Monday, October 8, 2012

Second Chances (Sort Of)


I was delighted that Bloomsbury asked me to revise my 2008 book, See How They Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes, and the Race to the White House for the 2012 presidential elections. The idea of a do-over of one of your books is intriguing, sort of like going back in time to right wrongs. In preparation I read through the book, occasionally patting myself on the back, sometimes seeing a paragraph or section that could have been better and, worst, seeing something that simply should have been better.

Quickly, however, I learned that economics rules revision as it does just about everything else.  The more pages you change, the more it costs. So nobody’s looking to opt for a better verb on page 13, let alone something you feel more strongly about.  Unless you feel very, very strongly!

My editor Michelle Nagler read through the book and studded it with Post-it questions and thoughts.  I did the same, plus a good amount of research. Then we confabbed.

What got changed?  Here are just a few categories and examples:

Factual changes  After losing two elections for the Virginia state legislature, George Washington learned his lesson, treated voters to 160 gallons of alcohol in 1758 and got elected.  That was true in 2008 and true now.  But every “in the now” type fact got rechecked before we went back to press.

--For example, page 21’s sidebar, “Party Favors,” discussed party corruption, mentioning that, after the Civil War, judgeships cost about a $15,000 contribution to the Republican party, a bit more than $200,000 in today’s money.  When I checked the conversion charts that track US inflation, I found the sum close enough to current value to keep as is, perhaps the only reason to be grateful for the Great Recession.

--On the other hand, page 51 was changed to say that nowadays only two states allow prisoners to vote.  In the original edition, there weren’t any.

Updates  Even though factual changes are updates; to me, this category contains the kind of updates that justify a new edition.

--The most obvious one is that we elected the 44th president of the US and the first African American.  References to Obama’s campaign and presidency were inserted when relevant: p. 31, for example, which talked about the campaign tactics of candidates who have something to overcome; Michelle and Barack’s dancing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show as an example of the current trend of “getting to know candidates as people;” Obama’s bio in the back, which mentions he has read all the Harry Potter books, etc. 

--An Obama update I could have and perhaps should have used, but did not.  In my first edition, I depicted the unbelievably elaborate security for George W. Bush’s second inauguration held after 9/11.  I didn’t have the heart to trump that description with the protection used for Obama’s.  

Traumatizing children

--In the original edition, I started the section about qualifications for presidential candidates by saying “You know how they say anyone can grow up to be president?  Sorry, another myth bites the dust.  (PS. There’s no such thing as the tooth fairy, either.)”  With a book that numbered 96 pages and an audience I guestimated at 9 years old and mostly older, I didn’t think much about that.  Until I got an email from a mother that said: “Thanks for outing the tooth fairy to my kid.”  Another writer friend of mine said that any nine-year-old who still believed in the tooth fairy was either bilking his or her parents or deserves to know the truth.  I, on the other hand, felt traumatized myself having stolen someone's innocence; so in 2012, I said I must change this.  But to what?  Who are you going to “out?” Unicorns?  Fairies?  Ultimately, I took the hit for my hometown of Boston and made it leprechauns. 

There’s a puzzle to this revising exercise—you can’t add pages and must change as few as possible for economic rules mentioned above.  So, what happens to a logically laid out page when you have to add something important that takes some explaining as well?  Some worked out well by snipping words and widows to create room, sometimes even a whole example.  Others plague me, still. I had to discuss Obama’s use of the media as a campaign game-changer, had to.  It required a lengthy paragraph and cost a seamless argument.  If I get to write a new 2016 version…

P.S. If anyone is interest in looking at information about See How They Run’s revised edition, use my web site and its links to the IndieBound or Amazon sites.  I don’t make any extra money if you buy the book this way, but there are some Amazon snafus that make this updated book almost impossible to find (except for some weird $123 version).


Unknown said...

Dear Susan,
We live in parallel universes. I'm in the midst of Election Year rewrites and proofs for OUR COUNTRY'S PRESIDENTS. (The 4th edition will be out in January from National Geographic.)

As you note, the revision process comes with unique challenges when you must update facts with no more words than you used in a previous edition. I feel more like a puzzle-master than a wordsmith sometimes. We do add more pages and new material each edition, but that's because history keeps adding new people and events to the story.

Plus our national history is alive and changing. For example, Jimmy Carter eclipsed Herbert Hoover's retirement record this year. In the 2009 edition, Gerald Ford surpassed Ronald Reagan's lifespan by 46 days. Four years earlier, Reagan had beaten the long-standing record of John Adams. Three editions and three different answers to the question, "Which President lived longest?"

That's reason enough, IMO, for libraries to have ample budgets for collection updating and for authors and publishers to keep the revisions coming!

Susan E. Goodman said...

Ann, the puzzle master analogy is perfect given your book is coming out with National Geographic. I used to work for them in a different division and often I was given the number of characters I could use on a page to say what I needed to say. Shades of twitter to come!

Good luck on your new (or 4th version) of your book.

Melissa Stewart said...

Susan, it's so interesting to hear about the process of creating this new edition. And I love the word "confabbed." No wonder you're a wordsmith!

Good luck with the new edition.

Susan E. Goodman said...

Thanks Melissa, it was an interesting exercise.