FAQ Soundbite #2: Revising for an Editor

Q: My editor made some suggestions that I don’t agree with. But my book is under contract, and I feel like I have to do what she says. She feels really strongly.

A: Are we talking about small-scale line edits? You don’t have to make these, but if your editor feels strongly, it’s worth considering why. Or perhaps she has requested an overhaul to a single certain scene or plot issue or characterization or subplot? Changes on that level you can generally work out in conversation with your editor. Don’t be afraid to discuss and disagree with her comments. Perhaps you can start by pointing out the place of concern, and asking her to expand on or rephrase her comments. She will probably be happy to do so. Your editor wants your book to be the best it can be, and much of what makes it so will be subjective. Your opinions matter as much as hers do, if not more.

Q: So…I don’t have to make all the changes?

A: It’s your book, in the end. The editor wouldn’t have acquired it if she didn’t see merit in what was already there. It’s perfectly okay to disagree with aspects of your editor’s feedback. But I would suggest discussing the conflict with your editor, rather than simply refusing to make the change. If you can have a brief phone call about the particular scenes or issues in question, it might clear things up. Sometimes editors are wrong. More often they have simply not stated their case well enough, or have come at their comment from the wrong angle. (Much like how writers have to revise for clarity, sometimes editors do, too!) It’s possible you can come up with a solution that feels good to both of you.

Q: What if the changes are bigger?

I hope that prior to contract, you had a chance to talk to your editor about her vision for your book, and that she gave you a general sense of what kinds of changes she would like to see.  If you are totally blindsided by huge changes requested in the editorial letter that is a different kind of problem. Large-scale, deal-breaker changes the editor feels must happen should always come up as part of the initial acquisition discussion. Your editor needs to understand and share your basic vision for the book, or else you will be working toward two different end products, and it may be a struggle to agree on anything.

But it’s also worth mentioning that different people have very different ideas about what constitutes a “big” change. For some writers, deleting a single favorite scene might seem major and crushing, while others will hack and slash and rewrite their own work without mercy. Editors may make seemingly “big” suggestions that actually turn out to be manageable when you have sat and considered them for  a while. I have been asked to do things like cut a main character, reorder significant story events, write a fresh opening section, or even alter a point-of-view. Things like that challenge me, and I won’t always do them, but more often than not, the book benefits from me taking time to consider what the story would look like if I did make the change.

There will always be small (and medium) things you go back and forth about with your editor, but if you feel like you are on the same page about the book, you can feel confident that your editor is at least trying to push you in the right direction. It is always a good idea to listen carefully to her comments, because maybe there is something in her feedback that you can use, even if your final changes do not take the exact shape of her original suggestion.

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