You just received a 15-page, single-spaced editorial letter from your editor. They want you to rewrite most of the book. But you disagree with the letter and are spitting mad. What do you do?
Or your agent took a look at your manuscript and told you to cut it in half to make it salable. What do you do?
Both examples are true stories and illustrate the universal challenge of refining your manuscript to make it the best it can be.
In the first example, there was great “gnashing of teeth.” But eventually my client, the longtime veteran author, and the longtime veteran editor saw eye-to-eye and made the book great.
In the second example, my client, at the time an unpublished author, said, “Okay, let’s see what I can do.” The writer did the necessary work, and we sold it to a major publisher. This author recently released their fourth nonfiction book.
Calvin Miller once told me he appreciated a firm editorial hand. He described it as flint striking a rock. Only when they clash is a spark created. I think he was right.
Sure, some editors have a heavy hand. But then your work may need it! At the very least, respect their editorial craft even if you disagree.
The next time you get a revision letter from your editor that makes your blood boil consider these ideas:
- Relax. This is normal.
- Keep anger to yourself. (See the article about “Burning Bridges.”)
- Hear today. Respond tomorrow. If you react emotionally, the outcome is unlikely to be beneficial.
- Remember the editor is doing the best job they know how. And often they have a lot of experience with manuscripts like yours.
- Remember this is a negotiation, not a dictation. Ultimately, it is your book; and the editor is providing suggestions, not requirements. (I’ve addressed this before in “The Stages of Editorial Grief.”)
- Remember that the suggestions with which you disagree may actually be valid.
- Communicate your frustration to your agent. We deal with this all the time and can help you understand whether or not the edit is unreasonable. Most of the time, the editorial suggestions are good ones. But some authors see them as criticism, not as helpful. I’ll often ask a client to write their “angry letter” but send it only to me. This action helps defuse the ticking explosion but also articulates the specifics—without the shouting.
- Communicate with your editor. Be respectful but firm if you disagree. You’ll find that editors have their jobs because they know what they are doing.
- BUT if the edits are out of line, unreasonable, or outrageous, then you have every right to object. One author was told to add a completely new subplot into a novella with a contracted limit of 30,000 words; it was already 28,000 words long. Another author had the main character’s name changed throughout the manuscript, without consulting the author. I could go on, but they are memorable because they are the exceptions.
- Decide which hills you will die on. A word here, a sentence there, a paragraph cut are not the place for the pitched battle.
- Every editor is different, just like every writer is different. If you’ve have the opportunity to work with different editors, you find out quickly their pet peeves and predilections. But realize that the editor has the same experience as you when receiving criticism!
Ultimately, the editor isn’t trying to make you look bad, only “just right.”
Do you have any editorial letter horror stories to tell? (Please, no names or publishers.)
Do you want to take the opportunity here to praise your favorite editor? (Please use names.)