Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Road to Publication: Part Four

[This is part 4 of a summary of Spookygirl’s journey toward publication. Use the Progress tag to access all related entries.]

Here’s an odd thing: I have a book coming out in a few months, yet I’m still not entirely sure how traditional publishing typically works. The ABNA timeline forces things to progress at a faster pace. Had I gotten my contract the normal way, I'd probably be looking at a 2013 release date instead of August 2012.

Not that I’m complaining. I’d much rather see Spookygirl on shelves this year than next.

A few days after I got home from Seattle, I had my first official phone conversation with the VP and Publisher of Dutton Children’s Books, Julie Strauss-Gabel. My publisher. MY PUBLISHER. Yeah, still not tired of saying that. Julie would also be acting as my editor. MY EDITOR. Not tired of that one, either.

Julie and I talked about the upcoming editing process (including the slightly unorthodox timeline caused by the ABNA rules), and she gave me an overview of what she liked best about Spookygirl, and what she felt needed work.

I’d been waiting for that feedback with a mix of excitement and dread. No one loves criticism, no matter how constructive it might be. Negative feedback can sting, especially when it’s about a project you’ve coaxed and cradled and worked on for years. It’s like someone telling you your baby is ugly.

. . . Only you know what? It’s not like that at all. Constructive criticism is indispensable, and learning to handle it is essential for anyone who wants to publish. It’s about your work, not you. There’s no need to take it personally.

Character sketch: Violet's pet poltergeist likes squeaky dog toys.

Besides, what I heard from Julie was overwhelmingly positive. Sure, some elements needed major tinkering – the resolution of the locker room storyline would shift four or five times over the next few months. Both the first and last scenes changed. We focused a little more on the paranormal investigation angle, and a little less on the more typical fish-out-of-water high school elements. I gained a Henry and lost a Sandy. Timmy became Tim (a change he’d no doubt appreciate).

Most importantly, Violet grew as a character. She became stronger and gained a new focus. I love that. I feel like every single revision strengthened her story, and that makes me incredibly happy.

Up next: What’s in a title?


  1. Congratulations! I am entered in ABNA this year and some posted your blog on one of the discussion boards over there. So I thought I would check it out. You've had such an exciting journey and it's great! I look forward to reading your book! :)

  2. I'm very curious about the editing process--some of the "suggestions" sound pretty big ("major tinkering" you call it, I like that). You can tell just from reviews that different people can read the very same thing entirely differently. Did you ever disagree with the editor and if so who had the last word? Were any of the big changes you'd HAVE to make discussed before the contract was signed?

    1. No, no changes were discussed before I signed the contract. My experience is atypical, though, because of the contest. Since I already had the contract, I'm not sure Dutton would have forced ANY major changes on me if I'd been stubborn enough.

      However, most of the suggestions and critiques I received made a lot of sense. I'd never heard a peep about the locker room storyline from my beta readers, or any literary agents who'd included critiques with their rejections. However, it was cited as a weakness several times in the feedback I received during the contest, so I knew it had to change even before I talked to anyone at Dutton. I just didn't know what to do with it until Julie (and later Liza) tossed out some ideas.

      I did disagree with a few of Julie's initial suggestions. For example, she wanted me to consider getting rid of the funeral home setting and giving Violet's dad a different career. She also suggested a setting change at the end that would've changed the story's resolution. We compromised on a few details, but otherwise I was able to reject all that without argument.

      Now, if I'd gotten Spookygirl published the traditional way instead of through the contest, it's entirely possible that I might've heard something like, "We'll make an offer if you edit out the funeral home." I would've had a lot less wiggle room.

    2. That's fascinating, thanks so much for taking the time to reply. When my husband's first book was published they did "negotiate" the title before the contract was signed. His agent told us "editors" no longer "edit" and not to worry about that so we crossed our fingers and she was right, there was hardly any editing other than typos/errors; but your editor really did get involved in the actual story so obviously it depends on the publisher. It sounds like you had the last word when necessary though, so that's good.
      We love the title "Spookygirl" by the way.

    3. It definitely seems to depend on the publisher. Also, I didn't have an agent at the time, so I'd had no editorial input from that direction. I expect to have a totally different experience with my next manuscript.

      Thank you! I was glad I was able to keep that title.