Edits – it’s just you and me, and we both disagree…

Oh how I love that song by Dave Mason. But what are we disagreeing about? Editing…what else? A writer contacted me over the Christmas break and asked about whether she should follow her editor’s advice and make some pretty big changes to her manuscript. It was plain the author was uncomfortable with the editor’s recommendations and wondered whether she should shut her yap and blithely do the rewrites and not say anything.

Eh, blind faith is a scary thing. I’m a writer as well, and I know that an editor has to come up with logical reasons for requesting rewrites, or for tossing things out. It needs to make sense…which is a scary thing because writers are often too close to their writing to be objective.

The truth is, there is no “correct” because edits are subjective. I read many books that, had they come under my bloody red pen, would have been edited far differently. Does that make me right and the book’s editor wrong? No. We simply have different editing styles. When I suggest rewrites to our authors, I back that up with my reasoning as to why it’s not working for me as written. I include the elements that I feel would elevate the story, the organization, the pacing, and ultimately, the marketability.

It’s vital that we editors justify our editing decisions. Usually, the author agrees, but it’s a give and take thing, and I see nothing wrong with an author debating with me and giving reasons why he wants it to stay as is.

This is when it’s important for both parties to listen. It’s only through truly listening to my author that I can discern what the author is really saying. You’d be surprised to know that it’s not necessarily keeping the writing as is, but some important element to that scene that the author wants to retain. By talking back and forth, I can then come up with solutions that will make everyone happy. And that’s what it’s really about. A happy author is proud of his book and will do lots to promote it.

So back to this author’s question as to whether he was right to yield to the editor without any discussion. Dunno. Did you have a back and forth conversation about why the editor wanted the changes? Did the editor understand why you were reluctant to make the changes?

Case in point: I worked with an author whose story was filled to the gills with enough backstory to choke an overweight mongoose. I kept telling him he needed to get rid of all the fluff because it was slowing the story down to a snail’s pace. He balked, feeling the backstory was vital to the story.

Hello, Mr. Impasse.

So I took another tack and asked him what elements he loved about the backstory. It came out that he felt he needed the backstory to let readers understand his family life because it justified and explained why the main character acted the way he did. Ohhhh…no problemo, sez me. I still had him remove all the unnecessary fluff, but had him sprinkle the backstory about his family life in dribs and drabs throughout the story. The key was to put in only the amount of backstory to explain that particular scene. Suddenly, what was an overweight backstory-laden story, was now a fully-developed story that included just enough info about his family life to make the story come full circle. It made for a richer story.

So had he blithely acquiesced to my suggestions without discussion, he wouldn’t have the wonderful story he now has. His feedback was vital to that fabulosity.

So, in short, don’t be afraid to disagree. Stand up for your story and open up a dialog with your editor. You wrote it a certain way for a reason. It may be that reason isn’t valid. But what if it is, and you simply wrote it clumsily? Your editor needs to know because they can’t climb inside your head. They are there to help bring your story to life, and your feedback is vital to that goal. No one is going to dump you for asking legit questions, so  go ahead and don’t be afraid to disagree. Just be mindful about finding common ground because you and your editor have the same goal of a fabo book.

7 Responses to Edits – it’s just you and me, and we both disagree…

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    Which is why you’re a good editor…there are editors out there who don’t listen and just Stand Firm That This Has To Be Changed on pain of breach of contract.

    Sigh. I’m still looking for your clone who reads spec fic.

  2. Aw, g’won with ya…yer makin’ me blush. But seriously, life is too short to draw such a distinct line in the sand. However, I have editor friends with the big guys who complain about being under the gun to get edits done and out the door, so there is sometimes less give and take.

  3. Aston West says:

    And then you have the all-so-exciting “house rules” that gets bantered out when you disagree…

  4. House rules apply to punctuation – comma usage, for example.

  5. patmcnees says:

    Not for publication but you may want to change that to “take another tack,” as the expression is from sailing analogy.
    — Pat McNees (Writers and Editors)

  6. Thanks, Pat. That’s what happens when I write posts at midnight…after drinking leftover New Year’s champagne.

  7. Gill James says:

    I often find – and I am an editor and a writer – that one has to find a third way; the text isn’t right but neither is what the eidtor suggests. The subsequent text can often be far stronger than either the writer’s or the editor’s original vision. It may even be stronger than the remaining text – which implies that even more editing is needed.

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