A couple of days after 2020 Christmas I sent in two novel manuscripts to two different editors. No, this is not the result of being ambidextrous and working on two keyboards simultaneously. It comes about because of the complex ways of publishing.
Let’s consider each book in turn.
About ten years ago I signed a contract with a publisher (there will be no names here) to write a book that dealt in large measure with legal matters. Let it be said right from the start, I am no lawyer. I began my research by interviewing a variety of people, judges, lawyers, probation officers, legal counselors, as well as people who had been caught up in the law, including folks who had been in jail.
I soon discovered a few things. The law itself is extremely complicated, that it varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and is extremely variable depending on who is in charge. The law may be the law, but Judge A does not act like Judge B. And that goes up and down the legal system.
In short what I discovered was that I could not write a book about legal matters which would be universally true. The reader in California, the reader in New York, and the reader in Iowa would not see the book as “true.” Every legal circumstance, and outcome, I learned, is different.
I offered to write another book, and that was accepted. I did write the book, but the editor was not happy with it. We went back and forth with revisions until it was agreed that this was not a book that was wanted, and I should do another book, book three.
I took the book (number two) I had written (and thrown off) and sold it to another publisher, who after we did more revisions, published it. Booklist gave it a star and the reviewer said it was “one of my best.” That was cool, as the kids say.
Meanwhile I embarked on new book three for that same editor and wrote a first draft. Again, editorial disagreements ensued, so I finally asked for another editor. I got one, an amiable one. I spent a year working on that book, and it being the pandemic year, the editor was furloughed a couple of times, but we got through. On the last page of the manuscript the editor wrote: “I love this story, and it just keeps getting better and better.” And that was one of the books—presumably now done, which I just sent in to that editor.
As for the second book I submitted, it followed a much more regular trajectory. The idea was offered to a couple of editors and they turned it down. After much preliminary talk with a highly recommended (by a writer friend of mine) editor that I had worked with briefly a long time ago, we decided to move ahead. That said, the subject matter is complex and perhaps controversial, so there have been endless rewrites. Here the editor is very smart and encouraged me to go deeper and deeper into my tale. But that takes time and lots of hard thinking and writing. It has engrossed me for a full year.
The other day I read it to my wife—for the first time—and she, a very tough critic, pronounced it as very good and even, as I reached the book’s ending, cried in sympathy with how it worked out. That of course, made me happy, and that was the second book I submitted.
Will they be published? I believe so. When? I’m not at all sure.
But alternating books seemed to work.
Meanwhile I’ve begun doing research for my next book.
So, it goes.