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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Author Insight: Altering the Words

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?

"I’ve been lucky enough to work with some incredibly talented and thoughtful editors. When they suggest changes, they always show me how they are in service to the story. I think it’s not even a question about changes, it’s a question of surrounding yourself with people who want to see you and your book succeed. That kind of trust allows me to be flexible, because I know no one is going to ask me to compromise my writing." - Lauren Morrill, author of Meant to Be.

"Oh, I’ll change quite a lot, if I see that editors’ suggestions make sense, which mostly they do. My two most recent novels were pretty much rewritten, at least twice each, after editorial consultation. I probably wouldn’t do it at the behest of the book club, though. It wouldn’t make so much of a difference to my incomings that it would be worth my time and effort." - Margo Lanagan, author of The Brides of Rollrock Island

"I firmly believe the people working with me and on my book are smarter than I am. I am willing to change anything that doesn’t make me go 'Wait, this isn’t what I’m trying to do.' Luckily I’ve never been in a situation where major story or character points have had to change. As far as if the changes would mean the difference between higher distributions or not, I’ve never heard of that happening. I’ve heard of it happening with covers." - Dan Krokos, author of False Memory

"As long as you're working with an agent or editor who understands the story you're trying to tell, you should be willing to change everything—except that story. One benefit of having written articles and such for almost 25 years is that I can separate the words on the page from the words in my head and heart. I will change what's on the page until my story takes readers on the emotional and intellectual journey I'm intending. That is where editors and agents and other trusted readers are vital. My novel, for example, is on one level about how hard it is to have the courage to do the right thing. It is not about the awesomeness of kissing (although there is one awesome kiss). So if my editor had said, 'I want your book to have more tongue because really good kissing has a bit of tongue,' then it would be clear he was looking for a different kind of story. I teach writing and read lots of manuscripts, and I think what holds most people back is not being willing to change the story enough to make it reach the reader in all the right ways." - Martha Brockenbrough, author of Devine Intervention

"Now that I have two books out and two on the way, I think the larger sense of this question is moot: I have an established set of works/style and no one wants to change that to something that doesn't sound like me. That said, I think the best writing as about collaboration, and if you're not willing to collaborate and take direction then possibly publishing is not the field for you. I trust my agent. If she says something needs tweaking or revising, she's usually right. I trust my editors the same way. This doesn't mean that I don't stomp my foot sometimes and pull at my hair. But everyone's best interest is served by making the story the best it can be. Beyond that, it gets a little trickier: Would I take out certain words so a book could be picked up by a book club? Maybe. Depends on the story and words. Ultimately, though, it's my story. And my choices are the final ones." - Joy Peble, author of Anastasia Forever

"From zero to everything.  It really depends on the manuscript and whether the editorial feedback will make the manuscript better." - Greg Leitich Smith, author of Chronal Engine

"Everything I agree with, and everything I don't mind changing. The few suggestions I disagree with, I do my best to figure out the underlying problems, and come up with solutions I'm excited about. As for changing my book for a distributor or book club -- that's so situation-specific. It totally depends on what they're asking me to change, and whether I feel it would affect the integrity of my story." - Kirsten Hubbard, author of Wanderlove.

"I would do whatever an editor or agent told me to, really. They're the experts. I know some people would argue about this but I'm not one of those writers who is like, 'it is my art, my vision, and it must be preserved!' Authors who think that need to get over themselves. To me, it's a product. This is a business, and editors and agents know better than I do what sells. And the publisher bought it and so I will do my best to make it to their liking. I completely re-wrote Sleepless at the urging of my editor, and although I was a little bitter at the time, looking back, she was totally right." - Cyn Balog, author of Touched

"I am willing to change the whole thing if I agree with the feedback. Sometimes I cannot see the forest for the trees with my own work, and I respect the opinions of my agent and editors. With respect to the second question, I actually encountered this problem with No Safety in Numbers. The Advance Review Copy contains a great deal more swear words and words of a more offensive quality than the book does as published. I took them out because I didn’t want the book to be rejected out-of-hand by a book fair or kept out of a library because it contained, for example, the f-word. The f-word, while fabulous, is not what the book is about. In the end, I am happy that I deleted them." - Dayna Lorentz, author of No Safety in Numbers

"Trust is everything. My primary editor these days is Liz Szabla, at Feiwel & Friends, and I feel blessed to have her. She’s perceptive and cares so much – about the work, about books, and about me. So I listen to her comments with an open mind and an open heart. But I don’t agree with every word. We discuss things, bat ideas back and forth, and then I’m free to reach my own conclusions. To answer the second question, yes, I would likely be willing to make changes if it would help the book reach a wider readership. I’m not in a position to turn my back on income." - James Preller, author of Before You Go

"Depending upon what the change was, yes, I’m willing to change my manuscript. I trust my agent and editor and know we will always work together for the benefit of the story." - Katie McGarry, author of Pushing the Limits

"I am willing to change superficial things, such as a swear word, as long as the heart of the story is left intact. Reaching readers is important to me, so if a change means that my book would be in more readers’ hands I’ll consider it." - Sarah Tregay, author of Love and Leftovers

"We make changes at the request of our editors quite often, mostly because we’ve learned that the changes generally benefit the book. No writer is an island and sometimes it takes an experienced outside voice to help us see the error of our ways. Having said that, we certainly don’t take every single note. We choose our battles. We have fought to keep certain characters, story arcs and elements in our books. In the case of From What I Remember, there was a question as to whether we should have so many narrative voices. We felt strongly in favor of it and ultimately convinced the editorial team to allow us to tell the story with all five narrators. Happily, we haven’t encountered any issues so far from a distributor or book club, but should we, in the future, we would take their concerns seriously and attempt to find some kind of middle ground without compromising the integrity of the book." - Stacy Kramer & Valerie Thomas, co-authors of From What I Remember

Come back Thursday to learn how much of a manuscript the rest of the authors are willing to change!
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