Sunday, October 12, 2008

Just Saying No (to Your Editor)

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.


Anonymous said...

That was awesome! Will cross-post--thanks!

PS. Does this mean Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books will be making a comeback? =)

Jean Wogaman said...

What an amusing way to give excellent advice. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Wonderful advice and heartily entertaining. Thanks for the giggles and information.

Anonymous said...

As someone whose rear has now become one with the office chair while sweating over final revisions on my debut novel, please know you have given me a sweet ray of hope this experience will turn out all kittens and rainbows.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Thank you! One question: can you clarify what you mean by "show, don't tell" in section 4?

As in, actually show her the awful draft? Or explain in a letter why it didn't work with examples from your attempt but not the actual text?

Thank you again!

Sarah Laurenson said...

Beautiful! Thanks!

mk said...

I'm a newbie, stopping by and must say I love your blog. I'll definitely be reading from now on. I work in book publishing also. :)

Anonymous said...

"If you decide your editor's an idiot and can only be communicated with effectively with infective, go to page 9."
Infective, like giving him/her smallpox?

Mimi said...

I came across your blog through "Bloggers of Note." What a time for me to find your blog! I have text for a picture book and have been reading on the business of writing for children before submitting to any publishing houses. What I have read here supports much of what I have been reading. Thank you!

Editorial Anonymous said...

thanks. spelling mistake fixed.

don't get any ideas.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Anon 3:40:
No need to show examples.
Walk her through your thought process. I just don't want people simply saying "I took your suggestions seriously" and expecting the editor to believe it without a little more.

Chris Eldin said...

This is better outlining than "The Time Traveler's Wife." (sorry Precie, if you're lurking...)

DLK Designs said...

You have a lovely blog!

Kristi Holl said...

This was some of the best author-editor advice I've read (and laughed through) in a long time. Such wise advice! It's pretty hard to "unburn" bridges once you've shot yourself in the foot with invectives (to mix a bad metaphor).
Kristi Holl
Writer's First Aid blog

Sabina E. said...

good one. some writers are such assholes and won't listen to an editor's suggestions on how to improve the manuscript. but sometimes you wonder, is an editor always right?

Stephanie J. Blake said...

Thanks, EA!

Anonymous said...

Great advice.Thank you very much.And a great post,keep up the good work!!!

Lisa Castillo

Theresa said...

I'm following your blog daily now. I might even try to do some writing. You're an inspiration!

Coro said...

This is funny yet possibly effective. Will read this again when I actually gather feedback.

Tracey H. Kitts said...


Anonymous said...

Very nice piece of work. Actually that was the answer to one of the questions I asked during my interview with you.

Here is my link if you would like to read my interview with E Anonymous. Which is an interesting read I might add.

Kate Lord Brown said...

Great fun - I'm still at the newbie 'say yes to everything and just be immensely grateful to have an editor/agent' stage, but will file this for future reference. Best wishes.

~Hudspg said...

Great post ill have to read more!

Anonymous said...

Could the comments section be any more boring and unhelpful these days?

From the looks of it, I may be joining the other regulars who seem to be disappearing ...

Don't take offense, newbies, blatant PR-seekers, and those who reply "Great post!" to any damn thing. It's just that in the children's book world, it's hard to find people who truly understand what we do and why we do it. This was one of the few online oases. I don't mind that you're here; you just should know that you're not adding anything to the discussion and actually driving dedicated people like me away. (Sigh)

Christine Tripp said...

... and sometimes, an Editor can be very capable and talented and, yes, probably a very nice person but they are then compelled to do their duty to a publisher who would ask you to change the whole cover illustration to suit the booksellers polled. Often, I imagine, their hands are tied and while 3 months ago they were thrilled with the illustration, now they must request you change the colours, the images and anything else you submitted 1/4 of a year ago.
How about a blog on "Publishers just saying NO to booksellers"?
Nah, they will never do that!!!
(grumpy after doing a whole new cover in "blue", ugh!

Anonymous said...

Good point, Christine! Ditto the occasions when the marketing/sales folks pick the illustrator in the first place and there is nothing the editor or writer can really do.


Anonymous said...

"Just Saying No (to Your Editor)"
--The Sequel

The following is a true story:

1. Author submits lengthy pb manuscript to Very Nice Editor.

2. VN Editor wishes to acquire manuscript. Offers large advance.

3. Experienced Author (with scars) asks the VN Editor this question:

"Are you acquiring this manuscript as-is (more or less) or will you require substantial changes? In other words, are you acquiring the idea or the ms. itself?"

4. VN Editor: "We love the manuscript as it is."

5. Two months later, VN Editor returns edited ms. with more than 200 requests for changes--some of them major changes. The suggested changes, the Author fears, are insenstive and would cause offense to a certain group.

6. Author expresses grave reservations to VN Editor. "Make the changes anyway," says VN Editor.

7. Author has hissy fit. Chews on a towel and yells at innocent mate.

8. Author goes above VN Editor's head to VN Editor's boss. Author explains disagreement and gives examples.

9. VN Editor emails Author and backs down on ALL changes.

10. Author fears that the (very large) publisher will never acquire another of Author's manuscripts.

11. Six months later, VN Editor is "let go." Manuscript is reassigned. Happily ever after? Or will Author be blackballed.


Marian Perera said...

I'd really like to know how effective the "just say no" school exercise was for the kiddies. Or whether it was effective at all, come to think of it.

But I love the quiz. "Pop quiz, writer. What do you do? What DO you do?"

Christine Tripp said...

Ditto the occasions when the marketing/sales folks pick the illustrator in the first place and there is nothing the editor or writer can really do.

MK, you have GOT to be kidding!!!!
This has happened? It's worse then I thought!:(
Funny how the term "Mass Market" evokes such a negative reaction, when almost everything these days could fall into that catagory, if it were left up to some sellers (not all, not ALL thank heaven!

Anonymous said...

Oh, Christine, I wish I was kidding ... and I think this happens more often than we think.

I bet that a lot of publishers have a little corral of illustrators to whom they'd like to give another project, based on previous sales. It doesn't matter if they're the "perfect" fit for the new material; they're good enough.

This route saves time (no scouring portfolios), pleases sales and marketing (who, let's face it, probably make life easier for everyone when they're catered to), and is relatively low risk.

It's just not always the most artful or visionary way to go. And it flies directly in the face of our fantasy of editors looking high and lo for the "perfect" illustrator.


SJ Stone said...

that was awesome!!!

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