I remember in junior high having to sit through one of those drug use prevention programs. A few horribly chipper thirteen-year-olds had somehow been wrangled into helping. They'd made foot-long construction paper joints (craft skills at work!) and similarly fake-looking cocaine, and they went around the room "offering" them to the class. And we were supposed to gain experience in saying "no" from this.
It would have been hilarious if it hadn't been so painfully stupid.
Saying "no" is not easy. It can be hard, and scary.
People don't need practice saying "no"—they need practice being brave. Let's give that a shot.
Welcome to the Author's version of Choose-Your-Own Adventure!
1. You receive editorial feedback. Editorial feedback you disagree with.
If you fly off the handle in anger, misery, or other emotion and refuse to do anything, go to page 7.
If you give yourself some time to get over your irritation, hurt, and/or outrage and then go back to the editorial feedback to think it through, go to page 2.
2. You still disagree with the feedback.
If you go to the editor and refuse to do anything, go to page 12.
If you sit down and try out the editor's suggestions anyway, go to page 3.
3. You've tried out the editor's suggestions, and you still disagree that they're good for the book.
If you decide your editor's an idiot and can only be communicated with effectively with invective, go to page 9.
If you sit down to think about what issues the editor was trying to address when she made that suggestion, and what possible alternate solutions there might be, go to page 4.
4. You've made a meaningful effort to see things from your editor's point of view, and to think of alternate ways to address the issues she's focused on. And after all of that, you have to come to the conclusion that she's mistaken.
If you write to her and show, not tell her that you've taken her suggestions seriously and given them thought, and tell her why you must politely disagree and why you think the passages under discussion are important the way they are, go to page 5.
If you decide your editor must know better than you do, and decide to buckle under, go to page 7.
5. You hear back from your editor.
If she feels strongly that those changes are necessary and you're going to make them, dammit, because her publisher is paying you, go to page 8.
If she's willing to talk things through with you and bow to your creative vision when she cannot convince you of her point of view, go to page 6.
6. Congratulations, you have a good editor.
Repeat pages 1-6 as many times as needed until publication.
7. Don't be a jackass.
Go back and choose again.
8. Your editor is a jackass.
If you decide that now, indeed, is the time for invective, go to page 13.
If you write to your editor reminding her that the publisher felt your manuscript was publishable when it was acquired, and as willing as you are to discuss changes and try to see things from the editor's point of view, as the author you aren't going to make any changes that you feel are bad for the book, go to page 10.
9. Don't be a jackass.
Go back and choose again.
10. You hear back from your editor.
If your editor seems to have had an apoplectic fit and is cancelling, or on the verge of cancelling, the book, first SHOW NO FEAR (they can smell fear), and go to page 14.
If your editor is very grudgingly buckling under, go to page 11.
11. Congratulations. Repeat pages 1-11 as many times as necessary until publication.
Remind yourself that anyone who behaves as your editor has must have a reputation at her publishing house and in the industry as a jackass. Your polite unwillingness to do whatever she ordered you to will earn you a reputation for integrity, not arrogance.
Invite all of your friends over for a publication party where you will drink champagne and tell everyone you know how much they never want to work with that editor, ever.
12. Don't be a jackass.
Go back and choose again.
13. You're right. But let your crit group witness your invective, not the editor.
Now go back and choose again.
14. You look at your contract for the clause(s) that talk about 'failure to publish' and what happens when you and the publisher have an extreme disagreement about how to publish. You talk to a literary contracts lawyer or your agent. If the book is cancelled, you may not have to pay back the advance you've received. If you do have to pay it back, you can negotiate an arrangement where you only have to pay it back if you are able to sell this manuscript to another publisher, in which case you'll pay the first publisher back out of the advance from the second publisher.
Congratulations! If you've reached step 14, you've weathered one of the most unpleasant experiences the publishing industry can offer, but you've weathered it with a backbone and your creative integrity intact. And you're stronger for it. Go forth knowing that these experiences are few and far between and most editors are not poor excuses for a horse's ass, and that no matter what happens, nobody gets to push you around.