Today we have a special guest! His name is Scott Fitzgerald Gray, and this post is part of his blog tour for his new novel We Can Be Heroes. Enjoy! — Jake
All authors are indie authors, unless there’s someone I’m not aware of who farms out part of his or her work to teams of subordinates. (Maybe Stephen King hires adjective specialists; I don’t know.) Writing is a thankless and solitary task for the most part, and almost all books are the product of a lonely creative struggle. Publishing, on the other hand, tends to be a group effort. And this is an area where the current usage of the phrase “indie author” can get a little confusing.
If you’re a person who’s… well, alive, you’ve probably heard that there’s a bit of to-do going on these days between the proponents of what’s come to be called “traditional publishing” and the proponents of indie author-publishing (less flatteringly sometimes called “self-publishing,” so I tend to not use that phrase a lot). And though I’m an indie author-publisher myself, I try to keep to the diplomatic middle lane in this debate for the most part, because I don’t hate traditional publishing. If pressed, I might admit that I fear for its survival and question the intellectual and moral integrity of some of the people running it, but the end goal of most people working in traditional publishing is the same as the end goal of most indie publishers — publish a great book.
And really, when it comes down to it, the process of publishing a great book is pretty much the same, regardless of whether that book is published traditionally or independently:
First, write a great book. Next, publish that great book. And that’s it, thanks for listening, you’ve been great.
(In saying the above, I realize that I’m kind of doing an homage to an old Steve Martin routine, where he promises to reveal how “You can be a millionaire and never pay taxes! First, get a million dollars…”) (You’re probably not old enough to remember, but Steve Martin was a well-known stand-up comedian before he became the “Cheaper by the Dozen” guy. But I digress.)
“Yeah, wait a minute,” I hear you say. “Go back to Step 1 for a minute.”
So how exactly do you write a great book? I have no more idea than you do. I’ve read my fair share of great books, but as luck would have it, I’ve never actually been around while any of those great books were being written. I’ve written a few books myself, and though it’s gratifying that people read and enjoy them, I’m not sure I’m naive or arrogant enough to call them “great.” But having been a professional writer for a number of years in a number of different media, and having worked in publishing for a long while concurrently with that writing work, I can say the following with great confidence:
All great books are books that were given enough time to be the best books they can be.
I don’t hate traditional publishing, if for no other reason than I think all indie author-publishers need to wrap their heads around this truth, which most people involved in traditional publishing have long known.
A great book is a book that’s given enough time to be the best book it can be.
Writing a great book isn’t a solitary act. Writing a great book starts with the solitary act of writing, but then becomes the process of rewriting and writing again, of editing and more editing. Every great book that’s ever been written shares this pedigree.
A great book needs editors. Not just “an editor,” but a whole freaking team. First up is the development editor or story editor — an editor whose primary focus, as the name suggests, is on the story being told, not so much on the words that are telling it. A good development editor helps a writer dig into plot and character, theme and meaning, continuity and narrative flow, making sure that a book takes fullest advantage of the potential of the story within it.
Once the writing and rewriting and consultation with a development editor are done, every book needs a copy editor. This is the editor most people associate with that title, digging into a book at the level of the text that tells the story, and flagging that text for clarity, usage, and consistency of style. When the copy editor has had his or her way with the book, and after the writer has worked on it yet again in response, the last editor it passes by is a proofreader — a specialist who forms the last line of defense against typographical errors, formatting glitches, and that place where you accidentally typed “pubic” instead of “public.”
All these stages take time. All these stages cost money, because good editors need to get paid. But a great book is a book that’s given enough time to be the best book it can be.
Now, I know for a fact that some of my favorite authors don’t work with outside editors the way many writers do. Among established novelists, development editors are rare. A lot of the best writers are their own copy editors as well, conscious of and signing off on the placement of every adverb and comma in their text. But that’s not the point. Working with an editor — an outside voice whose objective opinion can help a writer see strengths and weaknesses in a book that otherwise might not be apparent — is the rule, not the exception, especially for newer writers.
The great book is a book that’s given enough time to be the best book it can be. A great book is the book that’s not rushed to market in the first minute after the writing is done. A great book is one that undergoes a necessary process of revision and refinement, because every writer’s goal should be to write nothing less than great books.
• • •
Scott Fitzgerald Gray has been flogging his imagination professionally since deciding he wanted to be a writer and abandoning any hope of a real career in about the fourth grade. That was the year that speculative fiction and fantasy kindled his voracious appetite for literary escapism and a love of roleplaying gaming that still drives his questionable creativity. In addition to his fantasy and speculative fiction writing, Scott has dabbled in feature film and television, was a finalist for the Jim Burt Screenwriting Prize from the Writers’ Guild of Canada, and currently consults and story edits on projects ranging from overly obscure indie-Canadian fare to Neill Blomkamp’s somewhat less-obscure District 9 and the upcoming Elysium.
Scott’s latest works are the high-school coming-of-age techno-thriller We Can Be Heroes [http://insaneangel.com/insaneangel/Fiction/Books/WeCanBeHeroes.html], and the anthology A Prayer for Dead Kings and Other Tales [http://insaneangel.com/insaneangel/Fiction/Books/PrayerForDeadKings.html]. If anybody happens to think those books are great, it’s because they collectively took about ten freaking years to write and publish, because a great book is a book… oh, you know.
You can visit his site at: http://www.insaneangel.com/