In two weeks’ time, my first professional sale in over a decade will be in the hands of readers. This post is one of a series of articles about the process of writing that book, and others like it.
Your New Best Friends
There are a lot of important steps involved in writing a story like Hearts of Iron, such as researching the setting, finding and developing believable characters, and weaving them all into a compelling story worth reading.
But finishing the manuscript was far from the end of the story’s journey into print. In fact, writing the text was possibly fastest part of the process. The real work in making this book happen was completed by its editors, and I’m happy today to tell you about them.
It all started with a conversation with the Foreworld’s Chief Creative Officer, Mark Teppo, in December of 2012.
Mark and I move in some of the same author’s circles, but his work with The Mongoliad wasn’t something we personally talked about. Similarly, my own fiction projects weren’t something I wanted to bother my more successful (i.e. published, best-selling, too cool for words) friends with at the time.
Over some drinks with those worthies, it came out that we’d been doing a lot of the same research, and Mark asked me if I’d be interested in pitching something to him. He described the SideQuest project to me, and I was both interested and nervous. Being the new writer on the block didn’t bother me half as much as the possibility of letting down my friends who already lived there, but a few writing samples later Mark sent me the email which ultimately led us to this article.
“Everything looks good. Let’s find you a plot.”
About a month after that first conversation, the two of us sat down with our brainstorming hats and developed a place in the Foreworld for my protagonist, William Iron Arm. Armed with a name and a location, I told Mark I’d have an outline for him in about two weeks.
Once I started really digging into the characters, the outline took four days, and the submission draft was ready a few weeks after that. It didn’t happen in a vacuum; Mark was very helpful in filling in the blanks on aspects of the Foreworld I was at the time unaware of and tirelessly answered a barrage of questions throughout my writing process. He shepherded me along with a light, but effective touch, just like a good Story Editor does.
Because although the term is more commonly used in film, that’s really what Mark does. He’s got to keep the entirety of the Foreworld in his head at all times, and all of us crazy writers on task. By default, he’s the final word on what is and is not suitable for the universe, and if one of us has a problem, he knows the schedules we need to hit, and how to help things along when necessary.
But Mark wasn’t the only person on my support team. Once he’d helped me massage the submission into a cleaner, leaner story, it was off to the next group of amazing editors. The first of these unsung heroes was David Pomerico, 47North’s Acquisition Editor. David and his team got to work polishing Hearts of Iron up right away, and it wouldn’t be nearly as shiny of a story without the comments and suggestions that came back from them.
From finding the right cover to finalizing the characters’ word choices, my editors really gave it their all. The next month was an amazing creative period, and each iteration of the manuscript brought it closer to its ultimate form. The day the product information page went up and preorders started, I was (and am) thrilled to have been part of such a well-executed team. A process that started months before with a conversation about variant forms of French in the middle ages ended with a book we can all be proud of, and I couldn’t be happier with what we’ve accomplished.
When I hear writers grousing about how an editor ruined (or wants to ruin) their story, I shake my head in disbelief. It’s true that sometimes changes are necessary to bring a story to its full potential, but a good editor doesn’t write those words for you. They help you to see the impact of the ones that are already there, or should be.
It’s a rare occasion when an editor’s name appears anywhere in a book, and like the Tooth Fairy if they’ve done their job right you’ll never know they were there. I, for one, am very happy with my shiny coins, and I hope you will be as well.
(Hearts of Iron releases May 14, 2013)