For my first book, GOD’S WAR, I had two rounds of copy edits. One from my original publisher who ended up dropping the series right before it went to layout, and a second round from Night Shade. Both were sent to me in dead tree form. They were bulky, heavy things, but ultimately quite satisfying to go over. It was what I’d been used to. I have been writing and editing copy for nearly twenty years, and I’ve always printed it out and edited it that way.
But when I switched day jobs in March, I was pulled into a system that had already become largely paperless. Everything was done with email and marked-up PDF’s. That’s PDF’s marked up with the actual electronic mark-up tools. Much of the proofing team and nearly all of the Brand Managers marked up changes to documents with Adobe. I got used to reviewing changes in Adobe and making my own within it pretty quickly. I also got used to reviewing electronic proofs for projects.
After reviewing your initial thirty or fifty projects this way, you get used to it. So when my publisher sent me copyedits for INFIDEL in electronic form, I knew I had two choices – I could print it out, mark it up, and then send it back to them at my own expense. Or I could grit my teeth, pull out my pro version of Adobe, markup changes electronically and send them the marked-up PDF. I knew sending it via email was going to be a lot faster, too. So when they said to get it to them by Friday, it didn’t mean sending it out by Wednesday anymore. It meant emailing it to them on Friday. If you’re a writer on a deadline, those two extra days are golden.
I’m not saying it wasn’t a tough thing to do, getting used to detailed reading on a damn screen, but there’s a reason I invested in a 24” HD monitor. Postal costs are going up, publishing revenues are down, and people are looking for ways to cut costs. One of those ways is to stop fucking sending boxes of 1,000 manuscript pages across the country. Oh, sure, you can be one of those old hold-outs and just print it out at your own expense and ship it back out of your own pocket. Go for it. But pretty soon, only the old eccentrics are going to be able to get away with that – the ones who sell a bazillion copies and fuck you to everyone who tells them how to write.
“But what about my process?” I keep hearing people say. “I have to print things out. I must do it my way.” That’s cool. Do it your way. For much of the foreseeable future, I will continue to print out book drafts and edit them that way before they go to my publisher, because I tend to write my book scenes out of order, and it’s easier for me to see what goes where when I have the physical pages to move around. Maybe someday I’ll have a giant, interactive, 6ft tall whiteboard-like display screen on my wall that allows me to physically move and manipulate pages. I’d totally be down with that. But until it comes, I’ll be killing trees awhile yet. But for now, it behooves me to ensure that I send the cleanest copy possible to my publisher on the first go-round, because the odds are we’re likely going to be copyediting stuff totally electronically from now on.
Here’s the thing when I hear a lot of people complaining about changes in publishing, and production, and process. It reminds me of this actor I worked with in high school who made us change one of the intermission songs because it was “interfering with my process.” They just couldn’t concentrate and “get into character” properly back stage if that song was playing. We also had to turn down the intermission music. As the actor was one of our best, we did everything they asked – despite the fact that every single other actor in the show managed to somehow put out a great performance under the same constraints. Whenever I hear this stuff, I think, “Wow. How are you going to be able to deal with the real world when you’re not getting your perks? Are you going to be able to perform at all?
I follow a lot of professionals in writing, publishing, and dayjobbery, and it terrifies the crap out of me that so many are change-phobic. I don’t just mean technology here, either, but change of all sorts. Changes to process, to expectations, to markets. At the end of the day, the only constant is change, and our greatest asset is our ability to successfully adapt to that change. And that’s not going to happen if we look at something new and – instead of poking around at it to see the benefit or figure out how to make it work for us – we simply say “fuck you.”
Things are changing rapidly out there, and I know that in order to compete, I have to scramble to keep up. One of the big reasons I’m not unemployed right now is because – a couple day jobs back – my boss and the president of the company insisted that I learn how to use social media to drive business/engagement. This made me really angry. I raged against it. I wanted nothing to do with constant mentions and monitorings, but I already had a blog and various social accounts for personal use, and I was in the best position to take it on. So I did. I took responsibility for it and kicked and screamed my way into it. And you know what? In every job since then, the fact that I had experience building social audiences and creating content on various platforms was a huge deciding factor in getting the position.
Will being a flexible non-technophobe help my fiction writing career? Who knows. It’s traditionally a very slow and conservative sort of place, which is why the death bells had to start in before folks began to make any serious changes. There is going to be a lot of crazy stuff going on in this industry as it struggles to change and adapt and catch up. And as the folks who create the content in that industry, we’re going to be asked to change and adapt too.
And the ones who will be successful? I hate to say it, but – the ones who succeed are most likely going to be the ones most adaptable to change. Even if they have to hurl themselves headlong into it kicking and screaming.