Responding to Edits

You wrote a book. You got your first book deal. Your editor has sent your manuscript back to you with edits. After the initial excitement and, perhaps, terror, you settle in to tend to things—and come across suggestions with which you disagree. Among your objections:

  • This isn’t my MC’s style.
  • This isn’t my style.
  • This complicates things later.
  • Oh hell no.

Do you have to do everything your editor has marked up or suggested? No.

Is there some magical formula that determines how many edits you can reject before you become a Difficult Author? No.

Will rejecting your editor’s changes make you a Difficult Author? No. Not necessarily.

My background is in academic publishing, but the process is pretty much the same no matter what side of the industry you sit on. The editor makes suggestions that she thinks will improve the manuscript. As I tell my authors, my edits are suggestions. I may raise questions or ask for changes that the author finds are too tangential or will open up a can of worms that can’t reasonably be dealt with. I expect that this will happen and I flat-out tell my first-time authors that I don’t expect them to apply every query or keep every edit. The key is to let me know you considered the query. A little explanation lets me know you took it seriously and decided it wasn’t the best course. I like when you do that. True, sometimes I’m disappointed when an author doesn’t incorporate a suggestion that I thought would be great. In the big picture, though, it’s not a big deal. Unless it is.

So what about the Oh hell no queries? Those are not automatically the big picture items.

The Oh hell no is an author’s visceral reaction to something he feels will weaken, harm, damage, eviscerate, or otherwise gut and burn his story down to unrecognizable cinders. (Isn’t that what “Oh hell no” really represents?) The editor likely has no idea that this will be the author’s response. The editor may just be tossing it out there. “Hey, wouldn’t it be great pathos to kill this character?” Oh hell no, it would not.

You do not have to kill that character. As you encounter these queries, especially the ones that generate a strong negative reaction, consider whether there’s something behind them. Is the editor trying to elicit more emotion from a character or ratchet up the tension? Maybe. And sometimes the editor’s just off the mark.

Don’t wring yourself into knots of anxiety over edits. If you identify a consistent theme to the queries you hate, ask about it when you return the manuscript. (Edits are often not all resolved in one round.) When there are definite changes I want my author to make, I signal this clearly in a letter. These changes are still up for discussion. I want my author’s buy-in. I want her to understand why I want these changes and to agree that they will make the book stronger. And if she has a different approach to what I propose, I want to hear that as well. Because the editor is not always right. But we do like to ask a lot of questions.

Side note: I once included more than 200 queries, plus edits, in one chapter. At the author’s request, I made a second pass to call out which ones I felt were the most important. She focused on those and still didn’t address everything, and it was fine. Perfection is impossible. The chapter turned out great. I’m pretty sure she threw darts at my picture though.

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