For today’s installment on the How My Day Job Has Made Me a Better Writer series, I want to talk about Quality Assurance (QA).
I once saw an interview with Anne Rice, who has long been one of my very favorite authors. This was right around the peak of her career. After The Witching Hour, when the Lestat books were oh-so-good. She was riding high, confiding to the televised audience that she’d been given a phenomenal amount of money for her next six books. She even said how much it was, as her contract forbade her to do, so that we would all know we could do it, too. At one point, she gave the interviewer a look and said, “Oh, believe me – No One edits ME.”
I’ve never forgotten it.
Especially as I slogged through her next books, each worse than the last, chock full of rambling and irrelevant information. I wondered what the hell she was thinking. Now I understand what her problem was.
She didn’t spend years in a corporate day job.
I think a lot of us have this idea about our work, whatever work it might be, that there’s something holy and perfect about it. And, if someone finds a flaw, this is somehow a personal indictment. When we’re young, especially, it’s almost unbearable to receive criticism of our work. Each point feels like a little flesh wound and we’re terrified of bleeding out.
In a work environment, you grow out of this really damn fast. Or you don’t succeed.
My firm does environmental consulting. I usually say I’m a data-jockey, but a seat-mate on an airplane recently corrected me and said, “No, you’re much more, because you understand policy. You look at the numbers, but then you bring the understanding of how to apply them in real-world situations.” That’s likely apropos of nothing, but I thought it was an interesting insight.
But that is what we do. I work with a lot of really smart people and we’re paid to give good advice. Our CEO often remarks that we have practically no inventory – the value of the company rests entirely in the brains of the staff. If our numbers aren’t spot-on or our reasoning isn’t sound, then we have no product.
QA is king.
We have levels upon levels of QA. People read, they spot check, they read again. If a client questions anything, we go over it again. Exhaustively. Believe me, if you ever had any ego tied up with being edited, you lose it. They’re not flesh wounds. This is people telling you when you have spinach in your teeth before the big photo shoot. Edit me – please!
On one of my writers’ loops lately, someone commented that an editor had asked for a revise and resubmit. She said she didn’t agree with the editor’s take and so she planned to self-publish it. I thought of my current client, who asks for all kinds of revisions I don’t agree with and how I do them anyway. Now, granted, this is my client’s report and not “the book of my heart,” but it is also my job. That’s what they pay me to do.
It occurs to me that, if I want them to pay me to write, then it becomes my editor’s book, too. And my publisher’s book. If I want them to invest in me and my book, then we all work together to make it a great product. As a writer, I have no real inventory. All the value is in my head. Without careful polishing, I have no product.
That’s just good business.