It almost feels like this is really going to happen now. :)
This morning I received the editor's annotation of The Just Beyond manuscript. The changes are extensive by count--I believe there is at least one change on every single page. :) But the vast majority are minor, tidying up a word or phrase here and there or correcting a few typos I and my Readers Group somehow missed. I haven't gotten through the whole thing, but what I've seen so far is mostly small improvements.
They do have some changes for me to make on top of the ones done by the editor. For the most part the purpose is to clarify things for the reader or to more prominently emphasize key elements. They certainly don't change the story in any substantial way, they simply make the delivery better.
The instructions from the publisher are to go through the editor's work carefully, make the suggested changes where acceptable, and for anything that doesn't look right to me, give an explanation of my objection. So they are not simply telling me "all of this has to be done", they are allowing me to participate meaningfully in the final decisions. I have to tell you, I'm not inclined to challenge the suggestions of an experienced fiction editor and I expect to raise a handful of points at most. But it's nice to feel respected in this way.
Surprisingly, they don't seem to have made, or directed me to do, the kind of wholesale trimming I expected from their initial comment that overall the book was too long. I can only assume that upon careful inspection, the editor felt that the length was necessary after all to tell the story properly. While I was fully prepared for extensive pruning, I do think the basic length concern that publishers have has more to do with business risk than with serving the reader. It's completely understandable that a publisher wants to minimize their costs in introducing a new author with no track record of sales assuring them of profitability on the release. From a reader's perspective, I invariably prefer long books to short ones. (Provided, of course, that they're well written. The Land of Painted Caves by Jean Auel, which takes up something like 50 CDs of unabridged audio, I found to be an excrutiating bore that begs the question why it was written at all unless the sole purpose was to bilk revenue from unsuspecting fans of Clan of the Cave Bear.) For me, a good, long book creates a nice, deep immersion and a kind of emotional investment and satisfaction that a short novel doesn't have time to build. And, of course, it's nice that the published version won't be so different from the story and pacing I felt was appropriate while writing it.
I expect to have my review and revisions done by the end of this weekend, and barring anything I do that fails to satisfy the publisher, that should be the last step before the physical publication process. I still haven't seen anything on the cover art but it looks like things are finally coming together. I'm very excited. It almost feels like this is really going to happen now. :)
By the way, the image above is just a prospective "back cover" I did when consulting with the publisher on cover ideas. It's not the art that will appear on the actual book, but something close to the description of the story it includes probably will.
I'll post an update here as soon as I've finished my work on the edits--look for it. :) - Mark