Friday, October 18, 2013

Letting go of the words. . . . again

So, it's done.

Legacy of Honor is live on Amazon.

I was never a shameless hussy of self promotion, and I doubt I'm ever going to be.  This blog and my comments on various books-and-authors websites like Booklikes and maybe a post on Facebook are as much promo as I've ever been comfortable doing.

But as I blogged earlier, something about this republication of my first print-published book has been very emotional for me.  I'm not totally sure why.

Back in March of this year, when I really began the process, I blogged some of my thoughts about to change or not to change a book that had been written over 30 years ago, whether I should bring it up to the, for lack of a better phrase, market sensibilities of 2013.  Back then I made the decision not to. 

In March I already knew some of the problems with the various versions of the book, and I knew I was going to have to make at least some revisions.  I had no idea then how extensive they would be or how much effort they would take, but I didn't really think the process would be too difficult or complex.

I was wrong.  Very wrong.

Part of that March blog post was intended to form the basis of an author's foreword to the digital edition, and I did paste it into the digital manuscript as I worked on the edits.  What started as a couple of paragraphs, however, quickly grew to several pages.  As usual, I was telling someone how to make a watch when all they'd asked for was the time.  Fortunately (I hope!) for my readers, I cut that foreword back to just a couple of paragraphs for the now-republished digital version.

While sitting at my desk today, working at my day-job and waiting for Legacy to go live on Amazon, I experienced a very unexpected emotional assault.  Like my heroine Alexandra, I cry easily, and so I wasn't particularly surprised that I found myself near tears several times this afternoon.  I know myself pretty well, and that's how I am.  But I also usually shake that stuff off pretty easily.

In the context of all the ruckus online regarding negative reviews and authors responding inappropriately and especially my own comments, I sat back to examine how I felt about all this.  In particular, how did my emotional reaction compare to the "my book is my baby!" nonsense I had criticized when other authors offered it as an excuse for their tirades against negative reviews.

Was I more sympathetic to them?  Did I have a clearer understanding of how they felt?  Did I accept their defense as valid?  In words of one syllable:  No, yes, and hell no.

What follows now is that much, much, much too long "Author's Foreword to the 2013 Edition" further expanded with some thoughts now that the book has in fact been republished.  Some of this text will be familiar to those of you who have read the earlier version in March, but much of it is new.

There is sometimes a temptation, when preparing a work for republication many years after its debut, to alter the story and make it more suitable for the present day's audience.  In essence, to write it the way it would have been written today.  After some considerable deliberation, I chose not to do that with Legacy of Honor, which was my first published novel.

I have, however, made some minor changes that I feel will improve the reading experience without changing the substance of the book, in either content or tone.

Written over a period of roughly two years between 1980 and 1982, Legacy endured rejections by several of the major paperback publishers.  During the submission process, one editor suggested the manuscript be trimmed from its original hefty 240,000 words (Version #1) and she'd take another look at it; I made substantial cuts and resubmitted the manuscript (Version #2), but that editor ultimately did not offer a contract.

At some point after that rejection, I decided on my own to make a major revision to the ending, for reasons detailed in one of the previous blog posts.  I also purchased a new typewriter.  Since the entire manuscript would have to be retyped to lead into the dramatically altered ending, I rewrote the synopsis to reflect that change, then typed the standard outline-and-sample-chapters submission to send to Leisure Books.  I anticipated at the very least the usual two to three months before receiving any response, which would be plenty of time to make all the revisions necessary to accommodate the new ending as well as type the rest of the approximately 650 manuscript pages.

I didn't count on a letter arriving just five days later -- via snail mail, which was all we had in 1984 -- requesting the complete manuscript.  Somehow or other, I managed to make the changes so the book matched the revised synopsis, to retype the whole thing, and to send it back within about a week.  That was the version (Version #3) Leisure purchased, of roughly 180,000 words.

Months later, the editor requested further cuts – about 15,000 words – to meet production costs; I made those in two or three days (Version #3a), with little time to make sure internal consistency was maintained and no glaring plot errors were created in the process.  I did the best I could, then trusted any details I missed would be caught and fixed by the editor.

Except that they weren't caught or fixed.  With the exception of typesetting and other errors, Legacy of Honor was published exactly as I had written it.  There were no revisions requested; there were no revisions made.  I never saw the page proofs prior to publication, so was quite stunned to discover the product that hit bookstore shelves in February of 1985 was riddled with typos and other minor errors that I probably would have caught if offered the opportunity to proofread.  But in those days, a published novel was essentially carved in stone.  My name was on the cover and I had to live with the errors.  I could always blame the editors for the errors; after all, they were the ones responsible for the errors -- including typos! -- on the back cover blurb.  I had nothing at all to do with that.

Fast-forward to 2013.  With the publishing rights reverted to me after the Dorchester bankruptcy, my first task in digitizing the text was to catch as many of those errors as possible, just as I would have done if I had proofread the print version.  I made an OCR scan of the print version to digitize it and thought it would simply be a matter of proofreading and fixing small errors.

In the process, however, I also discovered minor line-editing details – many of which were related to those cuts demanded by the editor at the last minute – that I had thought would be fixed but weren't, such as a character who entered a conversation before entering the room.  Most of these errors required little more than the restoration of a line or two from the original, untrimmed manuscript or other similar quick fixes.  I knew I had a copy of the original Version #2, and I located a copy of Version #3 to see where most of the cuts had been made and what could be restored.  I felt comfortable that I would be publishing a digital version that was 99.5% identical to what was printed in 1985, and that the 0.5% (or even less) would be virtually undetectable.

As I began what I thought was a final proofread of the digital edition, I discovered a much more significant error of exactly the type I had expected an editor to catch.  I'm not sure if I would have noticed it in 1985 when all I'd have been looking for was typos, but on revisiting the story almost 30 years later, the omission of some crucial text was glaring.  I went back to my original manuscripts and realized that, for various reasons, this problem could not be solved just by adding back in a paragraph or two from a previous manuscript version.  Several scenes needed substantial revisions, not so much to change the story but to make it make sense.
I recognized that the major change I'd made between Version #2 and Version #3 really required more revision than I'd been able to make in that ten day or two week period.  There were some rather large continuity errors, some of which had in fact been exacerbated by the later cuts that became #3a.  I realize this almost certainly makes much more sense to me than it does to you, dear reader, because I know how the novel evolved through those changes.

But that is what led to the dilemma.  Did I want to make the changes now, in 2013, that I felt an editor should have requested to correct what appeared to be, well, some rather significant plot holes?  Or did I want to preserve the original as much as possible?

I had to give the matter some thought.  Serious thought.

Because there were some other issues. 

Writing in the days before the Internet, before Google and Wikipedia and all the other wonderful research tools now available at our fingertips, I had to rely on much more limited resources for historical detail, and as a result there were some minor errors of fact – minor, that is, in terms of how the story was constructed.  I didn't want to leave those uncorrected, which meant at least some changes from the original text.

Given those changes and the fact that I had already made minor line editing corrections and restored other bits and pieces that had been cut from the original, I finally decided that if the book was worth republishing at all, it was worth republishing with its flaws fixed so it at least made internal sense.
I still work a day job, though I do work at home and have a certain amount of flexibility.  My day job, however, requires a great deal of intense mental focus, which precludes using that time to write or even think about writing.  I had to do all of my rewriting, all of my proofreading, all of my writing in short bits of time snatched here and there from other endeavors.  Because the revisions also required very tight focus -- I had to weave everything in as seamlessly as possible to the existing narrative and not change any more than absolutely necessary -- I was rarely able to do very much at a time.  And I had to keep going back and checking to make sure I didn't make more problems with each revision than I was fixing. 
Unlike the other previously published books I'd put into digital format, Legacy was demanding a lot of original creative effort.  In a way, this was good, very good.  I was enjoying that creative effort immensely and only wished I had more time to devote to it.  My frustration came not from the complexity and delicacy of the project but from the time I had to give to other activities. 
Slowly, slowly, page by chapter by revision, everything began to come together.  I found a cover design I really, really liked.  I made it through a second read, then a third to do an intense proofreading.  I found more small errors that had to be fixed, so I fixed them.  Then came the conversion for Kindle -- with no misspelled words on the first try!! -- and another proofreading.  Even on this fourth read, I found tiny, tiny mistakes that reminded me no matter how carefully I would go over it, undoubtedly there were still errors.  Nothing is ever perfect.

Then it was time to write the blurb (that's a blog post in itself!) and put it all together and actually publish it.  I did that about 11:00 this morning, and around 6:00 this evening, Legacy of Honor went live for the first time since 1985.

And for most of those seven hours, I was a basket case.

Do I have a better understanding now of how an author feels when her precious work receives a negative review?  No.  I always understood that.  I also understood, better than those who have never been through the process, what it's like to put your creative work in the hands of someone who will not have the intimate respect for it that the author does and who ultimately puts it out there in the public's hands with what amounts to a dirty face, mismatched socks, and holes in its underwear. 

I took that poor abused child back, washed its face, made sure its stockings were the same color, and put on brand new undies.

And then I let it go.

Because that's what you have to do.  It's what you have to do as a parent and as an author.  You have to let go.

So how does this saga end?
Cleaning up the typesetting and a few research errors, plus restoring some of the excised text (a total of approximately 25,000 words, including the original Prologue, thus bringing it to 194,000 or ~550 Kindle pages) and revising for clarity were the only changes I made.  The story line, the events and actions and the characters remain otherwise unchanged from what was printed in 1985.  And I've left my writing style alone, too, pretty much.

Did I write the book differently in 1983 than I would if I were writing it today?  Of course.  But the Legacy of Honor I wrote in the early 1980s was true to its time.  In releasing it again, I wanted to keep it true to itself, and to myself as the writer I was then.  So yes, there is rampant head-hopping.  Will it drive the reader crazy?  Oh, maybe.  And if I'd had an Internet to do research, I might have gone into more historical detail.  But I wrote with the tools and experience and style and editorial guidance that were available to me, and that's the way it will stay.

I hope you enjoy it.


  1. I just hit the "buy now" button and I freaking can't WAIT to read this. As always, you move me and leave me nearly speechless with your eloquence.

  2. Thank you so very much! I hope you enjoy the book, I hope it doesn't disappoint!!!