The last few weeks have seen Going to Beautiful enter the final stages of preparation before creation of ARCs. An ARC is an acronym in the writing industry which I’ve heard referred to as either Advance Reading Copy or Advance Review Copy. Not all books have the opportunity to be produced as an ARC prior to publication. This is one of the benefits of having a longer lead time between substantial completion of a book and its release date.
In general, an ARC is an advance copy of a new book given by a publisher to reviewers, booksellers, librarians, journalists, celebrities, other book promoters/professionals before mass distribution. The idea is to place a book in the hands of people/organizations who can help begin the all-powerful process of word of mouth. For instance, algorithms that help propel a book’s popularity online are directly influenced by people talking about/posting/reviewing/rating a book prior to its actual release. Assuming the chatter is good, the hope is that by the time the book comes out, readers will have already heard about it and are dying to read it.
As part of this stage, I received a final pass of substantive edits from my publisher a couple of weeks ago. Substantive edits are the biggies, the ones that aren’t so much about grammar and punctuation as they are about content. Many authors I know are not fans of the editing process. And I get it. Especially when changes are major, they can affect the DNA of your storyline. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve always liked the editing process. I find it invigorating and challenging in a good way. No matter who we are or what we do, every now and then, all of us can use constructive criticism from an independent source. It also helps us take a good hard look at “how we’ve always done things” and evaluate if that still works. Whether you change anything or not, the result of the process is always beneficial.
As we worked on the Going to Beautiful edits, it struck me how the editing process is influenced by what is happening in the world around us. It is a dynamic, ever-changing process that by necessity needs to pay attention to the current realities of the world we live in, even if the work is a piece of fiction.
One editing note in particular really took me aback. The editor suggested I re-evaluate a certain passage in light of the gruesome discoveries at residential schools. The passage had been written prior to the most recent discoveries and, at least on the outside, had nothing to do with these circumstances. But the world had changed. Sensitivities and awareness had changed. On closer inspection, there were aspects of what I had written that could now be read in a way different than I had intended.
All of this led to wonderful, challenging, deep discussions about the matter, and what to do about the text, if anything. On the one hand, I set out to tell a story, and a story is what a story is. Do you change it? Get rid of it? Do you camouflage it? Or (as I decided to do in the end), do you address it head on? This led to its own set of challenges because of another aspect of how the world has changed: cultural (and other) appropriation. What happened at residential schools is not my story to tell, certainly not within the confines of the book I am writing. So, I needed to find a respectful way to pay heed to how my story intersects with the bigger picture, without ignoring it. I can only hope I did a good job.
Editing in the current world has also been (very positively) impacted by the #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and ancillary movements. An example is how we as writers strive to describe characters without unnecessary or prejudiced or outdated or ill-informed reference to gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc etc etc. We try. We sometimes fail. A humorous anecdote I saw on social media the other day talked about the trend of writers (with good intentions) to describe a person of colour in roundabout ways that, weirdly, often have to do with food: “…her caramel skin…” or “…his chocolate eyes…”, and how if writers of colour did the same thing, it might look something like this: “Mary’s mayonnaise skin glowed in the sunlight…”. Ha! I hate to admit it, but I’m sure I’ve been guilty of this. We may stumble, we may fall, but as long as we’re striving for positive change, that’s what matters.