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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Author Insight: Sold or Sell Out?

How much of a manuscript are you willing to change at the request of an agent or editor? Would you change it if it meant a certain distributor or book club wouldn't offer your book otherwise?

"Ah, the age-old question.  :-)  If I agreed with a change suggestion and felt it would improve the story in a meaningful way, I'm always game to change it.  If it's a change I don't agree with, I'll talk to my editor and explain my concern.  It's a difficult thing to balance – trying to keep your publisher happy while also maintaining the integrity of the work as you created it – but it's a natural part of being under contract." - Kay Cassidy, author of The Cinderella Society.

"I will change everything, if it still keeps the story the way I want it. There's a difference in writing and story. If it's a matter of writing--the tense, the voice, the POV--that doesn't matter. If it's a matter of story--the meat of what I'm trying to say, the moral or theme or idea--that's what can't change, at least not significantly. It's the story that makes the book, not the writing." - Beth Revis, author of Across the Universe.

"The art of editing is a talent separate from writing. As a first-time author, I felt it wise to defer to those with experience in the publishing business, and in the end, my agent and editor provided extensive and excellent feedback that resulted in a much tighter plot and a better novel. I’m willing, as a team, to make whatever changes are necessary to produce a salable book. As for editing to avoid rejection by book clubs or distributors, my answer is a qualified “no.” Obviously, I’d prefer for my novels to remain as true to my original vision as possible, but a writer who is unwilling to adjust to the sensibilities of a fickle marketplace is of little value to a publisher and typically dooms himself to a stubborn insignificance." - Ty Roth, author of So Shelly.

"The only thing I wouldn’t change in Dirty Little Secrets was the ending. The only thing I won’t change in my new paranormal series is the name of one of the main characters. Pretty much everything else is up for discussion." - Cynthia Omololu, author of Dirty Little Secrets.

"My first editorial letter for Bad Taste in Boys went something like this: “I love everything in the first third of the book. And then there’s the rest of it…” Of course, my lovely editor gave me plenty of info to help me understand why the beginning worked and why the middle and end didn’t, and ultimately those changes made the book 763% better. (I measured.) So I don’t have a problem with extensive changes so long as I feel like I’m a part of that decision and it’ll make for a better book." - Carrie Harris, author of Bad Taste in Boys.

"I'm willing to change a lot, as long as it's not someone saying- 'write it this way'. My agents and editor usually have suggestions or point out a problem. Then it's my job to fix it, to come up with a solution that works for me, as a storyteller and for them, trying to sell the story. As far as a distributor or book club? I don't know- it would depend on what it was. I wouldn't change anything that was integral to the story." - Maurissa Guibord, author of Warped.

"Probably. People talk a lot about artistic integrity, but I think there's something huge to be said for collaborating, especially if you're lucky enough to be working with people who understand you and whose visions you really respect. If my editor tells me to change something, I believe her. She's trying to make the book the best it can be and help it reach its intended audience, like I said above. Books need editors!" - Hannah Moskowitz, author of Invincible Summer.

"I would never submit a manuscript to an editor whose work I didn’t trust and respect, so I give every suggestion very careful consideration. I wind up accepting most editorial suggestions, and when I don’t, I tell the editor why. I did withdraw one manuscript from the publisher after it had been accepted, though. This was a nonfiction book on the Trail of Tears (the forced removal of the Cherokees to Oklahoma from the Southeast). The publisher said that I was too hard on Andrew Jackson, the president who ordered and enforced the removal, and said that he was just a man of his times. I pointed out lots of evidence to the contrary—the resistance in the Congress to the act, the many newspaper articles saying it was a barbarous thing to do, etc., and they insisted that I soften my portrayal of Jackson. I refused and said that I couldn’t work with them, and returned their advance. It was very, very hard to do—I hadn’t published much yet and every contract was precious (it still is), but I just couldn’t allow a book with my name on it to appear to condone genocide. I found another publisher and they did a great job with the book, and it’s still in print ten years later, which is a long time for nonfiction." - Tracy Barrett, author of King of Ithaka.

"I’m always appreciative of editorial suggestions that may result in a stronger, more resonant manuscript and give those my utmost consideration. If the requested change had a neutral effect and a business benefit, then I might weigh that as well. However, I wouldn’t do anything to weaken the book, and there are certain requests I’d reject outright. For example, I wouldn’t change a protagonist from, say, Native American to white because that would make a particular distributor more likely to pick it up." - Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of Blessed.

"I'm not sure I could quantify this in terms of percentage or number of words.  If the requested revisions resonated (ooo, alliterate much?) with me, I'd be willing to change quite a bit.  The end result is an amazing manuscript.  Sometimes, you need outside help to get it there.  As for distributors or book clubs, I feel like if what I wrote was that problematic for them, it's problematic for a damn good reason and probably needs to be said as is." - Gretchen McNeil, author of Possess.

"So far, I haven't disagreed with my editor on anything significant, and my editor has always been very open to my feedback. If I have strong feelings about one of her suggestions, we'll find ways to work around it so we're both happy. To change a book for sales purposes? It really depends on the book and the circumstance. Some books are more near and dear to my heart than others, and some ASPECTS of a book are more near and dear my heart. But a girl's gotta pay her bills, so it depends on how important the financial ramifications of being stubborn are, too." - Jaclyn Dolamore, author of Between the Sea and Sky.

"I have a lot of respect for the opinions of my editors, my agent, and the people who are in the business of selling books. There are things that go to the heart of the story that I can't or won't change, but that decision always comes from the gut. There's no way to describe what is the line that I will or won't cross." - Inara Scott, author of Delcroix Academy: The Candidates.

"Distribution doesn’t matter to me as much as what’s behind the cover. If the suggestion will make the manuscript stronger, then I’m all for the change." - Kim Harrington, author of Clarity. 

"I feel really fortunate that I started my career in journalism and now work in advertising, because it's given me a great perspective on revision. Basically, if it's not working for the audience, then it needs to change. I don't get too precious about my work. The vast majority of editing notes I've received have made my stories better. I would fight back if someone wanted to fundamentally change a character or story line I really believed in, but so far that hasn't happened." - Sara Bennett Wealer, author of Rival.

"I don't think it's a matter of how much I would change so much as what I would change. Because I could change a significant section of a book, like 40k words out of 90k, and that could be no problem. But then there could be one very important scene that I don't want to change and it's only that one scene." - Stacia Kane, author of City of Ghosts.

On Thursday the rest of the authors discuss how much they're willing to change to get a book published.
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