Let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.
What was the beginning? At primary school, perhaps - Mr Wain, spotting my enormous desire to tell stories, handing over as many blank exercise books as I wanted and telling me to write a book? The ten year old JE got on with it straight away, illustrations and all, and although The Music Box might be a little rushed around the ending, I did finish it. Things got a little ragged over the next several/many years. Plenty of maybe starts and possibly middles and a jumble of places and characters and odd scenes, but nothing cohesive. Which is a fancy way of saying: pretty much nothing at all.
(But always, the craving to write. A huge need to find the words, to tell the story, to write. Jotting down events to make sense of them. Obsessively describing people, in my head then on the page, sketching them, skewering them, with adjectives and dialogue. Actually, I thought everyone did that but I expect painters think we all notice colour and form and doctors diagnose constantly. But I either chased the desire uselessly, like running after a dandelion seed in a gale, or else I flattened it and left it lying, bedraggled and limp. )
The story of how I (eventually) wrote the book is a subject for another day. This is about what happened next.
When I've read the acknowledgements in the back of books, I'd sometimes been puzzled by quite how many people the authors thank. Here's what I thought went on : you write your book, a publisher says 'I shall publish this', then- 'What sort of cover would you like?' Next, a book shop clears a space and hey presto! Your book's on sale! I'll just leave a little pause for all my writing friends to exhale fire. I mean, I knew it was difficult- the muse, the discipline, the time and so on. I realised being published is a dream that sometimes doesn't become reality and I knew even the best-received books don't always sell. But still, that many people helped?
Let's wibble back to this time last year. ( I like that film effect where the image oscillates to show time passing. I'm not sure it's actually called wibbling, though.) I'm in the office of Two Roads, a publisher, with six other people. One of them is my agent. I don't know him that well - we'd only just established that both of us are tube escalator walker up and downers, an important fact in a relationship - but the others are complete strangers. Very nice strangers (very, very nice- they're offering to publish my book), but strangers nonetheless. Over a year on, not only are they all included in my acknowledgements, but so are many more people besides. And if I had my way, their names would be written in light in the sky, too. Or at least in a gold-embossed font in the book.
The Butcher's Hook is my story. I wrote it all, every last bit. There isn't a word in it I didn't choose, a situation or character I haven't envisaged. But the reason it reads as it does, looks beautiful and sits on shelves is because of those strangers, who revealed themselves to be talented, inspiring, thoughtful and creative people. Heck, they're really nice, too. I don't put people on my Christmas card list for just any reason.
'What,' you may be saying, 'Do they actually do? This love-fest is all very well, but nuts and bolts, please , Ellis.'
Here's the answer, according to me:
It may sometimes happen that the draft you give to your editor arrives in a ready-to-publish form. While that would be amazing in terms of ability and quality, I wouldn't envy it. Your editor is the first person who is truly helping you shape your book for the reader. That's someone who may not have the least idea of what the story is about, or who may know a great deal about the world you're creating, when they pick up your book . Whoever those readers are, they deserve the best possible version of your novel. They have chosen it from out of the 867 (approx) books published each week. Your prose may be challenging, your characters fanciful, your plot tortuous, but once your editor has led you through the maze of drafting and redrafting, at least they'll get consistency of approach, of intent, of voice. A writer should only write for one potential reader - themselves- because trying to second-guess reader responses is the way to madness. Your editor is your hawk, picking out the, ahem, vermin of your inconsistencies or weaknesses. Unlike a hawk, however, which is after a quick snack, they're looking for the long-term reward. A book lasts a long time after all. Touch wood.
To describe the relationship as collaborative doesn't do it justice. Part therapist, part parent, part teacher and quite a lot of business-savvy reader , the editor is in a unique position as they guide you towards the finished product. Of course, I'm only speaking from my own experience , there may be writers who resent or disagree with theirs, but my editor is all that and more. The all that didn't reveal itself straight away, there's a great deal of trust involved as you work together and a gradual understanding that where you're headed and what your doing is in your best interests. (Now it's also bred in me a Pavlovian response, so that when I hear ;' You might like to think about...' or ' It's completely up to you, but..' I immediately start typing.)
And my editor has an Assistant Editor who interprets, cajoles, reminds and suggests. In my case, he does all this in a second language: he's Italian. Even if English is their mother tongue, AE's are vital to proceedings because (whisper it) your editor will (sometimes) have Other Writers (no!) who need their attention, but with a good assistant, you're never alone. They're on hand (or on hankie duty) while the editor ministers to those Others.
Just as an actor needs to be seen (it's no good being a brilliant Hamlet all alone in your room), so an author must be read. The very idea of writing something down then hoping other people will see it is so audacious that you need someone to take it seriously. Your PR person will big you up to the waiting world in a way that you couldn't possibly get away with. They will also deal (and of course I speak personally) with the teeny tiny moments of things like Doubt and Envy that wash over you very occasionally. Doubt that you deserve anything like attention and Envy of people getting some of it instead. They field enquiries, keep you on track and tell the world about your book in a thousand imaginative ways. To a man and woman they are patient, good humoured and kind. In other lives, they'd be doing good works in the community, but luckily they regard author nurturing as similarly vocational.
This is where you discover it doesn't all happen automatically. Bookshops don't just take delivery of boxes of books and -pausing only to ask; 'Historical novel?' or 'Dog training manual?' - pile a table with your book. It's a competitive field, you have to get to the front and marketing folk have all the tools plus masses of charm. Everyone in the publishing trade is genuinely excited about books all the time, it's a lovely thing, and the marketing department are able to sustain and harness that enthusiasm and then channel it to where it's needed.
They , along with the designers, the copy editors, the art department and anyone who reads and comments on your book as it heads towards publication day, are the people who deserve to be on the thank you list. If something extra wonderful happens - if you get long-listed for a first novel prize, for example, they can take plenty of credit. In interviews about my writing, I've been wont to say that in my other career(s), I've relished being a team player- which can mean, I say winningly, that other people share the responsibility if things go wrong. With a book, I continue, it's just about me. My book, my fault. And I still think that's true if it doesn't do as well as we all hoped. I cannot blame anyone else when people don't enjoy my writing. But if there's any glory to be had, it certainly isn't mine alone.