Monday 8 October 2012

Responding to editorial suggestion

It is a tough call: you have polished your manuscript as much as you can. You’ve shared it with a critique group and you’ve passed it around amongst beta readers. You’ve responded to suggestions. You’ve applied your own stringent editing process. You are too close to your script now to be able to see it clearly. And now the editor at the publishing house wants more changes. Sometimes this is before it is accepted and sometimes afterwards.
Publisher seem cruel sometimes
It probably seems incredibly cruel when an editor says “We’d be pleased to see your script again once you have addressed this issue but at this point we can make no guarantees.”
You might make all that effort. Your novel may still not be accepted. And it is after all only one opinion.      
However, most of the time the script will improve at this point. Once a major fault is corrected you may be able to see other problems more clearly as well. The amount of time this process gives you also allows you to gain some distance from your script.
What’s in it for the publisher
For the publisher, asking for a rewrite without a guarantee of publication serves two purposes:
It helps the editorial team see how well an unknown writer can respond to editorial comment.
It enables the editors to see whether there are faults beyond this more obvious one.
It happens to us all.
Case study 1
One well-known writer reported that she was told that the ending of her first novel was weak.  She strengthened that. Then there was a problem with the opening. She worked on that. Then, as you might expect, the middle was faulty. It’s probable that the improved ending made the opening look weak, which was then in turn improved leaving the middle still at an inferior quality.
Case study 2
I am also a published author. I was asked by one publishing company to add another story strand into a children’s novel. I completed this but then that publishing house stopped producing children’s fiction. Nevertheless, I then managed to find another publisher. It’s possible that the extra story strand helped.   
It’s probably not the most satisfying part of our writing lives, but we do need to embrace editorial work. The publisher is on the writer’s side. Both writer and publisher want every book to be the best it can be. It is sometimes actually quite difficult and we don’t always know immediately how to make the changes asked for. Yet if we are to be professional we need to take note of editorial commentary and act upon it. Often we have to find a third way: what we have produced isn’t yet right but what the editor suggests isn’t quite suitable either. What needs to be written is a text that is better than both suggestions.          

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