Like a Virgin, Published
For the Very First Time

“No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.” — H.G. Wells

By PJ Parrish

After twelve books, writing hasn’t gotten any easier for me. And after twelve books, having a new one come out hasn’t lost its thrill.

I just sent in the final copy edits for the latest one. Okay, it’s number thirteen, but I’m not superstitious. I’m excited as hell. Maybe it’s because we took almost a year off for a rest before we started it. Maybe it’s because it’s not a Louis Kincaid series book or even our usual thriller/police procedural. It’s psychological suspense, dual protagonists, unreliable narrator, and a theme that’s haunted my subconscious for a long time – the damage done by living an inauthentic life.

FINAL COVER

Anyway, as my Brit friend Crazy Tim would say, I’m dead chuffed to announce that She’s Not There will be published September 8 (and, if you’ll excuse a bit of blatant self-pro-mo, is now available for pre-order). Our new publisher is Thomas & Mercer, and I’ve waited to talk about this because I wanted to finish the pre-pub process before I went public about our experience. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect when we signed with the West Coast team. We’ve been only with Manhattan-centric houses before and though I have friends who raved about their T&M experiences, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would the process be different? Would my book get noticed? And finally, would the editing be as good as I was used to?

The answers so far: Yes. Yes. Yes.  Well, let’s change that last one to “no” and I’ll explain later.

Yes, the process is different when you are published by one of giant Amazon’s imprints. (Which are separate from its self-publishing unit). I was treated really well by my former New York publishers and had some great success. But my experience with T&M has been surprising in its inclusiveness. Once they bought our book, there were long intensive conversations where they explained in detail their editing, promotion and publishing process. They have sought our advice via rather lengthy questionnaires and emails on how we thought our book should be marketed — who is our target audience, what our tone is, what themes and motifs are important, what colors and typefaces we thought conveyed our book’s mood, even what kind of voices we thought were suitable for audible books. They wanted to see images we had for cover ideas, and the final cover above is a refined and more dramatic take off on a jpeg we sent.  It was designed by David Drummond and we think it’s really brill, as Crazy Tim would say. (Click here to see David’s other work).

Yes, our book will get noticed. Although Amazon stresses eBook publishing, its print books are beautiful, and contrary to what I had heard, stores are not reluctant to carry T&M books. I’ve had three requests this week for launch party signings from independent stores. As for respect, well, in two years, T&M has had three Edgar nominees and six ITW nominations (one win). And you know, I figured any house that could snag Ed McBain’s back list has something going for it.

Now to that last one. No, the editing is not as good as I am used to. It’s better. Which is not to say the editors are necessarily better. I’ve been blessed to have some terrific editors, including John Scognamilio at Kensington and Mitch Ivers at Simon and Schuster. But at T&M the process is a bit different. We have two separate editors: the first is our acquisition editor, who bought our book and now oversees its journey through the house and out into the world; the second is our development editor, who oversaw the big-picture issues of the book (story, character development, theme) and did the first round of editing. We are really lucky to have landed with Alison Dasho, who was one of the powers behind Bleak House Books in Madison. Alison fulfills what I think is the number one criterion of a great editor: She gets us.

But then came the small army of copy editors. Four of them. All eagle-eyed and talented, but each with his or her own unique contribution. Faith pruned out our word repetitions and cliches, and suggested some character tweaking. Scott caught our writer tics, mistakes in our San Francisco references, and lazy word useage. Sharon snagged typos, flagged inconsistencies, and Nicole, as an ex-dancer herself, rightly questioned every reference we made to ballet. With each pass, the book emerged tighter, cleaner, sharper.

In the heat of creation, we writers make a lot of mistakes. Dumb stuff like changing a hero’s hair color in mid-book. Knee-jerk writer tic stuff like having more staring eyes than a Walter Keane painting. Show-off stuff like having someone order an expensive whiskey when in reality it’s so rare no bar stocks it. Lazy stuff like not bothering to do a Google Street View to find out that Gloucester Street in Brunswick, Ga., does not cross Mansfield. (My bads, all).

But today, as I sit here typing this, my mind is at rest. Because a bunch of talented folks have my back. Copy editors who respected my style when I fought to use “like” because I wrote in a deeply intimate POV and my characters would never use the uppity but correct “as if.”  Copy editors who actually asked me where I stand on serial commas. (They’re like gnats…okay until you can start feeling them bite). Copy editors who take the time to applaud in Track Changes when you do something cool.

Last week, I opened the Word file and found an error. My blood turned cold because it was an error about a clue, deadline was past and the book had started into the production pipeline. When I worked up the guts to tell Alison, she said, “Oh, don’t worry. We’ll fix it. We can go back and fix anything all year long.”

Once, everything was written in stone. Now, nothing is. In some ways, that’s progress, I’d say.

COPY EDITING TEST TIME!

Okay, now let’s see if you can match wits with my editors. Below are passages from She’s Not There. Each has an error or problem, which thanks to my editors won’t see print. Answers at end.

  1. “Look, Owen, I can’t talk now. I have to –-”
    “Is she okay?”
    “No, she’s not okay. She doesn’t even…” He was on the verge of crying. He couldn’t let Owen hear him balling like a girl. “Owen, I’ll call you when I know more.”
  2. There was an ornate gold broach in the shape of a peacock, the tail set with colored gemstones. And a second pin, a big gaudy red and green parrot. He picked them both up. They were not the kind of things a teenage girl would wear. They were old-lady pins.
  3. More memories moved in, unclear but powerful. Her mother’s light brown hair and sad hazel eyes. The sharp jut of her shoulder blades beneath a thin yellow dress as she hung white sheets on a clothesline. A single word came to Amelia as she thought of her mother . . . enduring. Enduring the starkness of a house where quarters were hoarded in Mason jars and small comforts were found in the shelves of the town library and the pews of the Methodist Church.
  4. “My grandson loves his Fig Newtons,” the old man said.
    The sudden sadness in the man’s voice made her turn back toward him.
    “It was all there was in the kitchen—Fig Newtons,” he said. “My granddaughter, she didn’t know how to take care of him right. He was alone and living on cookies and water when I got there.”
  5. The corner booth at the Seal Rock Restaurant offered him a clear view. He had checked out the neighborhood and the building’s exterior already. It overlooked a park that sloped down to the ocean and two popular tourist places, the Sutro Baths and the Cliff House.
  6. He turned onto Eddy Street. The Oasis Inn was a puke-yellow relic from the Sixties.
  7. Buchanan tore open the mailer. Inside was a red leather Day Planner and the Kindle. He opened the Day Planner to the week that Amelia disappeared.
  8. Her eyes locked on the younger woman, and she stiffened, a memory coming into focus. An argument somewhere, this woman yelling at her, something about Alex. Then the memory disappeared, and Amelia found herself staring at the young woman’s face, filled with an unexplainable contempt.
  9. A manic episode, Amelia thought sadly. Isn’t that what they called it? Wasn’t that what happened to bipolar people when their mood pendulumed too wide? That day on the roof and the screaming fit over the burnt cookies—they were the negatives to all the positives.
  10. Tobias nodded slowly and then his eyes slid toward the bar, looking for the server again. When he looked back, Buchanan got his first good look into the man’s eyes. They were the color of the Cumberland River on a cloudy day—a muddy blue-green but shot through with tiny red veins. The guy had been drinking.
  11. She took a step back from the counter at the sound of the voice. The big bald man was coming out from the back room, holding up the ring between two meaty fingers. A woman came out after him, a tiny leather-skinned thing with fizzed red hair, wearing jeans and a pink halter-top.
  12. The dog hadn’t been sick, she remembered. She had taken him in for a teeth cleaning and grooming and they had to keep him overnight. But where? What was the name of the place? She shut her eyes, trying to summon a name, but all she could see in her mind were elephants dancing in tutus. Like that old Walt Disney movie . . .Fantasia.

ANSWERS

  1. Balling like a girl. Maybe “bawling” might not raise eyebrows, you think?
  2. Old ladies wear brooches, not broaches. Unless she gets defensive about it and is afraid to bring up the subject. Or it she wears it sideways, which makes it a broached breach-brooch.
  3. This is a trick question but I included anyway to make a point. It’s nice that mom went to the Methodist Church, but ten chapters ago she was a Baptist.
  4. My grandson loves his Fig Newtons. the old guy says. But then he says the boy’s mother, his granddaughter, was unfit. Which makes the boy his great-grandson.
  5. I have sat in this same booth at the Seal Rock Restaurant in San Francisco more times than I can count. Too bad I didn’t look at the sign outside because it’s the Seal Rock Inn Restaurant.
  6. The Oasis Inn in San Francisco really exists. I haven’t stayed there, but I Street-Viewed it. Trouble is, I called it puke-yellow (and worse later). Lesson: The truth is no defense. If you talk smack about a place, change the name or prepare to get a lawyer.
  7. Day Planner? It’s actually called a Day Runner. And I even use one. Geez.
  8. “Amelia found herself staring at the young woman’s face, filled with an unexplainable contempt.”  Whose face is filled? You tell me, I’m just the writer…
  9. “Pendulumed”?  Get over yourself.  What’s the matter with “swung”?
  10. Let’s see, just for fun, how many times we can shoehorn “look” or “looking” into two sentences!
  11. Fizzed red head. Great image…but for the life of me, I don’t know of what. I meant to write frizzed.
  12. “She shut her eyes, trying to summon a name, but all she could see in her mind were elephants dancing in tutus. Like that old Walt Disney movie . . .Fantasia.”  One of my favorite childhood movies, Fantasia.  Problem is, those dancing animals were hippos. But like I told my editor, the book is about the unreliable nature of memory.  Maybe I was trying to make a subtle point? {{{{Long pause}}}} Nope. I just plain blew it.

I have a memory like…a dancing elephant. Thank God for editors with good eyes, kind souls and suspicious hearts. No serial comma, please.

 

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About PJ Parrish

PJ Parrish is the New York Times and USAToday bestseller author of the Louis Kincaid thrillers. Her books have won the Shamus, Anthony, International Thriller Award and been nominated for the Edgar. Visit her at PJParrish.com

13 thoughts on “Like a Virgin, Published
For the Very First Time

  1. You’re funny. Balling. HAHAHAHAHA

    Congratulations, sounds like (not as if) you have an exciting year in front of you. A change as big as this one to bound to prompt an adrenaline surge. I look forward to reading She’s Not There, and thanks for posting about T&M — very interesting.

  2. A few points:

    1. I would have left “pendulumed” alone. Far more interesting, no less clear. An instance in which “writer’s voice” should trump correctitude.

    2. I have heard nothing but good things about Thomas & Mercer in the author community, though it is not true that most indie booksellers welcome them with open arms. I live near Seattle, and have had many conversations with the folks at Seattle Mystery Bookshop about their hostility toward Amazon and their refusal to stock the works of any Amazon-imprint authors — even if the authors in question had a long history of holding signing events there (when with other publishers). Other area indie booksellers won’t pre-order Amazon-imprint books, but will order them for customers upon individual request — a more passive-aggressive form of frowny disapproval.

    3. I once worked as a contract copy editor for the vendor that handles Amazon-imprint copy editing, and I can testify firsthand to the extreme rigor of the Amazon process. I had to follow a rigidly formatted process, and often was asked to take second and third passes after a managing copy editor and the author had revisited my first pass. My edit often went to ANOTHER copy editor before heading to a proofreader. And that was after several rounds of developmental and line editing — in Track Changes, I could see the fingerprints of every set of skilled hands on the document before mine. I’ve done contract work for New York houses as well, and their rigor paled in comparison.

    • Hey there Jim, thanks for weighing in with real experience as a CE. About the pendulumed thing: I thought long and hard about it. At first I was going to STET it, but when I really turned the mirror on myself I decided it wasn’t “me” as a writer, it was my ego, talking. My editor didn’t insist on it, just questioned it, as a good editor does.

      As for the indie stores vs Amazon: You are exactly right. There is still a strong resistance against stocking T&M books but I sense a softening as some realize they are no more a bogie man than the Big Six in terms of how they treat small stores. My editors at T&M were very honest about this in their discussions with me and admit getting books placed in stores is an issue. But at this point in my career, I am most interested in extending my reach to NEW audiences and frankly, that can happen with the wide-cast eBook net. Will report back.

      I love your metaphor of the “fingerprints” of skilled editors on the manuscript. 🙂

  3. This post is wonderful — so many times I’ve thought I’d turned in a pristine manuscript only to have my wonderful editor point out goofs of some kind all over the place. I’ve learned more from her than from all the writing classes I’ve taken over the years.

    • Patricia,
      Am right there with you on this one. A writer should never fear editing. But there is good editing and intrusive editing (ie Wells quote). I have had my share of bad editors over the years both in book and newspaper business.

  4. Some of your examples are why I prefer making up my own places “based on” real ones I’ve been to. The one time I set a scene in a local restaurant (after many delicious trips to make sure I had it right), the restaurant closed before the book was published. My publisher was so anal about using anything ‘real’ that I had to get permission to mention a Denny’s or Knob Creek. So, Day Planner wouldn’t have bothered me at all. And I’m equally guilty of “looking”

    • Also, you make a good point about using real vs fake places. I do both. I really like using real places (in positive light) whenever possible because I know readers enjoy recognizing or learning about them. Our Michigan readers are especially fond of this, seeing the places they know and love in print, everything from Hell, Mich. to the Bluebird cafe in Leland. Our most recent Louis book, “Heart of Ice” was set a Mackinac Island and oh, the emails we got! Luckily, we didn’t get anything wrong (as far as I know). But the folks up there are very protective of their island.

  5. Congratulations on your new book, Kris. I look forward to reading it. (I’ll be part of that new ebook audience you’re talking about.)

    I’m working my way through your Louis Kincaid series. I’ll miss Louis.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with T&M. Very interesting.

    • Steve,
      Louis is just taking some time off. Actually, I was just about to open chapter 11 of the next Louis book and get back to work. Thanks for asking.

  6. Wow, your editors are fierce. I think that’s a good thing, but I would have skimmed over most of those errors being the writing is vivid and immersive.

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