[your manuscript] with that level of care.
Jenn: I love all of what you’re saying because you and I work together very closely quite a lot. So, I’m curious to hear, Mark, what you’re thinking, especially as Heather is saying this. Our kick off call is a couple of months ago at this point, so you’ve been in the throes of this process so I’m curious how what Heather is saying is resonating with you right now.
Mark: I was thinking back about the editorial review, of our [Heather and Mark’s] first meeting. That was a flurry of activity. And most things in my life, it happens this way. I did the Author’s Academy. My commitment to myself was to finish this manuscript. Jenn called me aside and said “that’s an awful lot. You’re going to do this Academy; you’re going to do this manuscript; that’s a lot.” But we did it! On Tuesday, we finished the course and that Friday we had editorial, the Flame, kick-off…
HH: with snacks!
Mark: Georgia-On-Your-Mind snacks. Then after that we had the editorial review. I can attest to the fact of how comforted I was for two factors. One, that you took a lot of the scariness out of it by just breaking it down. It wasn’t a “I’m the editor and you are the author and this the hierarchy of how life is.” It was “Hi, I’m Heather. Let me talk to you about your project. And I’m here to help.” And that was really important to me.
Jenn had talked about this in the Author’s Academy, where you’ve got to have that perfect fit [editor and author and project] for it to be a product at the end that you can be proud of. That’s difficult from time to time to try to find that perfect fit. She even gave us permission in the Academy to ask [the editor] questions. Wow what a concept! You can ask the editor questions? To make sure that you do have that proper alignment and that you do have the surety to know that the editor is in it to win it for your goals and your mission. I thoroughly got that from you and the whole process.
Then we got to the editorial review. (We talked about this on a previous episode where Jenn sent that sneak-up email 10 minutes prior to the call and I’ve got powerpoints and PDF’s and an agenda, and I’m ready to go… and she’s like “Yeah. No. We’re going to talk about this first.”) It was very good. You know what I liked the most about it? You set the stage… “First, thank you for letting me be part of this project with you.” That meant so much to me that everybody from PDP has been that way; and been so supportive.
Apparently, I’m a little bitter Jenn, about being treated this way by an editor I’ve talked to in the past that all it was, with that particular editing house, was how many words is this going to be? I thought “how sterile and unfriendly this was. I knew their mind was in it for the compensation and monetary value and they didn’t even know the title of the book. Needless to say, that conversation didn’t last long and it wasn’t perfect fit.
Second thing that I think that is most important, that wherever you go for the assistance with editing, that with you I can tell that you’re also a writer. With you, I can also tell that you understand what my vision is; you understand what my goal is for the book.
Your review back wasn’t that bad. It really wasn’t. It was nice to make it even better to what we’d already worked on. That’s from my perspective.
HH: I agree. I think that it’s a holistic process. It’s an emotional process. With you Mark, you had the courage to put your whole life story on the page. And I think we all hold that very dear. It’s an honor, in many cases, to be the first person whose reading someone’s entire manuscript.
Mark: No pressure here Heather. You read it before Mr. Wonderful!
HH: And that’s often the case. I read it before a spouse. Before anybody. And that’s not something I take lightly or for granted. I do try, as we saw with your editorial review, to give you feedback that will enhance your mission. I think that’s an important point because sometimes I’ve read manuscripts, and perhaps the author hasn’t been super clear about who they’re talking to, or what their theme is, or ultimately what they want the reader to take away from their work and so, while we can’t control how they interpret a story, or how what you’re sharing with them impacts them moving forward, or what they’ve learned from it, I do think for both the author and the editor to have a very clear understanding of what we want this book to do. In our case, at PDP, we’re not working on fiction, we are not fiction. We are, in many cases, helping our authors build, whether it’s their speaking platform, or the consulting work they’re doing or, in your case, you have some really big stuff planned. That’s also another component that we keep in mind that makes us different.
Jenn: Yeah. What I find to be one of the biggest values, in thinking about this whole process, I love that no matter how many times we have conversations with the group, or whether it’s privately and we’re going through the list of things we’re working on, the focus is always about how we take what we have and make it better. How do we take what’s there and bring it from an A to A+, or from a C- to an A+? Wherever the beginning point is, how do we bring it up to that A+ caliber? Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how beautiful the cover is, how great the marketing is, if your book is not readable, people are not going to share it. They are not going to pass it on. I find that that’s one of the best things. You can see the evolution from start to finish of that constant pressure to go further.
Mark, you are the epitome of who we work with in so many ways, in terms of your Type A self. All of our authors, I don’t think there’s an exception, are very driven, very type A in many ways. They’re business owners, or they’re establishing some new potential business or a foundation of some kind, so we are also that way. Our entire team is straight-up, driven, Type A, quasi-lunatic. It’s just how we roll! It’s fine. We embrace it. But that means that we can keep up with you.
When you’re like “How do we do this?” We’re like “Oh no, we’re not here. We’re going up here instead.” I don’t think that’s the norm for the industry. I think that all starts with the editing process. That’s where that original idea starts to be birthed, if you will.
Mark: I think that we should even record one of our Served in Silence team meetings that we have every other week, because people would be able to see exactly that. They’d be able to see when we’re on these calls – it’s very fast paced. “This is what we’re doing.” “Oh no, we’re doing it five steps higher.”
You’re absolutely right. If I could talk to the process. I am all about the glam and the glitz and the marketing. And I get that. But, first and foremost the priority lies here with me reading and going back quiet time, the editorial process.
Since the Academy, today we’re under deadline, I’ve got to get this to my editor by the end of the day. What’s happening in my mind is I am going to produce an A product. That’s just me. I’ve written about it for 300 pages, about my life as an over-achiever. What’s happening is I kind of sit back in my chair, I get a little more comfortable, it’s getting a little more easier and relaxed, knowing that it’s okay for you to be creative. It’s going to be an A.
There’s so much safety and security in knowing that when I hand this off, I know it’s probably going to be around (I like to think) at the 90% level, but I know that by the time Heather gets it, it’s going to be okay. I’m looking forward to it coming back because it’s going to be that much better.
HH: Mark, you speak to a really important point about the process which is, this is a whole other process. If you think writing the book was tough, now we step into editorial. I will say to authors, this is not “turn it in, it’s rubber stamped, and we start designing.” Jenn and I call it author fatigue. It’s a real thing. You’ve poured your heart into this, you’ve written hundreds of pages, and you’re sort of done. What I say to authors is “take a vacation. Take time for self-care. Catch up on sleep. Do whatever you need to do. Step away from it for a period of time. Because now we’re going to more full-throttle getting it into a publishable state.” To that point, we are in the developmental edit stage, that big picture view, seeing how the content flows. Are there points that are unclear, or points that can be developed further. I know after doing my initial read, I wanted more. I wanted to go even deeper into some of the stories you were sharing.
But then there are two other parts to the process. There’s copy editing and proof reading. And those are a bit more technical and nothing we have to talk about today. But, I think it’s just important for authors to know that that’s how our process is staged.
Mark: I think it’s also important to make sure that you, as the Author, understand, so you can gear up for that leg of the marathon. You understand which race you’re in. This is not about commas. This is not about capital letters or the noun and the adjective. It’s not like that. This is about making sure that the reader, when they get this experience, are they going to have an enjoyable experience? Are they going to understand what your thought was because (Jenn was telling me that this would happen and sure enough it is has) I’m in this so close to the weeds, I’m thinking it faster and I’m going faster than what’s on the screen and I missed it. I didn’t say that. Wait a minute. I have to go back and say “I missed that word.”
I think that part of the PYP podcast, the Author’s Journey, is just helping authors understand – okay – this is the uniform that you put on for this particular event. Or, these are the shoes you’re going to need to finish out this leg of the race. I have been really fortunate in taking the Academy. I felt very prepared. And if I wasn’t prepared, I felt very assured in knowing that I could blast off an email to ask Jenn a question. “No, no, no; that’s not it, Mark. That’s way ahead. You’re skipping ahead. We’re focused on this particular portion.” (She has to do that a lot with me.)
It’s so true to understand where we are in the process. I don’t think I’m at fatigue yet. I’m fatigued only because of my crazy life schedule, me personally, but I can see it. I don’t want to read chapter one again. I got it! I’ve read Chapter One, 25 times!
Jenn: It’s coming. I’m going to say that now, on Facebook live, so when we’re doing this a month from now and you’re wanting to pull the little bit of hair that you have on your head, out, I’m just going to say “it’s coming.” And that’s okay. That’s why we’re honest with people. I feel like honestly is always the best policy. (I also happen to be a very bad liar, so trying to lie doesn’t help anybody, especially me.)
In your case (all of our author’s cases), it’s saying something like “I know that you don’t LIKE us right now, because I’m asking you to read this one more time. And I’m sorry you have to do it again. I know Heather, we’re talking about big picture developmental edit, but you have to read it when it goes to the line edit; you have to read it when it’s copy edited; you have to read it when it’s proofread. Or you have to read it when you get the PDF proof. And then You have to read it when you get a physical proof. It’s ridiculous how many times you have to read your own words. Which is why there are different people interjected into the process, who are also reading it.
That’s where I come in, is that I read it at the very, very end. It’s great for me because I don’t have to be stuck in the weeds, like Heather is, with all of this, but it’s great because I get to see the final product and I’m able to say “Oh, there’s an extra space in layout
somehow.” Not to say that I’m not reading pieces of it. I end up reading about 60% of what’s there, but just when people need feedback. I don’t actually see it from start to finish until the very end.
It’s an important thing to note, that you can get fatigued. Me reading it once, I’m tired. Because our authors write about some hard things. Not all of them. A lot of our authors are very business focused. But a lot of them are working on really hard topics. Yours happens to be in that bucket of being a harder topic to read. Hearing someone’s story can be fatiguing in itself.
Heather, how do you manage the editor fatigue? There’s got to be some, and maybe not on a per book basis, but generally. You’ve done ten books this year alone. We’ve worked on some really hard stuff this year. How do you manage that?
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HH: I sleep a lot. I also, believe it or not, I read a lot outside of the manuscripts I’m working on. I’m a big fan of Danny Shapiro, (a Times best-selling memoirist) and she says she starts her day for an hour every morning with really good writing. I do that. So, I may read a story in the New Yorker, I’m a big fan of Lenny Letter (which Lena Dunham’s newsletter). I start reading really good writing and it inspires me. It keeps me excited and sharp. I think it makes me a better editor (and in my own writing stuff.)
Jenn: I think that’s wise. In the way we all recalibrate, regroup. I know the way I handle it – we have a lot of things going on at once, and a lot of really hard topics going on at once, and sometimes they’re depleting and sometimes I just have to completely unplug and I go MIA for the next 3 days.
And then there’s Mark. The amount of marketing that you’re producing at any given time is ridiculous. Your Type A has put you into a new class of people at this point. But it’s awesome and that’s what helps me out of the hard stuff. When we’re really engrossed in even the jacket, or description of the book, and really trying to figure out how to say succinctly what’s there, without sensationalizing something that shouldn’t be sensationalized, that’s all still really emotional.
And talking to authors that are having a bad day because they’re opening up scar tissues from past experiences, past trauma, that happens a lot too. We have to be there when there are the lows. And then we have to be there when there are the highs. It’s an interesting balance. I think we all probably cope in different ways, but I’m right on the same train of sleeping a lot. I’m all for that. You have to do.
Mark: I really want to get there. Ripping these Band-Aids off is really getting to be stressful.
Jenn: Which we warned you it would be. Going back to the honesty. I’d rather you know that you’re going to have those rough patches rather then, all of a sudden, be smacked with them and not know how to handle it.
HH: Yeah. And I think, for me, we had three or four books going with heavy content at the time, and I was asked “how do you deal with it?” I said “For me, it’s perspective. It’s not my story. It didn’t happen to me.” So, it’s while we have a tendency to be empathetic, it’s really… honoring someone’s story, finding myself getting lost in someone’s pages, really with all the books that I’ve worked on… but I think it’s that perspective that we’re being entrusted with someone’s story and that for me helps me frame it in a really healthy way because we are dealing with some difficult trauma and heartbreak and loss. I think that’s what’s make the books that we put out so wonderful; at the same time, really challenging both for the author and for those of us who are working on it.
Jenn: Mark, do you have any comments?
Mark: I do. I am writing my memoir, some tough things, but sometimes I want to step out of it and then rejoice in the little victories, the little wins and meeting deadlines; that’s that A personality.
Just this morning, I’m reading and I’m going through, Mr. Wonderful [my primary support system] is not here (he’s at the lake), and he sent me a text. “Hey what page are you on?” It’s been like an every-two-hour page update. He knows where I’m at. I told him I’m at page 157. And he’s gotten to a point now where he’s like “Oh, is that right around the graduation?” and I was like, “yeah”. So, he called. “That’s really a great story. Take some time to re-read that,” he told me. And I got a little tear in my eye. It wasn’t sadness. It was a really great memory for me. I wanted to take time out of that. Twenty minutes later he texted me back and said “you should be on page 190 by now. Start reading!” [All Laughing]
Jenn: It’s a good balance; having someone who pushes you but also knows where you need that extra pick me up. I think that’s the mark of a good spouse. Or a good support system if you don’t have a spouse.
Heather, if you could provide some tips? I know that we’ve talked about the editing process is the hardest, the biggest, piece. It’s the thing that impacts literally everything else in the publishing process. For someone who is watching this, or considering writing a book, or maybe they have their first draft done and they’re scared to death to contact an editor, do you have any top tips of yours that you’d be willing to share that might make them feel at ease?
HH: My first tip is to put it in a drawer or to walk away from it for a little bit. I know for myself, I won’t ever put something out to the world immediately after I’ve written it. I
always take some time and go back and edit, and edit again, based on whatever my deadline is.
Mark, I’m going to come back and look at yours after not looking at it for several weeks and I’ll have really fresh eyes; and I think that’s really important. My top tip is after you’ve written something, walk away from it. Because going back to it to edit it yourself will bring tremendous clarity.
And when you do edit it, I think it’s important to try to go through your manuscript through the lens of an editor. What I mean by that is: read it and say “who’s my target reader?” Or, if you’re writing something and you say I have this picture in my mind of who my ideal reader is – what does he or she look like? What are their attributes? What do you want them to feel when they’re reading this? And if you read it through that lens, it often brings a lot of clarity and insight.
Coupled with that is what’s your theme? Mark, we know what your theme is, it’s authenticity. Is that clear? Is that going to be clear with the reader? Is it going to resonate? Like I said we can’t control how a reader receives your writing, your story, but we can do our best so that that’s not lost on them while they’re moving through the book.
One of my go-to tips when I edit, it sounds really basic but it works effectively (this is more when you’re copy editing), is look at the verbs that you’re using. If you’re saying “she ate her dinner” it’s pretty flat. But if you say “She devoured the meal. She inhaled it.” It instantly breathes life into your writing. If you’re struggling with some sentences, look at the verbs that you’re using. That could be a really quick, instant fix. That’s something that I do myself.
You’ll laugh at this, because I know I’ve been called the Grim Reaper, but don’t be afraid. Copy that perhaps slows down the pace of your writing, or you’re picking up some redundancies, as you’re editing your own work, say “if the reader questions ‘why is he telling me this again?’ or ‘why is she taking me here at this point in the story?”, that’s not good. You want the flow to be really seamless. So don’t be afraid to strip away, or to make a note for your editor and say “I’m not sure about this paragraph. What do you think?” or “Do I need to include this chapter?” and they’ll happily give you their opinion.
Those are just some of the tips that I use. Finally, I would say, if you’re going to reach out to an editor, you’re going to google somebody that seems like they’d be a good fit for you. Talk to them first. Mark, you talked about your experience. Just like not every physician is a good fit for you, or bank is a good fit for you… it’s gotta feel like that right fit. And also, before you send the work in (because we’re all type A here), make sure that the manuscript is your best work. Think of it like you’re submitting your final exam. Is it your best? Is it complete? Has it been spell checked? Have you read it for grammatical errors? The editor will be evaluating you on that criteria. I think that’s really important.
Jenn: These are all brilliant tips. I hadn’t heard you talk about the verbs before but that makes such perfect sense. It’s so obvious, but yet I don’t think it’s obvious at all.
I’m always sharing this story when we’re talking about the editing process, about you working on my last book, Beyond the Rainbow, that came out in June. I think it shows that editor/author relationship. I’ve done five books, so I know what that relationship feels like, and I also know what that relationship needs to feel like on the other side of the table.
But we’re friends so this is not what you would do with any other author, but I still think it’s hilarious. You deleted an entire chapter from my book! But the beautiful part of that is that (a) you made it funny because you did send me a text that said “Rest in Peace Chapter 7” which I thought was hilarious. Which is the grim reaper; so maybe you do need your sickle.
Mark: Did Lisa come over and give you ice cream?
Jenn: She should have, but no. I think what’s great about that is that it made the book so much better. And you were able to say “listen we don’t need this chapter.” You were able to have that blunt conversation with me because of our friendship. That’s not how you would approach it to Mark, saying “Mark, yo, chapter 7’s got to go.” You would never say that. You would couch it in a much different way.
Mark: Let me tell you the real deal. She would tell you, and then you would come in and tell me.
Jenn: That’s possible. That hasn’t happened yet, but that’s possible. Yeah, we would have to have that heart to heart.
But at the end of the day, out of the five books I have done, hands down it is the best one that I have put out. And I completely attribute it to Heather’s rigorous editorial process. I think that authors should be aware that this could happen. That an editor might look at your work and say “listen, you need to get rid of a part, all of it.” Which could be like a hundred pages. It’s because we want what’s best for the book, for you and for the reader.
Heather, you were talking about tempo and making sure it’s consistent throughout. Sometimes a chapter does need to be deleted and you can mourn its loss but you can use that for content later. I was able to use a lot of what was in that [deleted] chapter for blog posts. So that’s another tip that I would throw in there. Anything that gets left on the cutting room floor, you can use in your marketing, in social media; you can use it as a behind-the-scenes bonus. Especially who are people who are super-fans of your work. They want to see the stuff that didn’t make it in. If you think about bonuses from DVD’s that you might have seen, or movies in the past…
Mark: We all watch them.
Jenn: the diehards want to see all of that. So, you might think it was crap and it might not have made the standard of an A+, but at the end of the day, that’s incredible marketing [material] that you can use. That’s my piece, speaking from an author’s standpoint. There’s always something that you can do with the information that doesn’t make it into the book itself.
HH: I think too, when we talked about your chapter 7, you were reviewing it, I think you texted me at night “I just realized that you cut out an entire chapter.”
What I think was important is that I was able to articulate why. It wasn’t just because. You bring up a good point that I have when I’ve been editing manuscripts that “this section is not going to connect with your target reader for this purpose, but this would be a great training workshop; this would be a great blog post; this would be a great article to get placed. So, we do flag content that way too. It’s not just slash it and send your author “RIP chapter 7”.
Mark: I feel I’m at an advantage because those that are watching have met Fern, my manuscript strategist. You know she has no problem having that conversation with me. Early on “this is great, this is great writing, but it’s not necessary. It’s not necessary for your story. It doesn’t foot stomp anything that you have. I think I’m ready for you Heather because she’s already got me primed to be ready to edit and make it even better. I can totally relate to that. Even Mr. wonderful has read a couple of things and he’s said “nah, it’s interesting, kind of fun, but it doesn’t really add anything.” I’m like, “yeah, take it out.”
Jenn: And then you can use it in marketing later. Heather, you made such a great point that they aren’t arbitrary decisions to just slash. What you said earlier, Mark, about some [publishers] are looking for word count. There are publishers out there that are strictly based on word count. And if you go over those words, you’re being charged five cents a word or whatever that number might be… which seems quasi ridiculous in the grand scheme of things. When you’re investing such a big amount of money, that if you’re over your word count, that you’re going to suddenly get a $5,000 bill because you wanted to express yourself in more detail. That isn’t even remotely the way that we operate. But there are some out there that are like “we need to get rid of an entire chapter just to get us under whatever the word count agreement was.”
Mark: I would be stressed out all the time because I’d be worried about that and not focused on my task at hand as the author.
Jenn: We’d rather have you have more words than less because more is easier to work with because you can take things away. A lot of the prompts Heather puts in there, “maybe you want to add here” or “Maybe there’s another story that you can add that will make it even better.” That’s adding even more words to it. I think that’s something for people to be considering… looking at how editors work. If you’re interviewing some type of other editor, really have some of those heart to heart conversations to find out what their style
is because the relationship between the two of you is the most important relationship in this process, to produce a good quality book.
Heather, do you have any parting words as we’re coming to a close?
HH: I think that every author, all of us that write, experience something I call “perfection paralysis.” I think that it will stop us from putting our work out there, or showing, or reading pages if you’re in a writing group. And I think it’s great to acknowledge it and realize it exists. As Elizabeth Gilbert says in her book Big Magic… put it in the back seat and keep driving forward anyway.
I think anybody who is watching who has a book they’ve started writing, they want to see it published, they want to have full control and ownership over the process, don’t be afraid to reach out. The team you assemble will want the best for you. At PDP we want to put out the best possible product and will advocate for you and will be kind and will be really thoughtful. I say this because we all need it, including myself, is let go of that “it has to be perfect.” You know, put it out there. With all of our author’s it’s so enjoyable getting to know all of them and to share this experience with them and to celebrate.
My husband and I celebrate every time an author launches and publishes. We do! It’s such a huge milestone.
Jenn: It’s exciting. I can’t wait for you, Mark, to be holding your book in your hand or for it to be arriving in my mailbox as I go shrieking out my front door in excitement. I don’t think it will ever get old. I feel like the second that I stop getting so friggin’ excited for that book to arrive in my mailbox, that’s when I’ll know that I shouldn’t be in this role anymore. That will be my indicator. As it stands right now, I am more excited about every book we publish than I am about the books that I published on my own. There’s a different level of excitement that goes with it.
The other day we had one of our author’s books arrive and I was holding it against me so dramatically “OMG, this thing is finally here. It finally is real! I cannot believe I’m holding it.” It’s that level of craziness that we all get so invested in. Heather I know that you and I will be meeting up later today and I will have that book in my hands, that you can then hold and embrace because it’s friggin’ exciting. I think that’s a good thing. It’s how our whole team operates.
Maybe, on the podcast, we’ll make it a Facebook live when you your book arrives.
Mark: [excited!] That would be great!! Let’s do it!!!
Jenn: I can do a Facebook Live, screeching to the mailbox. You can do a Facebook Live, to do it crying. I guarantee there’s going to be tears. That could be fun.
Mark: Tears. Oh yeah… that could be fun. Great! [sarcastically]
Jenn: Let’s put everyone on the spot. Shall we?
Mark: One thing I wanted to add… with the editing process: You know, after that first editorial review, that your relationship with the editor is jelling when you get it back and you feel validated. I felt such a validation that I went immediately and printed a copy for Aaron (Mr. Wonderful) to read and I just felt a little bit safer. As an author, you know that you have the right formula when you feel that validation from your editor.
Jenn: Thank you Heather for joining us. We will have you back on the other side of the editing process since this is Mark’s journey through the whole experience.
HH: Wonderful. I would love to.
Jenn; Thank you both. We will see everyone in our next Facebook Live.
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