Handling the Editorial Process
Many of you are working on your first contracted book. (Yeah!) Prior to your publishing deal, you may have been through countless edits and revisions of your book (or books). But you’ve never had to do it under deadline, and you’ve never done it with the input of your own publishing house editor. So this is something new, and I thought I’d address it a little more fully than I have before.
I explained the editorial process in this post. Beyond the basics explained there, I wanted to talk about the emotional aspect. As a writer, you obviously care deeply about your words and you’ve tried to get them just right. So your first encounter with an editor might be a little daunting. When they send you pages and pages of notes for revisions, you might be overwhelmed, depressed, and demoralized. Take heart… this is normal.
As a new author, the best approach is to enter the editorial process with a humble and teachable spirit. Okay, not the advice you wanted, I know. But just remember that this editing process is your best chance to learn more than you ever have about improving your writing.
One of the questions writers ask me is: How do you tactfully interact with your editor when there are differences of opinion about the revision process? In other words, your editor is requesting changes with which you disagree. The answer may vary depending on who you are, i.e. if you’re a bestselling author versus a first-timer and a risk for the publishing house. One guess as to who has more leverage?
My advice is, in a situation where you don’t understand the editorial request or you disagree with it, ask a lot of questions of your editor. Try to get their perspective. Get them to explain their reasoning, and keep your mind open, considering the possibility that they may be right. If you feel the need, gently explain your side. But realize you may not understand what they’re saying until you actually do what they say. Most times, authors end up agreeing that the changes improved the book. In any case, once again the key is communication. Be courteous in your disagreement and try to negotiate a win-win with your editor.
You are always going to hear a few random stories from authors who feel an editor ruined their book, totally didn’t get it, etc. Take my word for it, that scenario is not the norm.
Now sometimes an author deeply, seriously disagrees with certain changes an editor requests. And sometimes, the editor has strong reasons, and they won’t back down. In this situation, you have to decide if this is a hill you want to die on. In the last six years, I’ve been involved in two cases where the author so strenuously disagreed with the editorial changes that the author and publisher agreed to cancel the contract. And yes, the author paid back the advance. So, consider how important it is that you get your way in the editorial process. Are you willing to give up the contract for it?
Two years ago, I wrote this post (on another blog) from the editor’s perspective: Red Pen Blues. Hope it helps you to see that everyone has the same goal in mind: The very best book possible from you! And by the way, the book I wrote about in that post was none other than Camy Tang’s Sushi For One?… which took first place in the Debut Author category, and second place in the Lits category, at last week’s ACFW Book of the Year Awards. Ten pages of editorial notes obviously didn’t mean the book wasn’t great to begin with!
Send me any more questions you have about the publisher editorial process, or share stories about your experience in this.
Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.