Friday, March 27, 2009

Editorial Demands

General notes: We've been receiving a lot of manuscripts from people about how the car industry failed (in their opinion) or from people who worked as investment bankers and want to talk about all of the wasteful spending they encountered. Not a huge surprise. The mortgage crisis we haven't seen so many books on, but I suppose that's not as interesting to write about, or is simply too complicated to write about except by an expert. And if the last few months have taught us anything, it's that nobody's an expert.

On the home front: I've still been focusing every spare second on revisions for my third book. I had an interesting conversation with my agent (the agent who represents my work, not my boss the agent) about editorial demands on behalf of the publisher and what is realistic, and it turns out that what I was asked to do is way out of the ballpark, but as the book was paid for and is slated for the fall release, I can't do anything but tear up my contract (which I can do, if we fail to reach an agreement on the content of the manuscript) and not get the third book published, so the editor has the advantage. Now I've known editors and spoken to editors and done some editing myself, but I've only been an author working with an editor no two previous books, and it difficult to be on the receiving end of comments that you just plain don't agree with and think would detract from the book.

What you should expect: Generally editors are supposed to tighten the manuscript (or ask you to add more material to clarify the plot), find inconsistencies, and discuss problematic scenes. Some editors do little or no revision because they're overworked and leave it to the copyeditor to find inconsistencies, and I have to say my copyeditor did a fabulous job on the previous book, and found a ton of stuff that was easy to correct (a line or two here and there).

What is not the norm: The editor is not supposed to ask you to dramatically rewrite the book. In theory, the editor buys the book because they like it, and the changes they suggest are to make the book better, but the essential nature of the book was already there when they bought it. Or if they bought multiple books at once (which would be my case), they either read them all when they bought them, or they at least read the chapter-by-chapter summation you provided them with before the contract was signed so they knew what they were getting, at least in theory. If an editor just buys a bunch of books because the first one was successful and doesn't look at the summaries and doesn't even bother to look at the book until two months after you delivered the manuscript but a week before it has to go to the copyeditor's, and discovers they hate the plot, both of you are in trouble. Even though it wasn't your fault as a writer, you're going to be the one to fix it or walk away from your contract and return your advance money. This happens on occasion in publishing, though it is rare. It is, however, a situation you never ever want to get into. If you are selling a multi-book series, my advice is to be absolutely sure the editor has signed off on careful summaries of all the books that haven't been written yet. There is an advange to editors buying books blindly - it means you're more likely to to get your first big break. But it has a disadvantage, too, which I've discovered over the past few weeks, as it's come down to my integrity as a writer versus my career as a writer. Trust me, it is not a good place to be.

24 comments:

Sasha said...

I'm so sorry, that sounds horrible.

Why is the editor forcing these particular plot changes? In what way do you think they detract from the book?

Does it seem like the editor doesn't "get" the book (maybe because s/he hasn't spent enough time on it?), and the changes come from misunderstanding? Do you think s/he's requiring these changes because the editor has a hole on his/her list that s/he was hoping your book could fill- before s/he realized what kind of book you'd actually written?

The Rejecter said...

I don't to get into specifics for anonymity reasons (and to not insult my editor publicly) but basically, the editor expected nothing but laughs like the first half of the first book, ignoring the trend towards darker material in the end of book 1 and all of book 2, and told me to take out all of the dramatic scenes and make them into humorous situations. So we have dueling opinions on the tone of the series, and ultimately, she wins or I don't get published.

Horserider said...

Wow that does sound horrible. So she wants you to write the book for what her vision of it is? Like a reader with high expectations for the next book in the series? They know what they want to happen if that doesn't then they don't like the book.

Sorry you have to go through that. Someday I'll be working with editors. Then I'll think back on this.

Janeal C. Falor said...

Ouch! Sorry to hear you have to deal with that. Hope something will work out for you. And thanks for passing on the info. Good things to look for in the future.

TheWriterStuff said...

This is not a minor change we're talking about but the writing of a completely new book. Do you make the changes so you can be published or do you take the high ground, not compromise your original story? This is especially difficult because they've already published your first book. Is it possible to continue the series with another publisher? Otherwise, I guess you have to see how changing the book makes you feel. It's quite possible the editor has a good idea.

Dave said...

Here's another scenario. You have a close relationship with an editor, who no longer even asks for detailed outlines of future books.

Then this editor leaves the house and you are assigned to a new editor. And the new editor doesn't get it.

It happened to me.

green_knight said...

Situations like this one are why an author needs an agent, huh? I'm sorry you have to go through this - it sounds like a difficult tightrope to walk.

(The question of how to develop the series is an interesting one; I can see arguments for both.)

David said...

Sorry for your troubles, but thanks for the raw look at the publishing world.

Anonymous said...

And therein lies the double standard of publishing. Writers are expected to accomadate editors who make odd/bizarre demands for rewrites, yet if a writer doesn't agree about the changes requested for THEIR OWN BOOK -- that THEIR name is going on, that THEY created, they have to cave or lose the contract all together.

The balance of power is simply not in a writer's favor, unless you are a bestseller. I long for the day when editors have to worry as much as writers do about not burning bridges.

I hope whatever decision you make gives you peace, and mostly I hope you are able to find an editor for your next books that is more in tune with your writing.

Gate Keeper said...

I definitely feel for you and understand your frustration. It sucks when someone can't see the forest for the trees has so much power over the outcome.

So I just want to be clear that the following isn't in response to your words (which are definitely within the bounds of fair complaint) but to those of Anon 10:49 (who, I felt, took it a step too far).

Why is it people consider publishing to be unlike any other business? Even the arts. Bestselling authors call the shots the same way big-name actors or models or artists do. Yes, your name is going on the book, but until that name is the thing that sells it rather than plot or premise or word-of-mouth, why should you get more accommodation than the editor whose 9-to-7-and-beyond job it is to know what's going to sell? Do editors get it wrong some of the time? Hell yeah. But their career is also on the line, and their company is taking all the monetary risk, so likely they're not asking for changes on a whim. It's a business, and they're going to do what they think is necessary to make money.

Frankly, as far as professional writing goes, book publishing gives more rights than most. I can't count the number of changes made to newspaper and magazine articles I've written that I didn't know about until I held the finished product; but that's what editors do, they edit, sometimes just to get the columns even. And screenwriters, well, it's not entirely unheard of for them to be barred from even visiting the set; they have next to zero say in whether or not the finished product will even resemble their work.

As for their ever being a day when editors are afraid to burn bridges with even midlist writers, I don't recommend anyone holds their breath. The well of author-hopefuls will never run dry, and lately has seemed to be growing exponentially. At least if my slush is any sign.

The Rejecter said...

I agree with Gatekeeper, in that most of the time in publishing, the editor and the writer are on the same page in terms of the book - wanting it to succeed - but don't always see it the same way. Usually these differences can be sorted out, because hey, the editor must like the book, they bought it in the first place, but occasionally you hit a real tight situation (such as mine) where the visions really don't match but the contract has already been signed, then you're in trouble. My editor really does believe in my career, and is a nice person, but it was her responsibility to read the summary before or immediately after contract signing so that she knows what she's getting well before the book is delivered. I guess she was so overworked for six months that she assumed everything would be fine, no time to read a 3 page summary, but things didn't turn out that way.

green ray said...

This is a really good discussion, though very difficult for you, Rejecter. I don't know what I would do. What does your agent say?

The Rejecter said...

green ray,

She said ultimately it was my decision, to walk away or to stay with the editor, and she would support me either way.

Anonymous said...

Reason number 134 why self-publishing isn't the worst way to go.

Elissa M said...

I don't suppose there's any middle ground? Maybe put some dark humor in it? I realize that might not be possible, but I'm wondering if you truly have no choice but to walk away or cave in completely. After all, you say there was humor in the first half of the first book.

I have no idea what I would do in such a situation myself. I tend to think if I couldn't find a solution that pleases both the editor and myself, I would walk away. But then I think, "It's just a book. Would it kill me to do what the editor wants?"

I don't envy your situation. I hope your decision is one you can live with.

Anonymous said...

GateKeeper -- (I'm Anon 10:49) :)

My original response was not to call out all editors, but the very specific situation that Rejecter finds her/himself in.

This is your quote: "...so likely they're not asking for changes on a whim..."

I agree with you, but in this situation, the changes ARE being asked for on a whim.

I'm sure the editor is nice and polite and loves books as we all do. But in this case it feels like the author is being cheated -- she did her part, wrote the summary and then the book -- it was the agent that let the contract go forward without bothering to read the summary.

Who is going to pay for this? The author.

From my perspective, your comparisions to other writing carrers is a moot point. Novel writing is not journalism or screenwriting. Screenwriters ideas are often generated in-house and then they are assigned to write them: they often have 3-5 writers, one after the other, doing mutliple drafts of a script (not all of the writers are listed). Individual journalism pieces still have to express the attitudes and nature of the publication (a left or right leaning political bend). And the writer knows this going in.

Novel writing is purer than either of those two mediums, and completely different, because it is supposed to be the vision of one person -- the author (with, to a far lesser extent, additional clarity provided by agents or editors or your best friend that reads a draft).

When that one person, the author, presents his/her vision for the book, the editor signs off on it, and then, after the fact says, "Oh, yeah, I don't like this, change all of it," -- I'm sorry, but that is wrong.

writtenwyrdd said...

That sounds very frustrating for you. I hope the editing goes well.

Caroline said...

There is an element of physical possibilities to this problem, as well- It's not just the differences of vision, it's the need to rewrite the thing under a gun.

Best of luck which ever way you go, Ms. R.

ms s. said...

rejecter-not so much the mortgage crisis, but i've had an experience with a poorly-built house I bought 2 years ago, and that's the book i'm trying to sell. a handful of agents have looked at it, and 2 have told me that they've tried to, and can't, sell "my housing crisis" stories to publishers, because they don't want 'em. the logic is that the whole country experienced housing crap, therefore no one wants to read about it.

Jeff Draper said...

I sympathize. On a much smaller scale, I've had an editor ask for just a few words to be changed/added to a story. Sounds minor but those few words changed what I was trying to do, changed everything in my opinion. But I did it and the story was published. In the final analysis a) it's just a story, b) the changes weren't that catastrophic, and c) I got paid.

Anonymous said...

All the writers sympathize with you. Sometimes I feel like an abused spouse, the kind that stays with the abuser instead of fleeing in the night, self-respect intact.

The situation described happened to me with an inexperienced agent. She knew, presumably, what was in my novel when she signed me up, but apparently thought she could get me to change practically every major aspect of it (or likely she hadn't read it as thoroughly in the first place as she should have). Rounds of revisions ensued, with latter ones asking for ever more mind-boggling changes, to wit: a new beginning, new ending, new time period, new climactic scene. She didn't want the book I had written at all; she wanted some vision of it that she thought would sell better. I've been an editor myself and understand that writing IS revision, but the unprofessionalism of asking for so many fundamental changes so late in the day blindsided me. By the end, I felt no love at all, and believe me, I'm not the kind who asks for much.

My own mss. was sent out with 90% of the changes my agent wanted, though not one that would have made her very happy (she did the email equivalent of screaming at me for not caving on this). I am pretty sure it will perish for lack of enthusiastic representation. YAY! Years of my life wasted.

Better luck on your own project!

Anonymous said...

You really need to break up your paras a little. Hard to read.

BuffySquirrel said...

Gotta be impressed by anon 10:49's insight into the thought processes of an editor they know nothing about.

Anonymous said...

The situation described happened to me with an inexperienced agent. She knew, presumably, what was in my novel when she signed me up, but apparently thought she could get me to change practically every major aspect of it (or likely she hadn't read it as thoroughly in the first place as she should have). Rounds of revisions ensued, with latter ones asking for ever more mind-boggling changes, to wit: a new beginning, new ending, new time period, new climactic scene. She didn't want the book I had written at all; she wanted some vision of it that she thought would sell better. -- Anon

What'll she demand next?
Bishie-sparkling Vampires?

Does "Editor" mean "I Wanna Write THIS Book, but I'm too lazy, so I'll just demand this author who just submitted do it for me"?

Or is this one of those "I'm An M.B.A. And..." situations JMS used to talk about re Babylon-5 vs the Network Suits?