Monday, February 9, 2015

Wednesday’s Writing: What if an Editor Wants Major Changes to Your Manuscript?


hardest decisionWhat would you refuse to change about your manuscript?

Okay, imagine this scenario. You’ve sent your query letter to the A list publisher of your dreams. An editor there has asked to see the full. You send out your carefully polished, shiny, hopeful, manuscript. 

Hopes were high. Time passed. Hopes dimmed, fingernails were bitten.

And then it happens. You get the call!

They want to publish your book! (pause for writerly happy dancing).

Except for one tiny wee problem. The editor wants you to make changes.

Well, no problem, right?You know it's true that editors want to make your book the best it can be. Still...

She sends the ms back to you, and you gasp a little at the sight of all that red ink. Still, closer inspection shows a lot of it is grammar, so you blush a bit and resolve to refresh your grammar skills. Still no problem.

Then you look further. Uhmmm, there are some publishers’ style formatting. That’s no problem, either.

What’s this? How can she possibly ask you to do this?

Your hopes plummet.

Blog Graphic 29th

The editor has just asked you to rewrite or delete a part of your story that’s dear to your heart.

When you started writing this book, sure, it was fiction. Entertainment. But there was a little core message you wanted to get across to your readers, too. Something you simply had to say. An issue that you felt strongly about. It may be your characters’ ethnic backgrounds. Their line of work. A social issue that you touched on because it means a lot to you.

Maybe a theme of domestic violence. Maybe a whisper about child abuse. Perhaps a company which pollutes, or a crooked politician. Maybe the destruction of an indigenous culture.

All things that make headlines and you feel the message adds relevance to your book. After all, you don’t just want to write fluff, do you? You’re a serious writer and feel your social observations are relevant.

Not that you’re beating your readers over the head with your views, just skating over a topic that might make someone think, or even change a life. Or perhaps it’s something that you cherish from your own background that you feel others might benefit from considering. 

Whatever, that reference means a lot to you.

And the editor wants it out. And she makes it plain that this is a deal breaker.

Oh, the pain of that decision. Do you back down and accept the decision that your feel robs your work of serious relevance? Is it, in your eyes, reducing your carefully crafted story to fluffy feel-good?

Time to sit back and consider. Understand that this is probably not a personal attack on you and your values, but a cold-blooded decision based on company policy. 

Your decision may well be informed by how desperate you are to be published. Some writers decide well, okay, I’ll go along with this until I have some sales and readership clout, and then all bets are off. Nothing wrong with that, if you’re happy to take the chance.

Most editors have one eye on their publisher’s market. Whether they think something will offend or turn off their potential buyers. Her request to cut a reference from your work may simply be business, not prudery or a right wing conspiracy. Most issues come down to economic considerations, in my view.

Second, maybe there’s some misunderstanding. Think about the reasons she has given for this deletion. Don’t be afraid to email or call and ask why she thinks this should be gone. Then decide if those reasons are something you can accept.

Consider if there is some more subtle way you can rewrite and slip your message into the story. A big question that’s usually asked in these cases is: Does this move the story along? Is it an essential part of the plot? If you had to labor and wriggle to bring your special interest into the story, then maybe you are using the wrong platform.

I know that this is a dilemma many writers ponder, wondering what they would do. Yet it is something that you can’t possibly decide in advance, because you simply don’t know what issue you’d be dealing with. Catch 22, no?

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