I’ve never been comfortable when people describe themselves as “perfectionists.” Especially coming from writers. It implies that, somewhere down the line, they actually do get it “perfect.”
We don’t, not ever. But many of us — though not all — try our best. And often, our best takes time.
Part of the hardcover publishing process is for publishers to send out Advance Reader’s Copies, or ARCs. These ARCs typically go out for review months in advance of publication to selected bloggers, review periodicals, and influential librarians. To be clear: In most cases, an ARC is what the reviewer reads, not the finished book.
So ARCs are not final, and not perfect. In fact, in the case of my upcoming novel, BEFORE YOU GO, I had/have two rounds of opportunities to make corrections before the book goes to print. These are mostly small details, corrections, not wholesale revisions (and this is in addition to the copyediting process that goes on in-house). So, sure, the ARC is basically a good representation of the final book.
So long as you aren’t a perfectionist.
On the back cover of every ARC I’ve ever seen, it typically reads something like this: “PLEASE NOTE: This is an uncorrected proof. This edition should not be quoted without comparison with the finished book.”
I’ve been living with my ARC for about a month now. For various reasons, it came out eight months before the publication date. The ARC does not reflect what I’d estimate to be several hundred minor changes, revisions, corrections. Maybe that’s a lot, I don’t know; and maybe it was all my fault, probably so. It might be because I’m a perfectionist . . . or that I can’t let go . . . or that I should have caught all that before we got to this point. Maybe I’m an idiot. These revisions range from changing a character’s name, to eliminating a comma, to deleting or inserting a single word, to trying once again to get that sentence exactly right. Here’s some examples:
It seemed funnier, changing it to “in the food-service industry.”
I’m adding a hypenated word here, now it’s “like some kind of tree-climbing forest creature.” This revision — everything I’ll show you here, in fact, we discussed with my editor, Liz Szabla. At the bitter end, we roll up our sleeves and talk it out, comma by comma. And I absolutely love that attention to detail. Liz and I will go months without discussing a work — I like to do my own thing for long stretches — but when we do get a change to get down to it, well, for me, that’s pure joy. I don’t understand writers who don’t like revision. That’s the fun part.
Deleting an unnecessary phrase, for speed.
We talked this over and stayed with “fractures.” There’s a great danger at this point, for someone like me, to gild the lily. To over-think. Sometimes I’ll suggest a change and Liz will say, not unkindly, “I think it’s fine the way it is.” William Wordsworth, you know, rewrote many of his poems toward the end of his life. And the consensus is that he usually made them worse. There’s a point when you’ve got to put down the pen and back away.
I cut two lines, considered some new text, and cut that, too. Actually, I think I revised and inserted that revision into a different moment in the book. There was an idea that I was trying to get to, which resulted in this sentence: “He decided to believe in life.” But this particular paragraph ends, “Jude made a truce with that unknowing.”
Have you deciphered my lefty scrawl?
He forced himself to retrace his blessings, the people and things he would never wish away, yet the exercise proved small solace. Some secret part of him that he dared not confess longed only for annihilation.
The idea of death.
Just a little faster this way.
He’s a strong runner, an able runner. It was only two miles. Jude didn’t need to catch his breath, he wasn’t panting. He needed to find some pebbles to throw at Becka’s window. For dialogue, not “I’m sorry,” but just, “Sorry . . .”
Probably one of the more worked moments in the book. It now reads:
. . . And he reached back to cast that rock as far as he could.
Just to see the splash.
PLEASE NOTE: If you are a reviewer and you are interested in reading the flawed, imperfect ARC to BEFORE YOU GO, please shoot me an email and we’ll see what we can do. I’ve got the perfect book for you. Well, not exactly perfect.
I’ll chime in here (from an editor’s POV) to say that it’s a pleasure to work with authors who enjoy revision. Some don’t. I’m disappointed when I sense an author wants to just get the book done, already, and not enjoy the process of revision. “Process” is such a great part of the craft, and it doesn’t end once the manuscript is turned in. For me, it’s often amazing to be a part of an author’s evolving thinking/imagining of a book. I learn a lot, every time.