My first contact with the publisher, LifeRich Publishing (an imprint of Reader’s Digest), was at the end of July 2014. We exchanged a ton of information, the most important of which were the Author Services Agreement and my manuscript, as polished and dolled up as I could possibly make it, by mid August. I had engaged my own editor, Neva Corbin, one of the most accomplished grammarians and English usage experts I had ever met. After fifteen months of my own countless rewrites and revisions and her highly professional review, I felt confident I was submitting my best effort.
While I awaited LifeRich’s Content Review, I busied myself getting possible photos together for the book. I submitted approximately sixty photos which, since they were mostly from my or my parents’ childhoods, were mostly old and grainy, you know, like the black and whites on Kodak paper. My check-in coordinator kept coming back and telling me that some were unacceptable and others would work but may not print well because they were smudged or blurry or had some other defect. I finally told her, “Look, these photos are from the 1950’s and 1960’s or earlier. That’s what family photos looked like before digital photography. I expect them to look like this.” So I found twenty that were acceptable to her and went with that.
In early September, I got the results of the Content Review of my manuscript, which was primarily intended to ferret out possible instances of copyright infringement, libel or defamation of character, and invasion of privacy. Because my book was to be a memoir (that is, not fictionalized at all), the publisher exercised heightened scrutiny. I had used excerpts from articles from several newspapers and publications to support my story, primarily the parts about Dad’s political life. I thought that as long as I properly gave credit and cited my references, I would be OK. Not so fast, honey. What they came back and said was that I could reprint someone else’s work ONLY with their permission unless what I was reprinting amounted to no more than ten percent of that work or four lines, whichever was less. I had used a lot of articles from The Nicholas Chronicle (published weekly in Summersville since the 1880’s) so I carefully copied each excerpt into a Word file and sent that in an email to the editor asking for permission to reprint. I ultimately got permission from the Chronicle and a couple of other sources. For the other works of concern, I cut down the reprinted part to four lines or less and paraphrased as necessary to provide context.
In other cases, LifeRich was concerned about defamation or invasion of privacy when my story ventured into negative or very personal portrayals. I ended up getting written, notarized permissions from Dad and a couple of other family members, and for others, I simply deleted the questionable part of the story or rewrote it to where LifeRich’s concerns were allayed. That whole process did take quite a while though. It was not until October 30, almost two months after I received the initial Content Review, that LifeRich sent my revised manuscript back for a follow-up Content Review.
Here’s a little of the back story though. I was so frustrated with the amount of work I was having to do on the manuscript because I was ready to get this book published and move on to my next project. I kept getting sidetracked with things like, what would my next project be, shouldn’t I be establishing an author platform, and so on. I really had to keep pushing myself to go back through the entire manuscript with LifeRich’s Content Review commentary by my side, making sure that I picked up and addressed each and every instance that may give them heartburn. Their Review did not consist of them meticulously reading every page and listing each item of concern. They merely did a sample review and gave me guidance as to the type of things that were unacceptable. It really was up to me to go through and identify the passages of concern and take appropriate action to fix them. That made for some really tedious work for me.
In the end, though, I was surprised in a very unexpected way. My revised work, even with deletions and rewrites I was initially loath to make, really was better than what I had originally submitted. I had gained a deeper understanding of what it truly meant to take a very hard look at what I had written. Lesson learned.