Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Massive Rewrite

Ah, those rewrites. All authors face them.

Consider this from last Friday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal. It ran an article about novelist Michael Chabon and his latest book,
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, a “murder mystery set in a fictional Yiddish-speaking Jewish homeland in Alaska.” The novel releases this week. Chabon, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, was about to turn in the manuscript for The Yiddish Policemen’s Union when his editor “slammed on the brakes.”

Apparently the manuscript wasn’t good enough.

And this was after working back and forth with his editor, Courtney Hodell, for months, with manuscript pages being overnighted back and forth. Chabon would receive the pages with so many editorial notes, he smilingly referred to the pages as “vandalized.”

When the editor delayed publication, Chabon consulted with her, then spent another eight months reworking the entire story. He added flashbacks and changed the way the characters spoke, inserting a “Yiddish-inflected patois.” All in all, the novel took five years, four drafts, two trips to Alaska and a title change to reach publication level.

Publisher HarperCollins won TYPU in a four-way, seven-figure auction in 2002. At the time it was a mere one-and-a-half page proposal. TYPU has an initial print run of 200,000 copies. The stakes are high for both publisher and author.

“I do overwrite,” Chabon said. “And this book needed a lot of chopping.”


Rachelle said...

What a great story! Thanks for sharing it here. I remember reading a story about Tom Wolfe after his novel "A Man in Full" was released. (GREAT book, by the way.) He spent TEN years writing and rewriting it, going back and forth with his editor. It was during his kids' formative years. And when people would ask his children what their dad did for a living, they would say, "He writes a book called A Man in Full."

Kristy Dykes said...

Ah, there's hope for me. I rewriting a novel right now, blending two versions. Thanks for this story. It's inspiring.

Cindy Woodsmall said...

Love this. Very, very encouraging.

Thanks, B!


Jen said...

Praise God! After five years and four major rewrites ... there's hope for the rest of us! I sure hope his editor got paid well for making him look good.