Before embarking on a second career as a writer, I was a software engineer. I majored in applied mathematics in college. Obviously, I enjoy using the analytical parts of my brain as much as the artistic ones. So now that both BE A CHANGEMAKER (my young-adult nonfiction) and MY DOG IS THE BEST (my fiction picture book) are in copyedits, I thought I’d reflect a little on some of the behind-the-scenes numbers involved in these 2 very different creative endeavors.
I knew when BE A CHANGEMAKER was acquired that it was going to be a lot of work in a short period of time: I’d sold it on proposal as a 20,000-word book that would take me 1 year to write, but they wanted at least 45,000 words in 5 months. I was open with the publisher that I wasn’t sure if I could do it (I’m a SLOW writer), but that I would give it my best shot. I dove in and started researching like crazy.
Almost immediately, life threw me a curveball, and I lost pretty much the first 2 months to an unexpected surgery, recovery, and ensuing complications. Things began to look pretty hopeless. Because of the time constraints, I was already drafting on the fly, sending it to the acquisitions editor, and incorporating her feedback as I went along. I became a much faster writer than I ever thought possible, but I still couldn’t quite get there in time. The editor and I strategized on what the highest priority pieces were and what could be left for later. When I submitted the “final” draft on the original deadline, the manuscript was a not-entirely-off-the-mark 42,200 words, but with 10 known holes left as TK, “to come” later. I continued working to fill in the TK pieces while the manuscript moved on to a full developmental edit round.
Since it had already been through 1 round of editing and the feedback I’d been getting was that it was in pretty good shape, I wasn’t expecting the developmental edit to be overly difficult, even though I had less than 2 weeks to do it. Wowzers, was I wrong! The marked up document I got back from the developmental editor (a different person) had 570 insertions, 414 deletions, and 339 comments, most of which were something along the lines of, “Can you please add x here?—where x was a quote, an exercise, an example, etc. They were excellent suggestions, and I knew I’d have a much better book to show for it if I could do them all! But try though I did, I still couldn’t get it all done in time: I just needed a few extra days. Luckily, the publisher was willing (bless her!). So, less than 3 weeks from receiving the revision letter, I returned a clean manuscript that was nearly 60,000 words, with 100% of the TKs removed and developmental edits accounted for. Phew!
During those weeks (and, to a lesser extent, the months that preceded them), I definitely questioned both my sanity and my career choice on more than one occasion. I told myself if I survived this experience, I would never, ever write another book like that one. Afterward, I walked around the house like a zombie for a few days, barely able to function, let alone dig out from under the piles of dirty laundry and unpaid bills that had accumulated. All of this couldn’t possibly be worth it, right?
Then a marvelous thing happened. Just like the pain of childbirth fades instantly when you hold your newborn child, I soon forgot the 10- to 12-hour days, the missed meals, the cramped EVERYTHING. The manuscript was accepted: I had done it! Unicorns and rainbows, kittens and puppies, walking on sunshine—that was me. I’d brought to life something that never would have existed without me, and I was on top of the world.
Then I moved on to completing the author questionnaire about who might like the book, review the book, use the book, etc., and THE BOOK started to become a real thing in my mind, a real thing that real people would really read! Recently, the publisher sent me the cover proofs… with my name on them! And now I’m thinking about blurbs and preliminary marketing ideas. I’ve got that floating-on-air feeling again, that hopeful exuberance that comes after an offer. Maybe, just maybe, someone out there will read my book someday and it will matter to them. What was I ever thinking? Of course it was worth it, every single minute! As Adora Svitak, one of the amazing teens I interviewed for the book, said, “It’s good to push yourself. When you really go all out for something… it’s the best feeling in the world.” She is absolutely right about that. I can hardly wait for my next opportunity to do it all over again!
On the opposite end of the spectrum, MY DOG IS THE BEST clocked in at 96 words, and I just found out it went straight to copyediting with zero revisions necessary. As you can probably guess, that feels pretty darn good, too!
Laurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, will be published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. She also has two upcoming picture books: an as-yet-untitled biography with Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House and MY DOG IS THE BEST with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan. Please visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.