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My takeaway was that folks love to give you a short (or even medium long) answer. The more ignored folks - firemen, cops, plumbers - are even happier to discuss how the real world works.
If you want someone to read your 7,000 page novel and tell you all the places you screwed up, you should pay them.
Pay can range from small, unmarked bills, to exchange of services (virus proofing your plumber's computer), to trading reading chores.
This was a bit of a mixed bag. About half the panel works together on large collaborative projects like game design and TV series scripts, while the others (and some subsets of the former) work on small-scale projects like two folks plotting and writing together.
A common theme for each group was that you need to trust and respect your co-writers. If their script for episode 1 includes the hero's car going over a cliff, you should trust that they'll explain why the hero wasn't in it at the time by episode 2.
Critiquing each other's efforts is also a balancing act. For some folks you can say "This scene sucks," and for others you might suggest "I'm not sure this scene is quite as powerful as it could be."
Carol pointed out that she and Clif can work together because we had twenty years of marriage before we started writing together. We'd pretty much worked out the base communications issues before we started. (Not that we don't raise our voices on occassion. Sometimes that's the only way to explain your position.)
Despite going through this with 4 technical books and a few self-pubbed books, this was an eye-openner for just what goes on behind the scenes.
One thing I didn't realize is that the Acquisitions Editor who accepts your project is also your advocate and sales rep within the company. Everyone will do what they need to do to get your book out - they are professionals, but if you can keep your editor excited and he keeps everyone else excited about this book, it gets that little bit of extra push that can make the difference.
In the big houses, you'll also get an editor who reads the book and helps you polish it. This might include cleaning up your vocabulary, fixing a plot hole or two or fact checking. It will probably include some fine-tuning to make the book more salable. Perhaps toning down the sex and violence to get onto the younger readers list, or pumping it up to appeal to the young adult readers.
Once everyone accepts the manuscript (yeah, you reworked it three or four times before the Acquisitions Editor accepted it, then another two or three times before the development editor was happy) it goes to the copy editor (guess what happens next.)
The Copy editor (sometimes called Line editor, but sometimes that's the name for the previous editor. What's in a name?) will go through the manuscript with a fine tooth comb to find the one place where you called "Joe" "Jo", whether you had Columbus's first voyage happening in 1942, whether the bartender had piercing blue eyes in chapter one and soft brown eyes in chapter 14, and other stuff like that.
This can be an exciting stage. Some copy editors take their job as fact-checkers very seriously. That may not mean they are correct. Horror stories like the copy editor who wanted to put a basement in a New Orleans mansion abound.
Finally, the "First Pass", or Galley gets printed and sent to the author. You are not to make any fixes that will change page breaks, but it's your last chance to find "teh" and make it "the". But don't decide to rework page 4 and add three new paragraphs that will change the page breaks throughout the book unless you've got a really good reason.
This was a bit of a continuation of the How a manuscript becomes a book.
The big takeaway was that if you get a bad copy editor you can usually complain to your acquisitions or project editor and get a new one.
Most copy editors are really good. Clif got one really great one for the his Tcl book. She forced him to be consistent in his examples and descriptions.
But the good stories come from the bad copy editors.
The best stories were copy editors who might actually be good copy editors for other genres, but they didn't know the SF/Fantasy tropes.
These included an award-winning, mild-mannered hard-science author who walked into the publisher's main office to hand his editor a manuscript covered with "improved" vocabulary (changing any 3 syllable science word to 3 short (and incorrect) words). He told the editor "I could go through every page and write STET a dozen times, but I don't have time for that. It's your problem."
Some copy editors will try to rewrite your story. Those are ones you can get replaced easily.
The panel spent more time discussing the various types of spoilers, ranging from back cover blurbs that give away the big twist to trigger warnings that might also give away the plot.
One good point was that if the story is totally ruined by knowing the twist, then it was probably not a good story anyhow. Lots of folks enjoyed the movie "Titanic", even though we all know how it ends. "The Sixth Sense" works because you honestly like the dead guy. It's a sympathetic character and a good story that only gets better with the ending twist.