by Irene Sardanis

Have you’ve ever taken a well-deserved vacation only to receive an email from your editor saying your manuscript has, well, run off the rails? That news initially knocked the wind out of my good friend and fellow memoirist Irene. But summoning her trenchant humor, she got back on her keyboard and fought her feisty tale of a dueling mother-daughter relationship to the finish line. So writers take heart! A little humor can go a long way to revive our flagging spirits.

The Book, The Book, the Goddamned Book

Here we were, John and I, on the balcony of our hotel in Greece with a view of the Mediterranean ocean sipping our coffee, wondering what island we should visit that day. Honking car horns and screeching scooters on the street below didn’t bother me.  We were on vacation.  Then I checked my emails and I almost passed out.  I read something from my publisher that knocked me over.

“Irene”, she wrote. “We just looked at the first pages of your manuscript and there are several serious typos and inaccuracies. We are concerned about how to proceed. Your coach missed these in her edits. As it stands, the oversights do not meet our publication standards. Do you want me to ask your coach to correct the errors or do you want to use our copy editor at $60 per hour for 25 hours?”

 I’d just paid my coach and her partner with an MFA to fine tune my book and there are still errors?  How can it be?  I thought my book was all done, finished, edited and ready for the final print. Not nearly ready as it stood.

My usual style of handling a problem is to set it aside, sleep on it, and give it some thought. I procrastinate a lot in my life. Why deal with something today when you can leave it to tomorrow or next week. And if there’s a lot of money involved, how ‘bout waiting ‘til next month?  Not this time.  I scribbled the fastest note I ever wrote to anyone in my life.

“Brooke”, I said.  “Just use your copy editor to fix these errors as soon as possible and I’ll take care of the cost when I return from Greece. Just do it.”

When I got home I looked at my so-called professionally completed copy edit from the publisher.  On the first page I saw a missed error.  One of those period, quote mark missing errors.  What the hell???  Didn’t I just pay someone big $$$ to fix everything wrong in my book.  Not so.  Not nearly not so.

What I learned is that edits on anyone’s book is endless. Even expensive copy editors missed errors. I now could see there was no end to edits. Ever.

The other thing I neglected to do was to check my deadlines.  I needed to pay attention, for example to send my project manager something called First pages October 10th, and corrections to project manager October 29th.  And then Second Pages to project manager by November 1st with the final designed pages to the author November 19th. I hadn’t a clue what these deadlines were about and too scared to ask. There were these red lines on the side of my manuscript. What did they mean? Delete the paragraph? Work on it, or what?

 If I looked to see any of my deadlines, I paid no attention to them. Fear went into a place within called deep freeze.  Until the publisher emailed me with the subject:  Urgent. 

“Irene,” she wrote, “What’s going on? Where is your finished edited manuscript?”

That’s when I had a panic attack.  I had to come clean with myself. When I felt the deadlines were too overwhelming for me to deal with, including contacting the project manager to ask her what all those deadlines meant, I pretended they were not there.

I talked it over with my therapist who said the time had come to be honest with my publisher, that maybe I needed to postpone my pub date.

I considered it might be a good idea to find and pay yet another someone who was an expert to go over the whole manuscript and fix it. I felt such shame, that everyone in the author world knew what to do about edits but me.

Finally, I called the publisher and confessed that I missed the deadlines because I didn’t know what the hell first, second and final proofread pages meant, and felt to ashamed to ask.  I told her I needed to postpone my pub date. The manuscript was in no shape to go to the final design page level. I told her I needed more time. I needed some fresh eyes to look at my book and fix the errors in it. Now I needed to ask around and find friends who know about edits, that godawful word.

I reached out to fifteen different people to read my manuscript and give me their honest feedback, give me their edits, any spelling errors, missed commas, etc. Out of fifteen, I got three friends who said they’d absolutely love doing edits on the book and they refused to charge me a penny.

(The Happy Dance here).

The publisher then sent me her suggestions on what I needed to do as in One, Two and Three.  One, stop repeats. Two, delete one of three similar chapters, Three, change ending.

 Since then, all last week, I’ve been sitting at the computer day after day after day with a sore ass, collecting my friend’s excellent edits, reading and re-reading chapter after chapter. The only time I got up from the computer was to eat and use the bathroom. I was glued to the manuscript. We were one.

Brooke asked me to look at the different ages I was in some of the chapters, to move forward in each one.  Heck, I don’t remember how old I am now, how in the world can I remember where I was and the age when I took that trip.  So I fudged it, as in “I was in my mid 30’s when I took my first trip to Europe.”  I honestly don’t remember how old I was, and I hope no one checks.

There’s a missing chapter Brooke asked me to write about that I was reluctant to re-visit. It was about my marriage to my ex.  I’m so ashamed at my poor choices in men before I met John.  My husband-picker was broken, just like Elizabeth Taylor.   I tended to choose guys who had great potential and tended to drink a little too much.  Two different packages, my therapist said. Same contents.

During the editing process I had to revisit three different chapters with the same theme:  confronting and leaving my mother’s home.  Fear, terror and dread, how could I forget?   To get to that door to freedom, I needed a lot of rehearsals.

It’s now all done (as if it will ever be done) and Monday I sent it to the publisher. After I sent it out, I discovered yet another overlooked mistake. Yikes I told you there’s no end to edits, didn’t I?

I’m exhausted, and I’ve come down with a cold. Looking at my manuscript day after day after day did me in.

It was hard to edit my memoir. Now I realize it was even harder to edit my life.