Staying true to your book

Kate asked me to post this for her.

What would you do?

You’ve finished the book, asked a variety of test readers to give you feedback, and made changes based on their feedback. You love this book, its characters, and its message. You submit the manuscript, as requested, knowing that it will be assigned an editor. You wait and wait and finally the edits arrive in your inbox.

By page two you realize the editor has misread your book, viewing it through the lens of a belief system that is apparently at odds with your message. Of all the things you anticipated, this wasn’t one of them. Not only does the editor object to the way you’ve handled sensitive situations, he wants you to rewrite the book to bring it in line with his passionate viewpoint. It’s almost as if you’re bringing a Jewish perspective to situations, and now you’re expected to rewrite your book from a Catholic perspective. Yikes!

Okay, let’s make it even harder: You’re a brand new author and this is your first book. And you have no option to request another editor.

So, what would you do?

I won’t share all the curses, prayers, foot stomps, phone calls to friends, double-checks with test readers, and obsessive cleaning sprees, but you can imagine how my kitchen shone for the ten days of this editing ordeal!

Here’s what I did in response to the editor’s input:

To begin on a positive note, I separated the edits that were craft-related from those that were ideology-related. I looked at the merits of the craft-related edits and saw that most of them definitely improved the quality of the writing and the effectiveness of the book for my target audience. It felt good to see that in some ways the editor was on my side; I made those changes and took time to reflect on how the tips and techniques would benefit me as I moved forward in my writing career.

Buoyed by that little success, I moved on to the comments that arose from the tricky professional lens the editor wore when he picked up my book. Were any of the comments valid relative to my story? Very few, I thought. I decided to incorporate those few changes by working them into the character arcs of the hero and heroine the best I could. That done, I gave myself a pat on the back for staying true to my book and moved ahead.

Next, I looked at the really troublesome comments that did not fit with the nature or intent of my book. Ultimately I had to ask myself if my characters’ motivations were clear to my reader? How about the hero’s thinking and the heroine’s responses and the villain’s villainy? Did the editor misread them and judge them anathema because of his particular lens or because of my sloppy writing? Probably some of each, I decided.

I did a complete review of the book looking specifically at how I represented motivation through action and dialog. Also, where had I muddied the water or gotten preachy or danced around an issue or failed to connect the dots in a character’s arc? That analysis taught me a lot. I set about clarifying why my characters thought and behaved as they did, particularly in those sensitive situations that the editor dissed. And I made changes accordingly– not to embrace the editor’s view– but to clarify and improve my story.

That done, I adjusted things like the final word count of the manuscript (which had crept past the 80,000 word mark), scrolled through to be sure all the changes and comments had been addressed, spell-checked one more time, saved it, backed it up–twice– and sent it. And I sent a separate letter to the person who had originally bought my book and signed the contract with me; I won’t share that here.

And I love this book. Will my edits be accepted? Will my book be published? I don’t know.

I’m curious what other authors have done or would do in a similar situation. I hope you’ll share your comments.

 

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Staying true to your book

  1. I an very impressed with the way you handled this. As frustrating as the experience was, you ended up with a much better product. The editor seems to be very competent.

    The only thing I would have done different is, after those revisions, is to call the editor. I think a one-on-one discourse could have clarified things. You would, of course, mentioned everything you did and how much better the manuscript is because of that. Then, ask him to look at it again as the book you intended it to be.

    You approached this much more professionally than I would have.

  2. I’m wearing my editor hat here. Be warned, I am NOT defending the editor; I am supporting you.
    If this editor responded the way he/she did about obviously very important ideological things in your CONTRACTED novel, how and why was it contracted in the first place.
    By this I mean, this publishing house is bound by the contract as firmly as the author is. Why contract something that ultimately will be unacceptable to them?
    There is something very wrong with this picture. My thoughts are with you.
    Good luck
    kat henry doran

  3. I feel the need to expand on my comment from yesterday. please bear with me. I am again speaking as an editor who offers contracts for manuscripts I’ve read and like. And then follows through on the rules of the game to the best of my ability.
    That said, I do not–unless it’s a matter of someone’s life and death [as in my own]–pass the CONTRACTED manuscript off onto another editor without explaining why. I also inform the author. This second editor who trashed your manuscript [the ideological parts I mean] had no right to do what he/she did without advising the powers that be of his/her difficulties handling the manuscript. It’s okay to have differences. it’s okay to love a story another editor hates, loathes and despises. But that’s between editors–you shouldn’t have been made to suffer. I’m sorry you became a victim.
    If after accepting the manuscript from the one who first OFFERED and SIGNED the contract, editor #2 discovered they could not edit it fairly [and this is how it looks to me] he/she had the moral responsibility to report same not only to you but to their superior and have it reassigned to another.
    As bad as you are likely feeling right now [add in a few more emotions here] I feel you are lucky to have discovered an unscrupulous publisher early on, before your story [emphasis on YOUR] becomes a victim to an idiot editor.
    My advice: run as fast as you can from this organization.
    kathy cottrell

  4. Kate, Your commentary on the suggested changes to your story is really interesting–and rather scary. I’m very impressed with how thoroughly and professionally you handled the whole process. That’s painful, I know. I can’t wait to see how it all plays out. Kat had excellent remarks. I didn’t even think of that.

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