When You Have Editorial Differences

January 8, 2013


So you’ve signed the contract, the ink is dry, and now your book is in editing. Yay! Welllll…maybe. There are times when authors will have  differences of opinion with their editor, and this can either go well or make you want to mainline Drano. Let’s face it, there are few authors who agree with every suggestion their editors bring up. Ten years in the biz has afforded me all kinds of experiences in the editor chair, so I thought I’d offer some perspective that may help you when your manuscript is under the bright lights.

Is It OK to Disagree?

YES. There have been many times where I felt something wasn’t working, and recommended it be edited out, and the author didn’t agree with the suggestion…and there’s nothing wrong with that. On more than one occasion, I’ve had authors write back to say they were very married to a section I wanted to cut. We talk about it and reach some resolution. Sometime it turns out that the scene is a key piece, but simply needs further development.

I’m good with this because I can’t appreciate the importance of a scene if it isn’t fully developed. But if you disagree with me, we can talk further to where I may see that cutting a scene would be the wrong thing to do. If you’re too nervous to say anything, then your book may suffer for it. You know your book and its intent better than anyone, so you are its best advocate during the editing phase.

How to disagree

But this isn’t to say that disagreement should take on all sorts of ugly. The editing process is a very personal, emotional experience, and authors don’t always appreciate their words being futzed with. I’ve had times when it would have been easier to invert my belly button than continue editing a manuscript.

You don’t need to shout and stamp your feet to be heard. Every editor has her process, so learn what it is and how to use it to ensure the lines of communication remain open and professional. I’m a big fan of using the Comments/Balloons in the Track Changes feature in Word. I highlight a section that I want to edit out, delete it (the Track Changes feature will show up with that section crossed out and underlined). Then I’ll highlight part of that section and add a Comment in the margin, where I say something like, “Suggest editing this section out. The scene is way too long and doesn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t enhance the chapter.”

If the author wants to comment on that, she can highlight part of that section and add her comment below mine – where I’ll see it when the edits come back to me. “I really love this scene because it’s pivotal to the plot.” We can further discuss our options.

What I love about adding comments in the margin is that it keeps things clean and clear. You’re not likely to cuss out your editor in a comment balloon. Instead, you’ll stick to the facts. What I don’t appreciate is a hysterical phone call or email about editing a scene.

How vociferously to disagree

Many years ago, I wanted to make some editorial changes to an author’s manuscript (who is no longer with us), and he fired back a very heated email, insisting that I didn’t like him. Another author refused to perform any edits because she didn’t own Word, and insisted that we edit via hard copy. Oh hell no. She’s no longer with us, either. Such toolbaggery isn’t helpful to your relationship with your editor, or the entire publishing process.

Some of my editor buds tell me horror stories of screaming matches and threats…nightmare makin’ stuff. And people wonder why we have margarita-mixing beagles…

We realize this is a nervous time for you. You’ve worked hard on your stories and don’t want them futzed with. But that shouldn’t equate to tearing out your editor’s blackened heart and nailing it to a dartboard. Whether you’re a brand new writer or one who has many books out, you need editing. Everyone does. I’m sure that Mrs. Cosmic Muffin edits the Cosmic Muffin all the time, and you just can’t go to any higher authority than that.

Keep it simple, keep it professional. Editing isn’t a personal attack on you, but merely editorial suggestions by an experienced editor who sells books for a living. It’s about trust. The more you trust your editor, the easier it is to keep it professional. If you find yourself blowing a hole in the ozone layer, ask yourself if you’re frightened to be edited and whether you trust your editor.

Trust Your Editor

A loaded bullet, to be sure. Most of the time you don’t even know your editor, so how do you know if she’s any good? Simple. You have faith in your publisher. You’ve read their books (or you darn well should have), so you have a solid idea of their quality. It’s vital that you trust your editor because theirs is the final word. The better you work together, the better the product.

I had an odd experience a few years back. I wanted to sign an author, and she wanted me to sign her, so we met for lunch. Her book was very good, but it definitely needed a strong editorial hand. When I discussed this with her, she became very protective because she was terrified that editing meant completely changing her work into something unrecognizable. I assured her that this would not only be a huge waste of our time, but there would be no point to sign her. Her agent reinforced my claims.

She was still nervous, and I decided not to sign her. If she’s this nervous now, before we even begin editing, what is she going to be like once we begin the process? It boiled down to the fact that she didn’t trust me. Then again, she wouldn’t trust anyone – and that’s a dangerous position to be in. If you have designs on being well-published, you’re going to need to place your trust in your editor. Talk to her, discuss the kind of edits she has in mind for your book. There is nothing worse than working with an author who doesn’t trust you.

Another author refused to discuss working on the ending of the book. The story was wonderful, but the ending needed tweaking. He refused. He believed his way was better than ours. We let him go. Trust. Have it, or go home.

If you find yourself in the throes of editing, and things aren’t going smoothly, then here is some additional advice.

Effective Communication/Effective Listening

Effective Communication and Listening are key during every step of production, but none more so than during editing. When I was but a wee bairn, my dad used to quote this saying around the dinner table: “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” Took me years to figure out what he was saying, but once the light bulb turned on, it has never failed to crack me up because it’s so true.

Email can screw that up faster than just about any other medium. If there is a sticking point during editing, for the love of Helvetica, schedule a Skype meeting or phone call. I adore Skype because we can go page by page and discuss questions or points. And it’s free!

Conversely, listening is an art. We get so caught up in getting our point across that we forget to listen to the other guy – and they may have very good ideas.  Say your piece, then actively listen to the other guy.

Choose Your Battles Wisely

There may come a time when you see your edits and consider throwing yourself under a Waste Management truck rather than face a very big task. It’s hard to look at a sea of red and not feel that your book has landed into an editorial mosh pit. “Do I really suck that much?” No…not at all! But you don’t see it that way. You think you’ve been ripped from stem to stern, so you dig your heels in and decide to  fight every single edit as a way of proving that you don’t suck. The fight really ain’t worth it because if you sucked, you wouldn’t have gotten the publishing deal in the first place.

Editing isn’t about give and take, or winning and losing; it’s about making your book fabulous. There are some edits that can be negotiated and others where there is zero wiggle room. I had an author plead with me to leave a very long scene in because it was meaningful to him. Problem is, it wasn’t meaningful to anyone else, and I insisted that it had to go. I know it hurt, but the author later told me that he never even missed the scene after reading the final edit. Yay…score one for Pricey.

The takeaway from this is to recognize the really big battles, the scenes that are hugely important. Deleting the overwritten bio of a throwaway character isn’t worth blowing a ventricle over.

Justify Yourself

Whenever I edit a scene out, I justify it in the margin comment, so the author understands my reasoning. If you want to fight for a scene or character, or backstory, then you need to justify it to your editor. “Because I really love it,” won’t fly. Won’t even float. You need to provide a solid foundation as to why you’re fighting for something to stay in. If your editor tells you it slows down the pace and doesn’t move the chapter along, then you have to justify why that isn’t the case.

That doesn’t mean she’ll buy it. Her word is final, so if you have a compelling reason for keeping something in, you gotta make sense. If you can’t, then your editor will probably rule against you and toss it. If so, let it go.

The Point of No Return

The one thing you want to avoid at all costs is arguing to the point where there’s no returning to the happy happy joy joy relationship. I guarantee that if you verbally abuse your editor (been there, done that), then you’re dead to her. Sure, she’ll edit your book to the very best of her abilities, but she will groan every time she sees your email address pop into her inbox. She won’t lift a finger to go above and beyond her regular duties…and you DON’T want that.

If you and your editor are at an impasse, then you both need to back away and cool off. Allowing things to escalate isn’t good for anyone, most of all your book. Don’t be afraid to apologize if you’ve stepped over the line. An apology is the great equalizer, and if you let your emotions run away with you, then you need to grow up, accept responsibility, and make things right. If your editor is the toolbag, then you’re going to have to grit your teeth and make the best of things. It’s very rare that the editing process is ever that contentious, but it does happen. Keep your head and emotions in check.

I’m unusually lucky. I have the most wonderful authors in the world. They are bright and talented, ask terrific questions, and make me think. But through the years, I’ve had some challenges – as any editor does – and I’ve had to swallow my tongue a few times just to keep from biting it (and the author’s head) off.

Rest assured, there will be editing differences, but it’s the author who knows how to play well with others in the sandbox who has a great time.

Here’s the thing about independent editors…

May 9, 2012

…it may not always work out the way you’d hoped. What do I mean? Let’s say you have a great story partially written, and your agent or your writer’s group suggest that hiring an indie editor would really kick it up a notch. So you spend some serious bucks and, voila! everyone is thrilled with the partial. Your agent sells your book, and you’re in Tra La Land.

So you go back to your indie editor and work with them on completing the rest of your manuscript, the agent and indie editor, and you are thrilled with the outcome. And then the editor comes back with your developmental edits, and leaves you muttering, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?? I thought my book was perfect.”

Here’s the thing about indie editors; their job is to spiff up the story you give them. Their concern isn’t making sure you have a marketable story with a large audience, your platform, your promotion plan, and selling lots of books. They can only work within the parameters for which they’ve been hired. The result can put you at odds with the editor who bought your book and who most assuredly has her eye  on the business end of publishing AND the artistic part.

This is the main reason I dislike buying partially written manuscripts. I do, of course, but I know the sample chapters in the book proposal have been massaged so that they sing. I’m never quite sure what the finished product will be, and I always cross my fingers and hope for the best.

This is also why I don’t get all gooey in the knees when someone mentions in their query letter that they worked with an indie editor. With that usually comes the belief that their work is a cut above and needs no editing – and that isn’t always the case. The manuscript may be very well executed and has a lovely voice, and excellent pacing, but it’s off the tracks from what the publisher’s editor wants, hence requested rewrites.

For example, an editor friend of mine bought a book she thought was going to focus on a horse trainer’s experience with working autistic kids and how working with the horses brought about big changes in the kids. Cool book, right? The partial she read was great, so she bought the book. What my friend ended up getting was the trainer’s biography – which isn’t what the agent had pitched to her. So the author was taken aback when my friend delivered her developmental edits that included massive rewrites…even though the author had worked with an indie editor.

“But my indie editor and agent loved the book as is,” replied the author.

My friend tried to make things clearer. “True, it’s a well-written story with great development and pacing, but that isn’t what was pitched to me.”

Of course, the indie editor had no way of knowing how the book was going to be pitched – all she knew was that she needed to help refine the book sitting in front of her. As for the agent, it’s something a lot of editors see – the agent is excited about selling the book. It’s not their job to think like an editor because they can’t. We’re all different. And the most important part is that the agent hasn’t seen the final product either because they sold the book based on a partial. What she thought she was selling and what my friend thought she was buying were different from the final product. Hello, rewrites.

So you can see how it’s easy for the left hand to not know what the right hand is doing. No one is at fault. The point of this post is not to place your entire end-all be-all on your indie editor. Just because you paid for her services doesn’t mean it’s bullet-proof. And yes, it may mean that your publisher’s editor may ask you to do rewrites in order to fit her vision of what she knows she can sell because she bought it based on a solid pitch. For instance, had the agent pitched my friend the horse trainer’s biography, my friend would have passed on the project.

Take a deep breath and understand that nothing is in cement until the book is actually printed up and out the door. Until then, all bets are off, and you may have to go back to the inkwell. It’s all a part of this madness we call publishing.

Editing: what will I look like when you’re done with me?

April 26, 2010

One of my darling new authors emailed me this:

I hope I recognize my writing when you’re done editing!

At first I thought he was kidding, but then I got to thinking that he may have been quasi-serious. I can understand the fear. Here you’ve put your heart and soul into your book only to release it from your clutches and hand it over to a perfect stranger [at least I like to delude myself into believing I’m perfect, but the beagle tells me otherwise].

The imagination takes hold:

  • What are they going to do to my work while it’s in their clutches?
  • Will my story look anything close to the way I wrote it?
  • Do I have any say in the editing process?
  • What if I hate what she’s done?
  • Oh GOD! Why didn’t I become a painter like my mother suggested?

Now you’ve lost sleep, lost weight, and your cat begins to avoid you because you’ve begun to ignore your personal hygiene. R-E-L-A-X and remember one thing:

Editors buy stories because we love them. This means we love your voice. Your voice is what makes the story come alive, so it’s the last thing we want to destroy.

Ah, but what about your content?

Switchy changey

I have an author whose agent took a meeting with a Big Gun. Oh, they lurved, lurved, lurved the book. Only could they please take “some stuff out” and put in “other stuff”? The agent was mortified. Hell no, you can’t! The “stuff” you want to remove is the friggin’ meat of the story! End of meeting to the absolute miffery of the agent [to those who love to edit me, I do realize “miffery” isn’t a word. No need to comment, ok?].

Yes, the manuscript needed work. Lots of it. But in no way did that book become “my child,” because that isn’t what I, or my cohorts do. They don’t rewrite. They suggest, they recommend, they insert possible examples [with the author’s ability to reject the insertion].

Did you read that? They do not rewrite. That is the author’s job.

Furthermore, editors do not switchy changey the manuscript and turn it into something else without your permission.So even though the Big Gun publisher wanted to seriously mess with the story’s foundation, they most certainly weren’t going to do it without discussing it first.

So bless my author’s buttons for being nervous about the editing process, but he’s biting his nails to the quick for nothing. Yes, he’ll see a lot of red things – where I fixed a passive sentence into an active sentence, or removed a dialog tag. Or maybe I put one in. What I’ve done is akin to cleaning up the kitchen. But I do not dare presume to cook the meal [something my family heartily approves, the ingrates].

Where I feel something needs further development, I insert a comment and say something like “expand this idea so the reader understands this paragraph.” Or maybe there’s a POV switch and I insert a comment bubble telling the author  to rewrite the section in the proper POV.  See? I’m not cooking the meal, so it’s impossible [and incredibly stupid] to interfere with the author’s voice.


And this is why authors really have little to fear from the editing process. Sure, there may be a lot of rewrites, but so what? Presumably…ok, hopefully, you trust your editor enough to know what they’re doing and that their decisions are going to yield a much more marketable book.

I appreciate how difficult that is because you don’t really know your editor. But, hopefully, you’ve read some of the publisher’s books and can see the quality of their work.

I had an author who was scared out of her wits to be edited. Then she waltzed into a book store and bought one of our books – wise soul that she is, she chose my novel, Donovan’s Paradigm. She emailed me saying that after reading my book she felt a “whole lot better” about my fingies dabbling about the verbs and nouns of her manuscript. Awww…

Trust is vital in the production process, and we realize it doesn’t come easily. But, really, the story you handed your editor will still be the same story that comes out of editing. Or better. But not without your knowledge or approval.

Is abuse a part of the game?

May 19, 2009

In a word; no. Publishing is tough, to be sure, but at no time should an author suffer an abusive relationship with their agent. It’s a given there will be rewrites and lots of work to get the story ready, but an agent is not a sergeant at boot camp whose job is to send emails to their authors that include browbeating, profanity, and threats. I question the sanity of any agent who believes this kind of abuse is acceptable behavior.

And yet these situations exist because authors are kowtowed into believing that no one else will take them on because the agency has a good reputation. I would have never believed this crap went on had I not seen the abuse up close and personal. It turns my stomach.

Agents and editors do not require their authors to partake in strange meditations, have debates with philosophers, or ask them to defend the agent’s honor on writer’s boards. They take care of their own problems like adults. They do not send emails to their clients attacking editors, other agents, and writers. This is self-serving, wasteful garbage that gets authors no closer to finding a home for their manuscripts.

Agents have one goal: to get the work ready for submission and sold to a good house. Yet I’ve seen authors put up with horrible abuse because they want to be published that much. But consider this; if the agent is doing everything but getting your manuscript in front of editors’ faces, then you’re probably better off without them. The agents I work with do one thing; take good care of their authors and treat them with the respect they deserve. And you know what? They treat everyone else in the business with that same respect.

Abuse is NOT part of the game, and any author who is in this kind of relationship needs to get the hell out FAST. This behavior is a narcissistic need for total control and not at all about selling your work. Get out. Get free. Take good care of you and your work.

Are we looking for an excuse to quit reading?

April 28, 2009

Do most agents/editors look more for what’s wrong than for what’s right in the writing? Do they focus more on errors than on strengths?

Quick Answer: Yes

Longer Answer: I know it sounds as though we are a heartless coven of witches and warlocks who sit in our darkened caves while sipping the blood of rejected authors. In truth, we’re not denizens of cynicism, but rather, we’re efficient.

The longer agents and editors are in business, the better able they are to sniff out a bad egg early on. We utilize those early cues such as spelling, grammar, organization, and sentence structure to wave our personal red flags. If a work is overloaded with these elements, why continue reading? It’s true that a fabulous story could be hiding amongst the mess, but I have yet to see it. Great writing and proper formatting, spelling, and structure go hand in hand.

I won’t cop to “this is how we all work,” because I know some of my brethren don’t have as itchy a trigger finger as others. However, the generalities are such that most of us look for a reason to continue reading. We read one line. If we like it, we continue on. If we like the page, we continue on. If we like the chapter…ok, you get where I’m going with this. Peter Cox – agent extraordinaire – calls it “moving to the couch.” If we continue to be entertained by your words, we’ll toss the beagle off the couch and read in comfort.

Why are we such crabby pants about this issue? Shouldn’t we be focused solely on the story?

Absolutely. To a point.

See, spelling, sentence structure, and organization are all a part of effective communication.  If you choose to omit an integral part of communicating your story, then you’re no better than the idiot mechanic who told me he hadn’t the foggiest notion as to why my car made a clangy-bangy sound when I came to a full stop. #2 Son Spawn looked underneath my car’s Victoria Secrets and discovered I’d been dragging a tunafish can all over town. Crikey, it was as obvious as the margarita in the beagle’s blender, but he never thought to look there. Dumb!

Words, imagination, and understanding the English language are the writer’s tools, and writers have a responsibility to know every aspect of their craft. Banging out a story is only half the job. You can’t create an effective product if one of those elements is missing. I [and nearly all of my fellow coven members] are extremely unforgiving of spelling and syntax blunders because there is simply no excuse for it.

The idea is to never ever give an agent or editor a reason to reject your work other than it’s not right for them. To be rejected because you fell asleep in English class is akin to the beagle forgetting to add a half a can of beer to the margarita mix. Last time she pulled that, I made her clean the showers. Don’t put us in a position where we hand you a scrub brush and Tilex.

Now, I’m off to my broom. I hear the wails from one of the coven members in New York screaming about POV switches.

*Thanks, Pelo, for the question.

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