Monday, March 17, 2008

A question--

How do you respond when you get edits you don't agree with? That is, let's say a book is being edited for a publisher, and you don't like the edits? What do you do?

(Nothing personal-- This isn't happening to me, either as an editor or a writer. Well, it did, recently, and after awhile I realized the editor was totally right and the book was much better with her suggested revisions... that always happens to me. I have an instinctive resistance, and then I realize I'm wrong. This actually makes me a better editor than a writer, I fear! But I have learned to keep my mouth shut for the first day or so after receiving the revision letter... I know I'll change my mind soon.)

Under what circumstances would you make a fuss? Under what circumstances would you hold your tongue? What's your experience been?

How would you counsel other writers to respond to editors' edits? Let's say you have their best interests at heart and aren't actually hoping to get the advisees blackballed in the industry, thereby culling your competition.

8 comments:

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

This actually happened to a friend of mine, who is e-pubbed, so has no agent. (My first inclination would be to say, "Discuss it with your agent. Calmly. No whining allowed.")

We told her to trust her gut but to give the new editor a chance. She's happier now than she was when she first received the edits; they spoke and apparently reached some understandings.

Communication is key, in all things.

Genella deGrey said...

Yesterday at our RWA chapter meeting, our own Lynne Marshall spoke on revisions. (Lynne is a multi-pubed author of medical romances for Harlequin Mills and Boon in the UK.)

Lynne says she always lets the edits her house sends her sit for 24 hours before diving in. She finds that even if her first reaction is, "No way!" by the next day, things have sunk in and she is ready to tackle them.

Lynne believes that being flexible with your stories is one of the keys to getting published.

:)
G.

green_knight said...

I think this depends on how substantive the edits are. I like the concept of 'pick the hills you want to die on' - you need to choose them with care, but sometimes you need to chose.

Make the characters five years older. Set it in a different city. Make it contemporary instead of historical. Add explicit sex/violence. All of these I can see as dealbreakers. I can't get my protag together with the nice girl who makes him laugh and keeps him sane when, in the next book, she falls in love with someone else and they are perfect for each other; and I can't burn down the city hall in a dramatic finale if it has to be intact next week.

As always, communication is the key - when the editor said 'burn the damn thing down' can you compromise on a reading of 'there's a distinct lack of action in the last scene' and find something else you can put in instead?

As an editor, I would hate to deal with a writer who took ever suggestion and said 'of course I'll do what you want'. It would make me doubt that the write *had* a vision, that the writer had given thought to *why* they were putting certain elements into their books, why they had chosen a particular setting, why they had, indeed, written the book they put before me.

Edittorrent said...

GK, what do you think of grammar and sentence edits? Let's say that a writer starts many sentences the same way (with a dependent clause, maybe), or overuses my favorite vague words (tends to, seems to), or ... well, repetitions of one sort or another. Or many, many sentence fragments. :)

Editors do a lot of sentence work, and some writers complain that's interfering with their voice. What do you think? What's the right response if a writer feels that way?
Alicia

Dara Edmondson said...

I've learned to trust my editor's instincts. Only once did we disagree on a passage. When I made my case, she listened and agreed I was right. Sometimes she swats my hands with her ruler when I overuse a word, but I deserve it;-) I don't ever feel like she changes my voice - that's there to stay.

Writer & Cat said...

I would ask my wonderful editor if, perhaps, she was wearing crazy pants when she did my edits.

Srsly, after I mulled over the reasons the edits were suggested for a couple days, I'd talk to my editor about them. While not wearing my crazy pants. I mean, I'd probably have PANTS on, but not the crazy ones. And I'd counsel other writers to do the same. There's typically SOMETHING up with a piece of writing when an editor dings it, although it can perhaps be resolved in a variety of ways.

green_knight said...

(I meant to answer this earlier and got distracted by work. This happens occasionally.)


I would *hope* that my reaction to line edits will be a sensible one. If it's anything like WP's spellchecker in days gone by: "You have started eight out of the last ten sentences with 'but'" then I'll probably be grateful as hell, but in the case of a persistent problem like that, I'd expect the editor to mark up a chapter and hand it back to the writer. Fix it at the source, so to speak.

I appreciate it when I get the feeling that the editor is making an effort to understand where I'm coming from, and if they don't appear to edit by a nonfiction manual.
I have a character named Ilyakis. He gets mentioned a lot, and so do Ilyakis' house, Ilyakis' books, Ilyakis' library... and I chose the posessive with care. I'd be wiling (though grudgingly) to talk about a namechange if that turns out a problem, but I will fight a Chicago-wielding editor who insists that it ought it be Ilyakis's house etc.

The problem with the whole 'voice' thing is that you're talking a hundred small things that aren't black or white - *some* sentence fragments *in the right places* enhance the story, *too many* or ones *in the wrong places* will destroy it - but wher the lines are drawn depends on individuals, on the audience...

The explaining things goes both ways, though: if I can't explain why *I* chose one stylistic means over another, and the editor offers a clearer alternative, then it should probably go.

green_knight said...

writer & cat:

The 'something wrong' part is a good point. Many critters - myself included if I don't watch it - will say 'you should throw your protag into action sooner' or 'you need to strike out a number of adjectives' when what they should be saying is 'your protag seems to wait for things to react to, which didn't work for me, I need something to capture my interest in the earlier chapters' respectively 'this is denser prose than I am used to reading, and I felt overwhelmed by trying to combine all these images, which made me lose track of events.' It's still the same problem, and I haven't chosen my examples as well as I would like, but the point I'm trying to make is that if I say this didn't work (and that might be the symptom) I leave it open to the writer to come up with their own suggestions, whereas 'you must follow my vision exactly' tends to produce. 'Shan't. Won't.'