Your Book… Or the Editor’s?

By Mary Gillgannon

A writer recently posted a question on the RMFW site about working with an editor and whether you have to make all the changes an editor suggests. I faced a similar situation a couple of years ago. Here are some ideas on how to deal with difficult editing situations:

Do you have an agent? If you do, then having them serve as the go-between sometimes helps. It’s an agent’s job to fight for you and your book. They can contact the editor and find out how strongly he or she feels about the changes. And if there are some changes you really don’t want to make, then the agent can help you negotiate a compromise.

Did the editor acquire the book, or get assigned to it? An editor who has no personal stake in your book may be more critical, or even want to put their stamp on the book by making changes that fit their vision. In general, if the editor acquired the book, then he or she really likes your story and the changes they’re suggesting are truly geared towards improving it. Having a sense of the editor’s motivations can help.

What do your critique group and/or beta readers think? They are familiar with your story, but still have some objectivity because it isn’t their book. Having their input can help you decide if the suggested changes really have merit.

Search your heart. Has the editor pointed out things that deep down you know are a problem for you? Sometimes we know there are issues but we fight fixing them. Revising is hard work and not very much fun. But sometimes it needs to be done. It’s an editor’s job to make us face flaws and help us fix them.

Talk to the editor. Find out if he/she has specific suggestions on what you need to do. Be certain that you know what they really want. Ask questions. Suggest some solutions and see what they say.

Search your heart, this time for your real motivations. Is your ego is bruised by the editor’s implied criticism of your abilities? Or do the changes truly affect the story in a way you’re not comfortable with?

Pick your battles. Decide what changes you’re willing to make and what changes you want to fight. Then negotiate. Be positive. Thank the editor for helping you improve the book. Tell them about the issues you agree with and how you plan to fix them. Then tell them the things you don’t want to change and explain why, focusing on the book and your vision of the story. Be firm but polite and reasonable.

If they insist on all the changes, you’ll have to decide how important this contract is. I’ve known authors who refused to do the changes, gave back their advance and walked away. That takes a lot of courage, and may not help your career much, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do for your own peace of mind. Even if you don’t walk away, if the editing experience with that publisher has left you demoralized, you need to move on to another publisher. Life is too short to stay in a business relationship that makes you unhappy.

In my own situation, after conferring with author friends who had read the book, I agreed to make about two thirds of the changes and fought the rest. It wasn’t pleasant and I had to go over the editor’s head to the senior editor who had acquired the book, but in the end, I won. But it left me depressed and discouraged and somehow “tainted” the book in my mind. That’s why I decided to look for another publisher. I finally found one and have been much happier with my editing experiences with them.

Mary Gillgannon
Mary Gillgannon writes romance novels set in the dark ages, medieval and English Regency time periods and fantasy and historical novels with Celtic influences. Her books have been published in Russia, China, the Netherlands and Germany. Raised in the Midwest, she now lives in Wyoming and works at public library.

She is married and has two grown children. When not working or writing she enjoys gardening, traveling and reading, of course! More about Mary on her website.

12 thoughts on “Your Book… Or the Editor’s?

  1. This is an important topic, Mary, so thanks for writing about it today — sometimes agents or editors make pre-contract suggestions, and those are the ones we need to be very careful about implementing.

    Once we have a contract with a publisher, though, trusting our editor becomes very important…as long as we understand even the best editor can miss something. We need to be ready to explain and discuss when we feel we’re right. Walking away from a contract over an editorial change, especially for a first-time author, might be a very big mistake.

  2. Patricia, you’re right on, this is an important topic. Mary, you addressed some practical ways to keep it all moving forward, and, Patricia, I agree. I’m not sure as a first time author, if I’d have the inner strength to walk away. This post gives us much to think about.

  3. I picked my battles. And she did too and all worked out. I was adamant about being true to my characters and my voice and we had a discussion about that before we started the editing.

    • Ideally, it is a dialogue, where you both exchange viewpoints and perspectives and try to come to an agreement. When an editor feels like you should just accept everything they want, then it becomes a problem.

  4. Good advice, Mary. I’ve worked with one editor for several years and now I’m about to get a new one from my publisher. I admit I’m a little nervous, because I really worked well with my last one.

    • I wouldn’t sweat it too much. Most of the time it works out. I’ve had five different editors over the years and only one of them was difficult to work with. So this may never be an issue for you.

  5. I new to the publishing industry, but I think most (not all, but most) editors want what’s best for your work, and they are paid to know what sells. I’ve tried to pick my battles and not be too difficult to work with.
    I see it as a learning experience.

    • I hope my post didn’t sound too negative. Most editors are great to work with. This post was really focused on the situations where things don’t go so well.

Comments are closed.