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Writing Against the Clock

by Alice Day, editor

One of the delightful attributes of books and publishing is that they’re anachronistic.  Where emails and texts speed up our life, reading and writing slow it down. As you’re well aware, writing takes a long time, revising takes even longer, and having your work published can often feel like the word “slow” doesn’t adequately describe the strange vortex you and your work have been sucked into. I, personally, have grown to love the slow speed of writing and publishing. Besides being an editor, I’m a writer, so believe me when I say that has not always been the case. Many a week, month, year, I struggled to have the faith that one day someone outside of my intimate circle would read a word I wrote. Today, eight of my books have been published. The first one came out in 1991—so those eight books took twenty-two years, more than twenty-five when you count the writing of the book.writer_clock

Taking the time to do each stage right is one of the gratifying aspects of writing and publishing. Consider how many years you’ve been working on your manuscript. Once you’ve done your work, the writing, you don’t want to start rushing the process.

So, finally your manuscript is ready for an editor. You ask editors for sample edits; you might speak to a couple on the phone. You decide who is right for you and your book. And she says she can’t start the edit for three months! What? You wanted the editing done pronto. You want your manuscript to become a book.

It’s obviously too late for this piece of advice, but, if possible, you’ll want to start finding the right editor for your manuscript several months in advance of when your draft is finished, since most editors have a backlog of editing commitments. Don’t assume that an editor will be able to edit your manuscript immediately.

But if you hadn’t considered this, and the editor you really want won’t be able to start work on your manuscript immediately, it’s best to wait. Waiting a few months for the editor who feels right is in perfect sync with the way time moves in publishing, where a month or two is a blink of the eye.

If you’re going to show your manuscript to agents, expect to spend at least a year sending it around (most agents will take months to respond). Once you have an agent, expect at least another year (or two, or three) to find a publisher. And then maybe two years for your manuscript to be published.

All this might be discouraging, but I’ve learned as an editor, and as a writer, that slow is fine in the world of publishing. Your book will exist for a long, long time once it’s out, so learn to appreciate the time it takes for all the stages that the book goes through. Even if you are self-publishing (which can be an excellent choice, especially if you don’t want to spend the years it takes to line everyone up to publish your book), it still takes time, time to get everything right. Take the time. That’s a good thing.  Really. Time tends to work in favor of books.

Alice Day is a hands-on editor who’s not afraid to cut words and offer insights. And she has a poet’s sensitivity to language.

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