Friday, November 28, 2008

Conflicting Advice: Emerging Authors Want To Know!

Dear Exalted Editors,

So, the author-editor combination seems like a pretty good one. Now I'm wondering about a different type of author-editor connection.

I know that when you editors get a look at my rough manuscript, you're going to have a whole lot to say. You will definitely come across some spelling that needs fixing. I know that I slip up from time to time - it took me years just to figure out which vowels went where in "calendar." (That's right, isn't it?)

And, as mentioned in the formatting post, I'm not a whiz with grammar, so I might have made some mistakes there. I won't argue with that. But, I'm afraid of what will happen when you start digging deeper. What will I do when you start switching sentence order? When you're concerned about the motives of a particular character? When you want the character's hair to be blue instead of brown? I've written my story a certain way, and I'm kind of attached to it. I know I've got a long way to go before I'm a polished writer, but how do I know if your advice is good when it conflicts with my own ideas of what's right? Should I speak up for myself, or should I bow to your wisdom?

On top of that, what if several editors look at my story, and they offer different suggestions? How do I know who to believe? Please help me out!

Signed, Wringing My Hands Through The Re-writes

Jesaka Long: It can be really intimidating to receive feedback from multiple editors, especially if the edits are conflicting! If you have the right editors, then you know they are looking out for our best interests and are helping to showcase your great writing. Still, you may disagree with one (or more) of them and have to make hard decisions. There's nothing wrong with refusing a change if you feel it damages your story.

One of the best ways to get some low-risk experience in managing multiple edits to your work is to join a writer's workshop. In a supportive group, you can get a feel for suggestions and edits that improve your work versus edits because someone has a style that differs from yours.

Whether the edits you receive are brilliant "why didn't I think of that" marks or just the opposite, it can still be hard to be edited. If you find that you're feeling resistant or that your "baby" is in danger, put it aside for a day or two. This always helps me gain some perspective!

Maryann Miller: You are right to be concerned about what some editors might do to your baby, and in the end the decision should be yours as to what changes should be made. An editor should never suggest changing details of description just because she does not like brown hair. Shame, shame on any editor who does that. But if the editor suggests switching the sentence order it may be because the narrative is not flowing smoothly. In regard to character motivation, that should be strong and obvious so a reader is not going to stop and say, "What? Why on earth is he doing that."

I tell all my clients that the final decision is always theirs, and I am only making suggestions. However, I do remind them that I am coming to the work with a fresh eye and considerable experience at editing. My suggestion to a new author is to read through that first edit and let all the emotions have free rein. There are going to be some issues. Trust me. My blood boiled the first time I was edited. "She massacred my baby!!!" Then I let it sit for a few days and went back and read through without the emotion. At that point I was able to sift through the suggestions and recognize those that worked and those that didn't.

Jill Noble: If an editor is asking you to make edits to grammar, POV, sentence structure, telling vs. showing etc., chances are those edits will make your manuscript stronger and you should pay attention. This can be a great learning experience, and often an editor pours hours into making your story shine. But if an editor is asking you to cut scenes, cut characters, or add things you aren't comfortable with, you have an obligation to your story to carefully consider these requests.

Under such circumstances, you (the author) could ask for the editor's reasoning behind the requested change, and try to analyze what's being suggested with an open mind. If there's a chance you're too close to the story to think unemotionally, ask for a second opinion from a friend you trust to be honest with you. (Hint: Pick the friend who would tell you that dress makes you look fat.)

Editors and authors should be prepared for the possibility that, on occasion, there will be no meeting of the minds. If that happens, both will need to decide if it's worth fighting over, and both should have the ability to "pick their battles." As an editor, I've given in a few times, but once or twice I had to cancel a contract partway through edits. One author refused to make changes to the final scene, which contained inaccurate police procedure any layman would recognize. Another refused to fix inaccurate sentence structure and POV issues because she felt to do so would tamper with her "voice." In both instances, while I disagreed with the author's opinion, I understood their reasoning, and we parted ways respectfully and amicably.

Writing for profit, editing and publishing are businesses. Authors, editors and publishers should strive to keep emotions out of the equation, and behave like professionals at all times.

Dani Greer: If the writer is simply too attached to an aspect of the story, perhaps it's time to review that element as a possible "darling". The more resistant you are to change, the more likely you might have to Kill Your Darling. Be brutal in your assessment, writer, but when all is said and done, a good author should have the last word. It is, after all, their story.

Elsa Neal: Your editor(s) should be able to explain their reasoning behind their edits. Many will include a note of explanation, but you can always ask for clarification if they don't. If you don't agree with their reasoning, this is an easier decision to make than accepting changes that you don't understand. But, if your editor has misunderstood your intention, this can also be a good indication that a section of your writing could be confusing to the reader - you may not agree with the editor's interpretation, but it will be clear to you that you need to make a change of some sort in order to avoid the reader making the same misinterpretation. Second and third opinions can come in handy in such a situation.


Emma Larkins has a dream: to make a living as a published author. Her publication credits include a story titled Midsummer Disc Dreams in the outdoor literary magazine, In the Mist, and an article called The Writer's Passion on the Feminine Aspects website. For more information, check out her blog and her website.

Bookmark and Share


  1. Great post! This is something that we talk about frequently in my writer's group. As a writer, I think it is important to trust your instincts if you feel edits alter something fundamental in your narrative, but you have to be reasonable. When we critique in my writer's group, we make a point to not take things personally. Edits and commentary are about the story, not you. But, it's hard to remember that sometimes when you feel like your story is your baby. It is important to understand the motives of your editor though. Sometimes changes make more sense once they've been explained.

  2. That's why it's so important to get the right editor to review your work. a good way to find one is through someone else who has successfully published a book.

    Morgan Mandel

  3. As a writer, every time an editor gives suggestions, I look very carefully at the section raising questions in the the editor's mind. I may not use the editor's suggestions at all, but I've often revised so that the editor no longer sees a problem. A few times, I've said, "But that would change the whole theme, the story."

    As an editor, if an author doesn't agree, I explain the problem I see and ask how the author would change that scene, sentence, paragraph to make it clear to the reader. Often that solves everything.

    As an editor for a publisher, if an author refuses to make needed changes, the manuscript is rejected.


  4. Most editors would not recommend you cut a character, for example, without giving a reason why they feel it's necessary. If you disagree with their advice or their reasoning, you can decide to ignore the advice, re-read your manuscript with their reasoning in mind to see if you still disagree, or have someone else read it. But it really is up to you. must have chosen this editor because you trust her judgment, so I always recommend that if you disagree with something she says, take a few days to let your emotions simmer before you reject the idea totally. And if you still are opposed, talk to her and get more information.

  5. This is all great info! I haven't submitted my work for professional editing yet, although I am in several different writers' groups. It makes me feel more comfortable knowing the motivations behind the editors' words.

  6. What's a good strategy for a writer? Should you seek an editor as soon as you've finished the first draft? Do you wait until you've gathered X number of rejections from agents? Or should you keep revising and submitting until an editor says she'd be willing to consider a revised manuscript?

  7. It's easy--don't change anything unless you're convinced it's a good idea. Argue about it, ask questions, and in the end, decide what you think.

    Working with an editor should leave you feeling like you love your story even more than before, like now it says exactly what you want it to say. It should be exciting and joyful, even if it's sometimes difficult.

    If it starts to feel like your manuscript is changing into something you don't recognize (or something you don't even like) it's time to find a new editor, or to start more (nice, gentle) arguments with the one you have.

  8. Of course, when you submit your work to a publisher, you have no control over the choice of editor. However, when you hire a professional editor before you submit your work, you should try to ensure that you like the editor's work.

    I always offer a free sample edit of the first few pages of the manuscript so the author can see if she is comfortable with my suggestions. I include comments to explain my suggestions so the author knows the rationale.

    Many editors offer a free sample—if not get references from other writers.

  9. When my editor and I bang heads over something "critical" - like removing an entire scene or making a character a different personality or moving the tenses around, I take the suggestions very seriously. Doesn't mean I'll do it, but my editor is so good and so trusted by me that I have to at least consider her suggestions. Often I'll go to my DTR (designated trusted reader - a friend who is well read and knowledgeable about good writing and also HONEST with me regardless of my feelings) and bounce it off of him. Two out of three majority wins.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...