Back in January, I mentioned on the blog that I thought my editor really deserved a Hugo nomination.
Imagine my delight when the list of Hugo nominees for 2012 came out, and there she was on the short list of nominees: Betsy Wollheim.
Weeks later, I was surprised to discover that in the 30+ years Betsy has been an editor, this is the first time she’s ever made it onto the shortlist.
It was more than a little startling to me. I mean, Betsy is Editor-in-Chief at DAW, one of the few publishers I knew about before I gave a damn about getting published. She’s never been nominated?
I think part of the reason she’s been overlooked is that while DAW is a great publisher, it’s not one of the hulking monoliths in the business. In fact, DAW is one of the very, very rare publishers that’s still privately owned. Betsy’s dad started it back in 1971. The “W” in DAW stands for Wollheim.
The other part of the reason I think Betsy’s never been nominated is that she’s not a big self-promoter.
I get that. Being from the Midwest, I’m not a big fan of self-promotion myself.
Now before people get their knickers in a twist and go pointing out that I have at times been a big old self-promoting whore, let me clarify.
Yes. I do promotion. Doing promotion is, unfortunately, a big part of being a published author.
So yeah. I do signings. I do readings. I run the blog. I go to conventions, sit on panels, and talk about writing.
But, generally speaking, that’s about as far as I’m comfortable going. I make myself visible in the hope that if someone finds me interesting, then they’ll be tempted to pick up one of my books.
What I *don’t* do is run around trying to sell people my book. Neither do I try to convince people that I’m awesome. I try to *be* awesome, and hope that people will notice.
Maybe that’s a fine line, but I’m more than willing to draw it in the sand.
Similarly, Betsy does promotion. Of course she does. It’s even *more* part of her job than it is mine. She promotes books. She promotes her authors. She promotes DAW.
But, generally speaking, she doesn’t promote herself.
So I’m going to put in a good word for her.
And I’m going to do it the same way I do everything, by telling a little story…
* * *
Back in the late summer of 2007, I was teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown and I didn’t even know it.
On the surface, things were great. The Name of the Wind was getting really amazing review. Sales were good. Foreign countries were buying the translation rights. I had grown-up money for the first time in my life, and I used it to buy a house with my girlfriend.
In fact, things were so great, that I didn’t realize what a mess I was.
I’d been doing every bit of promotion that came my way. All sorts of conventions. Every interview somebody asked me to do. Readings and signings all over the place.
And whenever people asked about book two, I told them the same thing: that I already had a good solid draft, and that it would be out in a year.
This is in 2007, mind you.
When I finally sat down to work on the book, I realized the draft was *much * rougher than I remembered. The truth was, I’d been focusing all my energy on Name of the Wind for years while book two just sat their gathering dust. It was pretty shabby when I took a close look at it.
So I realized I had a lot of work to do. I quit my job teaching. I quit teaching fencing at the YMCA. I quit advising the College Feminists.
I kinda quit everything except for writing.
Aside from the roughness of the draft, my other problem was the fact that I’d never written to a deadline before. I was going from 14 years of being a hobby writer, straight into being a bestseller, and it was a huge mental adjustment. I was also a bit of an emotional wreck because my mom had died just a few months before the book came out.
And I’m not just saying that. I remember one night when I was writing frantically, I felt a pain in my chest and a numbness in my left arm.
My first thought was kinda surprised: “I’m having a heart attack.”
My second thought was one of relief: “If I have a heart attack, nobody can blame me if the book is late.”
Seriously. That was my immediate thought. Not, “Oh shit, I’m gonna die!” Not, “I should call 911.” Not even, “Oh man, I’m never going to be able to cross ‘catgirl threeway’ off my bucket list.”
Anyway, my point is that when you’re *glad* to have a heart attack, something’s going wrong in your head.
I don’t tell Betsy about any of this, of course. Because I’m a newbie and I’m scared to death that I’m going to ruin my big chance with my for-real publisher. So I keep telling her everything is fine, and she keeps asking to see the draft of book two.
But I put her off again and again. Another month. Another two weeks. Four more days….
Eventually she says she *needs* it. Seriously. Now.
So I send it to her. It’s a mess. The beginning 100 pages are just a tangle.
Just to make it clear how different it was from the finished version:
1. The manuscript I gave Betsy was 150,000 words shorter than the eventual print version of the book.
2. Vashet didn’t exist. At all. Bredon didn’t exist. At all.
3. There was no Adem hand talk. No tak. No ring rituals in Severen.
4. There are whole chapters that were nothing more than this:
Chapter 31: [need title]
(Something happens with Ambrose here.)
That’s how bad parts of it were.
So anyway, I send it off to Betsy, nervous as hell. She calls me a couple days later, real concern in her voice, and says, “Pat, this is really rough….”
I say, “Yeah. I know. But I can do it. I can put in the hours.”
Betsy says, “It’s going to be a *lot* of work. There are some real problems in here. Some parts are really skimpy.”
I say, “Yeah. I’m making good progress though. I’ve got my new workspace set up and everything.”
She says, “Book two has to be really solid, you know. People have high expectations. It’s really going to determine the course of your career.”
I say, “I promised book two would be out in a year. I just need to knuckle down and write hard for the next five months. No breaks. I can do it.”
She says, “That’s not really how your process works though. You’re a reviser. You like to get feedback from your readers and tinker with things. There won’t be any time for that if you’re still drafting the book now….”
I say, “I promised though. And I’ve scheduled it out. I’ve been writing 14 hours a day, and so long as I can keep that up….”
She says, “I really don’t think you can make this book as good as it needs to be.”
I say, “I can. I know I can do it.”
She says, “I’m pulling the book out of the production schedule.”
I’m stunned into silence, just standing there in my kitchen. I suddenly feel… good. Like someone had been standing on my chest and they just got off. “You can do that?” I asked her.
“Yeah,” she says, “I’m pulling it. You can’t disappoint people with the second book.”
I say, “Oh thank god.”
* * *
I’m paraphrasing a bit, of course.
After that she gave me the space I needed to figure out what the hell I was doing. Time to get my head together. When I gave her the much better draft of the book, she argued with me about some of the bad choices I’d made, and we hammered them out together.
In a nutshell, she saved my career. Probably saved my relationship and my mental health, too.
Needless to say, I think the world of her. She’s an editor that really cares about her authors.
Last year in April, she had her first #1 New York Times Bestseller. (Me)
Last year in October, one of her authors won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. (Nnedi Okorafor.)
And now, after 30 years in the business, she’s just had her first Hugo nomination.
Betsy has my vote. And if you’re eligible, I’m sure she’d like to have yours too.
She’d never say so herself, though. That’s why I’m saying it for her.
Later Space Cowboys….