Up until now the editing process has been pretty sweet. I felt it was a collaboration, my editors making recommendations based on their experience and their reading of what’s best for my story. You need someone to point out your blind spots, you know? Keep you honest. And it was going well.
And then 17 May happened.
Houston, we have a problem. During my regular proofread edit I came upon a ‘suggested’ change that I did not agree with at all, not in the slightest. I felt it was arbitrary, with nothing behind it but the editor’s preference. To make it worse, that edit changed a foundational element of my story, a main character’s reason for a decision he made 10 years prior to the story, that directly led to the story taking place. It was like deciding that Bruce Wayne’s parents weren’t killed by a robber, they were just inconvenienced by a kindly panhandling hobo.
I fixed the suggested edit as best I could, without changing the tentpole premise of the entire story, and sent it back with the rest of the proofread edits.
On 17 May my manuscript came back. There was a ‘plot change comment that was not addressed.’
Well… I addressed it, I just didn’t gut my story to suit someone’s whim. To make matters worse, I got that email after a 16-hour day working the job that pays my mortgage. The phrase ‘did not take it well’ would be something my neighbors might say if you asked them.
Now I was in a dilly of a pickle.* Up until this very last minute, all my publisher’s suggested edits made my manuscript stronger. This one made it much weaker. I really, really, really disagreed with their suggestion. What could I do?
There is very specific language in my contract that states if the author (me) refuses to make edits the publisher deems necessary, the publisher has every right not to publish my novel. To pull the plug and never look back. This is my debut novel, I can’t make waves, I can’t stand up and fight, I can’t adamantly refuse to change a very, very basic story element. I have to surrender. I have to be someone else’s bitch, or I won’t see my name on that nifty cover.
So I made the change. 23 words out of 83,204. I tried to face down the playground bully and ended up stumbling home bruised and shoeless, with my mouth full of sand.
Am I overstating this? Possibly. Am I concerned that this edit changes my story for the worse? Absolutely. Am I right now stabbing voodoo dolls of editors I’ve never met in person? No comment.
I don’t think I’m being a touchy author here. Sincerely. I took the notes they gave me, I made the changes they suggested, I engaged in the process fully. I played well with others. Until the very last day, when they wanted a major change that made the story weaker.
No, I’m not going to tell you what that change was. When my novel is published, you tell me what the weakest part of the story is. If it’s the change I’m talking about here, I will definitely let you know.