Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My Publishing Journey--Part 8

Some good news. Last night I received the first edit back from an alpha reader on my work-in-progress: Daughters of Jared. (Pitch letter here) She said: Heather, honestly, I have loved all of your books, but this . . . this is my favorite. Yay, so that is a major hurdle for me to overcome to get that first bit of feedback in.

Read Part 7 Here

My Publishing Journey

Part 8

My fourth book was hard to write. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the motivation, but I knew one of the main characters in the story would have to die. So I guess subconsciously I wanted to put it off. I even started writing a few chapters of a different book (Abinadi), but that one wasn’t much better because the main character in that book dies as well. So I had to talk myself out of procrastinating and take the dive.

I was able to finish the manuscript and get it edited, thanks to my always great alpha readers, and turn it in at the end of November. This meant that I actually got some holiday shopping done in more than one store. I was able to revise my motto of “If Costco doesn’t sell it, then don’t put it on your Christmas list.”

In mid January of 2007, I found out that book 4 had been officially accepted. I was excited to be close to the completion of the Out of Jerusalem series. Little did I know that I was about to enter the toughest road of editing I had ever experienced.

Maybe a disclaimer here would be good. With my publisher, I was on my second editor because my brilliant first editor had decided to go into another career. My second editor had worked with me on book 3, and she was wonderful to work with. But for book 4, she was swamped and I was assigned to a contract editor. It became pretty clear from the beginning that we weren’t on the same page (no pun intended). So the story that follows in no way reflects on my publisher whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude for investing in me as an author. In fact, when all was said and done, my regular-but-too-busy editor took my side 100% and all was made good. Sharing this experience is in no way to belittle or bash any editor, but I think it’s a good learning experience for any of you out there who are aspiring authors. In other words, sometimes (and only sometimes), the editor is wrong. I’ll call the contract editor Ms. X.

Having spent 5 years in a grueling critique group with esteemed writers such as Annette Lyon, Michele Holmes, Jeff Savage, Lu Ann Staheli (and would eventually include James Dashner, Rob Wells, Sarah Eden), I felt I knew a thing or two about crafting a story. And, I always paid my due diligence by taking my chapters through my critique group and also going to outside alpha readers who specialized in various things that pertained to my particular books, such as ancient history, Book of Mormon doctrine, etc. So for whatever I lacked in writing, it was certainly made up for in the editing process—this all before I submitted to my publisher.

Ms. X asked me to do several things with Book 4 (Land of Inheritance) that went completely against the rules of fiction writing or would affect the purity of my series.

1. Cut the first 80 pages and put the death of the central character into a flashback.

If you have ever attended a class taught by Jeff Savage, you will know that he would have never spoken to me again if I started my book that way.

2. Get rid of the scenes that follow the scriptural account. Everyone knows what happened and it’s boring to read about.

Of course I couldn’t do that because that was what my whole series was based on. Book 4 wasn’t just Book 4, but a continuation of the previous 900 pages (of volumes l-3). So really it was pages 900-1200 in a series and if I suddenly changed methods of storytelling, the series would lose its niche.

3. Focus more on the suspense. Don’t write overlaying points of view where we know Jacob is safe, and then we are in his mother’s point of view, not knowing he is safe.

This is one that I might have paid some attention to, but I decided that I wasn’t writing a suspense novel, but a historical adventure, which didn’t need the cliff-hanger aspect that a suspense novel has.

When I started to state my case, I was surprised at how quickly the “debate” turned personal, and Ms. X said that only a handful of readers would appreciate what I was trying to do--and those were only made up of a few scholarly types such as my dad. (So obviously she knew who my dad was.)

I remember calling my super-busy-editor and asking for advice. Thankfully, she understood where I was coming from and asked me to do what I felt was best. Of course I was nervous about taking such a strong stance, so in the meantime, I begged two readers to do an emergency read of the manuscript, focusing on the first 100 pages, over the weekend. One was a best-selling historical novelist, Gordon Ryan, the other a well-respected historian, Dave LeFevre. Both came back with encouragement to stick to my original story.

The payoff came when the reviews started coming in. They were literally overwhelming to me. My favorite being from AML reviewer Andrew Hall, who said, “In the first three volumes of her Book of Mormon historical fiction series, Heather B. Moore showed that she could create a view of an ancient world that combines the best scholarship with a lively imagination. She does a fine job of walking the tricky line of faithfulness to the scripture and creative storytelling. She opened up the hearts of her characters in ways both remarkably touching and authentic. In this fourth and final volume she does all of that, as well as writing one of the most exciting adventure tales that I have read in a while.”

The final payoff came when Land of Inheritance was nominated as a finalist for two Whitney Awards: Best Historical and Best Novel. It won the Best Historical category, validating that I had made the right choices, and that, yes, sometimes an editor is wrong.


Charlie Moore said...

One thing you said, Heather, elicited some emotions for me. Your comment about having to kill off a main character made me think of a story I'm currently working on about my GG grandfather, who crossed the plains as an orphan pioneer in 1852. His mother and father (my GGG grandparents) and several siblings succumbed to cholera. Anyway, I am at the point in the story where these family members have to die and I haven't written anything for almost a month. Your comment made me wonder if I was delaying for a similar reason. I thought I was just being lazy.


Heather B. Moore said...

Charlie, I definitely don't think you've been lazy. It's a huge emotional investment to tackle.

Michael Knudsen said...

Wow, what a tough road. Sometimes an editor/author relationship is just not a good fit, and that lookks like the case here. With a series, you have quite a bit of context and reader expectation going, and you can't take off in new directions. Sticking to your guns preserved the integrity of your novel (ALL of it)and the "battle" made you a stronger author!

Great news on your latest, I'm looking forward to that one!

Heather B. Moore said...

Michael, I've been through quite a few editors over my 8 books, and I definitely think the key to success is respect for each other from both parties :)

Debra Erfert said...


A new term for me: Alpha reader. I've heard of Beta readers, a description I thought my sister fell into when I sent her my freshly finished manuscript yesterday. But would she be classified an Alpha reader because she’s the first to read it? And then after she bleeds red ink all over the pages—and I do a revision—then the next person/people reading it will be Beta readers, is this right? Whew, I’ll get this right sooner or later, I think.

I really love your perseverance. Obviously you know when you’re right and you have a strong enough backbone to stand up to those who’d push you around. But you are smart enough to call in backup, too, as experts, who could buttress what you already knew.


If you run across the name Edson Whipple during your research about your GGGranddad’s crossing—that’s my GGGGrandfather. He started out with his wife and several children, but arrived in the valley very much alone. I’m not sure what his family died of.

Heather B. Moore said...

Debra, there are probably some technicalities between alpha and beta readers. I consider an alpha reader the first reader/s who edit my book. Then my beta readers might be those who read a more polished version and make more general, overall comments, like whether or not the book will appeal to my target audience. YA writers will use teenagers as beta readers knowing that the feedback will be quite general.

Debra Erfert said...

Thanks for clarifying that for me, although I don't think it will change my course of action. My sister will do the best she can, and that's all I can ask of her.

Now, off to work on a synopsis and beat my head against the wall. They both are just as painful. Wink, wink!

ali said...

This is a fantastic story Heather. Very interesting to hear how your journey's been. I'm gonna have to go back and read your other installments.

And, congratulations on the Whitney nomination! That's fabulous!

Heather B. Moore said...

Thanks, Ali. I just saw the nomination the other day on the website.

Melanie Jacobson said...

I just spent a whole bunch of time that I should have been using to make my NaNo goal for the day reading through your journey, but it was well worth it. It's so interesting to hear how it comes together for different people.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the whole series. I'm glad you stuck to your guns. And I love the little updates at the top of these posts. Always gives us something to look forward to!

Heather B. Moore said...

Melanie, good luck with Nanowrimo! Kim, thanks for reading :)