Saturday, July 19, 2008

We'z Heard Youz Don' Agree Wit de Editorial Letter We'z Sentcha

What percentage of an Editorial Letter do you realistically expect an author to accomplish? Or, better phrased, how often does an author fix EVERYTHING you claim is "wrong" with a YA/MG novel? If you disagree with the author, that this certain thing needs "fixed" and the author thinks it's fine, who wins? Who ends up crying? Are any broken bones involved?
No, broken bones are for when you're in breach of contract. Editorial letters are only a matter of sprains and bruises. See, if you don't solve my "problems", we have some "friends" who come over to your house to "explain" things to you.

But seriously, here's how I recently answered a similar question over at the institute:

What I want from my authors are:
1) to consider my suggestions seriously
2) And if they don't agree with a suggestion, to consider if there is another solution to the problem I'm trying to address in the manuscript.
3) If they truly disagree that the part I've marked should change at all, then I want them to show me they've seriously considered both the change and the issue I was trying to address, and to tell me why they think it's important the way it is.

As long as you do these things—which show the editor that you take her contribution and her book experience seriously and are willing to have a reasonable conversation about edits to the book—I would be happy. It is, after all, your creative work, and if there's a place where I'm not understanding your creative vision, then please, try to talk me around. Sensitive, open-minded disagreement is a VITAL part of the creative process. Your editor is offering you this. Offer it back to her.

I suppose I should also say something about the occasional Deal Breaker. Every once in a while, an author wants to do something that I feel significantly hurts the book's appeal to its core audience. Of course, if I see something like that at the acquisition stage, I'll make sure the author and I agree about the necessary change before we get to signing a contract.

But if something like this comes up later in the process, then I try to be very clear that's what I feel is at stake—and if the author and I cannot agree, it will be part of my responsibilities to my publisher to take the matter to a higher authority... in which case the book may be canceled. It's not fair to my publisher for me to continue with publication of a book that I believe has cut itself out of any audience.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the answer. So it's pretty much give and take, unless by the author "taking" liberties with your generosity to their artistic mindset they are "giving" away potential sales by being an ass.

I can live with that.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Right. And I mean giving away virtually *all* potential sales-- we don't expect a book to appeal to everybody, but it's got to have a core audience.

Chris Eldin said...

May I send you my manuscript and the suggestions from another publisher and see if you agree?
Just email me your name and address...

(Hey, a girl's gotta try.)

Susan at Stony River said...

Thanks for this one--maybe it's just me, but I've always read Editorial Letters (as you've called them) to be Necessary Revisions...necessary if I wanted published, that is.

I like your term, and perspective, much better.

Mommy C said...

I think it's fine to ignore editorial suggestions, if you want to be a starving artist, that is. If your in the game as a professional, you should treat your craft like a job- the editor being your boss. You wouldn't argue with a boss in a more mainstream job, unless you were asked to do something unreasonable. And you shouldn't think that a some of your audience wouldn't share the editor's opinions. If you're really worth your salt, you should be able to find a creative solution to satisfy both parties. In short, if you find it necessary to stick to some avant-garde creative vision that only you get, your better off bumming around Europe, aimlessly ... or keep your day job.

Anonymous said...

You sound like a disciplinarian, Mommy C! Sometimes editors and writers just plain disagree about creative decisions, without it making either one of them a rambling slacker Eurorail-riding hobo.

Anonymous said...

EA, thanks for such a clear description of a process which is immensely important, and hugely valuable to a writer, but is often confusingly tacit. It's hard, for example, not to react to a marked-up manuscript as one did to a marked-up essay at school. But editors aren't teachers, telling you what's right and what's wrong. It's much more subtle, and reciprocal, than that.

My experience is that editorial comments ("this doesn't work", "that's too thin") are almost always right, by definition, but that suggestions about solutions are often not. In other words, I have to come up with my own solutions to the problems which they rightly highlight.

In the end, though, it's my book with my name on it, and editors know it: my editor (a prize-winning novelist herself) even says as much as she makes her more radical suggestions. An editor isn't my boss, she's someone whose job it is to get my book to sell as well as possible, and SOME aspects of how to do that she understands better than I do. As you imply, if she thought the gap between what I'm doing and what she wants is too big to be bridged, she shouldn't have signed the book in the first place.

Lynn Price said...

Ah, I must kiss you square on the lips. You've done editors the world through a lovely service. Brava!

Anonymous said...

I can understand that the editor will suggest some changes, but cancelling the book seems harsh to me. I can see that editor and publishers are thinking of themselves and it's their money that's being risked, but still...I don't know what I would do in that situation. I guess at the start you need to let it be and make bigger demands later when you start selling loads.