each book, I started putting in a time stamp—day of the month, day of the week, and time of day—on each chapter. It’s something that has served me in good stead over the years—up until right now.

While writing Missing and Endangered, (M&E in my files) I did my name file in the time-tested fashion, applying a time stamp to each chapter on a book opening on a Monday morning in early December in the year 2017. (Choosing 2017 is totally arbitrary, I know, but it’s easier to write about the recent past than it is to predict the future.)

For a while I was writing along like mad and making excellent progress on M&E because we were snowed in. We couldn’t get up and down our hill and neither could company. For close to a week, we stayed home with no visitors while I focused on writing. Then the copy edited manuscript for Credible Threat—the next Ali book—arrived in my email in-box. Knowing I’d be away from Joanna while I dealt with Ali, I asked Bill to read what I had done so far on M&E. I figured that by going back through and installing his corrections, I’d be able to get back into the Joanna book after my detour through Ali.

And that’s what I was doing last night. I was sitting here working, minding my own business, when all of a sudden, Joanna’s life took a sudden spurt forward and moved directly from Thursday night to Saturday morning. In the process of adding in new material to the beginning of the book, I had somehow lost track of the weekdays, and rather than adding in an “extra-unnamed day” I had in fact skipped one. Let’s just call it a time warp!

So last night I went to bed, worrying about what to do. After a few hours of tossing and turning—between midnight and two a.m—I finally figured out a solution. Because I had only three nights to deal with, I moved the start of the book from Monday to Wednesday. Then I did a global search on my computer (something totally unavailable in 1983)—for every mention of a weekday, moving Mondays to Tuesdays and so forth.

M&E is fixed now, both in the manuscript and in the name file, and I’m able to move forward again. And trust me, it’s far easier to fix now before the manuscript is done that it would be at the line editing stage with another mind-boggling editorial letter.

I thought that my readers—and especially the ones who see me as a “prolific writer,” sailing in seemingly trouble-free fashion from book to book—might want to know that sometimes the sailing isn’t exactly trouble free.

Yes, if you see ducks out motoring around a pond, they, too, seem to be sailing smoothly along. The problem is, nobody sees those little webbed feet just out of sight beneath the surface of the water, paddling like crazy.

I just gave you a glimpse of my little webbed feet, and another window or two on my writerly world.

Enjoy, meantime I’m back to M&E on Saturday morning for real this time.


This week one of my blog readers from Canada went to band practice. The band leader, who is also my reader’s friend, was recounting how she just wasn’t feeling well. She was losing weight, felt nauseated much of the time, and didn’t want to eat because nothing tasted right. She said that her doctor told her it was probably the flu. Due to The A List paperback announcement, my reader encouraged her friend to go back to the doctor and ask to be tested for kidney function. Yesterday she got the results and yes, she does suffer from kidney dysfunction.

Am I ever glad I sent out that paperback announcement for The A List. Someone really was looking over my shoulder when I wrote it—and over my reader’s friend’s shoulder as well!