Winning the short story contest and being included in a wonderful anthology—aside from all the awesomeness implied in those things—also provided me with a unique opportunity to get my feet wet in the shallow-end of the publishing business without being thrust into deep, cold waters to flounder my way back to the edge. It was an education that I greatly appreciated and think would be of value to pass on. So, here, I discuss my microcosm lesson in publishing. The first, I hope, of many such experiences to come.
The editor of the anthology, Laurel Ann Nattress, called me on a Tuesday night to deliver the wonderful news that I had won the JAMMDI contest and that my story would be included in the collection. Naturally, I was thrilled and barely remember our conversation that night but I do remember how kind and complimentary she was. She had even passed on some nice remarks from her editor at Ballantine. At the time, Laurel Ann warned me that things would move rather fast from that point because the book was only five months out from publication and all the other stories had been polished and edited. She told me I had a busy few weeks ahead of me.
And was she ever right! I heard nothing else from Laurel Ann until that Friday morning, when I opened my Outlook before racing off to work and had an email with an attachment waiting for me. Laurel Ann passed along the edits from the Ballantine editor, Caitlin Alexander, with the request that I have them finished and back to her by Monday morning. Laurel Ann added at the end, “I hope you didn’t have any big plans for the weekend.”
I groaned out loud. Actually, I did have big plans. I had a huge exam to take the next day in connection with my teaching credential. Three exams, actually. My plans had been to come home and study Friday night, sleep in Saturday morning, get up and study for a few more hours (thanks to my husband who had arranged to have the kids out of the house that day) and then go to the test at 1 p.m., when it was scheduled, likely to stay the full six hours of testing. I didn’t have time to do edits. A new job for the new school year was riding on this new credential.
But this was a dream come true and I wasn’t about to blow it off and miss my very first deadline. Thus, I revised my plan: instead of going out to celebrate on Saturday night after my exam, I resolved to come home, open up the document and work continuously through the wee hours of Saturday night and all day Sunday to get the edits done.
Of course I resolved this all in about three seconds before opening up the document. Caitlin had included her edits using “track changes” in Microsoft Word and putting her comments in bubbles along the margin using the “comments” feature. When I saw all the red text crisscrossing the entire document, I almost cried—I think I sniveled a little and hunched my shoulders. I may—for a moment—have been tempted to curl into a fetal position.
Now Caitlin had some wonderful things to say about the story. Her comments were not all negative—in fact none of them were harsh at all. And she did take time to make positive remarks throughout the story such as “I love the hook sentence,” and “This is beautiful”—all neatly filed away in the “I don’t completely suck” file. I treasured those comments and still do. Caitlin’s feedback meant a lot to me. A real, live,New York editor had read my stuff and, mostly, liked it.
Her comments were insightful and her sentence and word choice suggestions were spot-on. I only disagreed with one suggested change to one sentence so did not end up changing it. The rest, though, was fair game.
Caitlin did so much more than just cross my t’s, dot my i’s and fix my tenses. Her work on my story was invaluable. She pointed out logic flaws where I had mentioned that my characters were doing something without giving any evidence beforehand that they had been doing those things. For example, Mark mentions in one scene that he had run into Justine that morning in her front yard gardening. But Caitlin pointed out that when I had described that meeting in the previous scene, I had made no mention or showed no evidence that Justine had been gardening. I believe my original phrasing was that she was “wandering about like a lost soul.” So I went back and added the flowerpot that she was bending over and her brother’s huge gardening gloves that gave her hands a comical appearance.
Caitlin did this all throughout the document. And boy, by the time I was done (and rather exhausted) on Sunday night, that story was gleaming. Or at least so I thought. But I still had to go through two more rounds of edits (the copy edits and the page proofs).
And those I’ll cover in later posts…