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Thursday, July 19, 2012

More 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?

"It depends on how much sense I think the request makes! There's an old saying: 'If someone tells you something is wrong with your book, they're probably right. If they tell you how to fix it, they're probably wrong.' So if my agent or editor tells me something isn't working, I take an extra look at it, but I only change something if it still works for me. And God no -- I would never change a story that works just to fit some distributor or book club's preferences! I was told a year ago that a British publisher thought I Hunt Killers was too intense and asked if I would tone it down. I refused and just figured I wouldn't be published in the UK. But a few months later, another publisher stepped up and took the book as-is. So, no." - Barry Lyga, author of I Hunt Killers

"I would change a lot. I was an editor before I was a writer and I believe in the scope and vision of editors and agents. One can get very tunnelly as a writer, and I think it cannot possibly be a bad thing to have someone pull back and see the big picture." - Huntley Fitzpatrick, author of My Life Next Door

"I make any changes that I feel strengthen the story. If a requested change runs counter to what the characters would authentically do, or to my vision for the story, then I stand my ground. But my editor is amazing, her vision lines up with mine, and there have been very few suggestions that haven't resonated with me." - C.J. Redwine, author of Defiance.

"My editor, Random House Children’s Books, prides themselves on preserving first amendment rights and not exercising censorship. So they’d never suggest that. Same with my agent. I’m free to write what I want, which is the way it should be. Funny thing though, my book is a ‘clean read.’ It just came out that way." - Lissa Price, author of Starters. 

"Wait, you mean I have a choice?  I thought those six page revision letters my editors keep sending me meant I had to make the changes.  Seriously though—I change a lot. I imagine all authors do. I had to change a sentence in one book that made fun of Disney’s Snow White dress. I said it looked like she was wearing a megaphone around her neck.  My editor told me not to tick off Disney. She was probably right about that. In another book, I had a scene where a snake got loose on a TV set. An author that had been given the book to blurb wouldn’t blurb it because the snake was never found. She said it was irresponsible of my character to lose the snake, and it would certainly die.  My editor asked me to rewrite the scene so the snake was found.  I wanted to put a disclaimer in the front of the book instead that read: No animals were harmed during the writing of this novel, but my editor wouldn’t go for it. I had to change the scene.

That said, there have been times I’ve put my foot down. In the end, you’ve got to be proud of what you’ve written." - Janette Rallison (AKA C.J. Hill), author of Erasing Time

"Hmmm. Hard question. I really, truly believe in maintaining the integrity in my books—if I don’t love the book, then I have a hard time believing that readers will, too. BUT I’m always open to suggestions from my editor and agent, however massive they might be. And even if I’m initially opposed to the ideas, I *always* give myself a day or two (or a week) to mull over those suggestions. Usually, their ideas are truly brilliant and I’m more than happy to change things (no matter how much changing it requires) as long as I feel like I’m truly making the book better." - Sarah Maas, author of Throne of Glass

"I try to stay really open to what my editor and agent have to say in terms of what best serves the story and characters. I also trust them a great deal, so I can't imagine them ever asking me to betray the integrity of a story for marketing reasons." - Leigh Bardugo, author of Shadow and Bone

"I’d change a fair amount, unless it alters the fundamental core of the story. I walked away from my very first book deal because the editor wanted me to make a change that I felt sapped the story of what made it unique. It was a big book deal, too. Sigh. Making that call sucked, and meant I had to wait another two years to be a published author (with a different book). That original book is coming out next year though, with an editor who believed in the same things I did."  - Kevin Emerson, author of The Lost Code

"I am willing to change anything that I believe will improve the story while staying true to the heart of it at the same time. I trust my agent and my editor very much, so it's not a hard thing for me.  As for a distributor or book club, I've never heard of that and I imagine by the time they've seen it it's too late anyway, so probably not in that case." - Jessi Kirby, author of In Honor

"The question isn’t how much, but whether the changes are still true to the story that I’m telling. I can, and have, made big changes, as long as they retained the underlying theme and voice of the book. Those are the crucial parts. Also, I would not want to make an unethical change, like whitewashing a character." - Jennifer Hubbard, author of Try Not to Breathe.

"I’ve been very open to feedback from my editor. After all, my editor is David Levithan, so who I am to argue with him on writing! I’m willing to make changes if there’s a legitimate reason. When I wrote my first novel, The Lonely Hearts Club, I originally didn’t give my main character a cell phone for a specific reason. It drove my agent crazy as most teens have cell phones. But I wouldn’t budge. Then David mentioned that the character needed to hear from her ex-boyfriend every once in awhile, so either I had to get her to a computer or have the ex text her. So then it made sense to have my character have a cell phone. I believe my agent’s response was, 'Oh, so David tells you to put a cell phone in and you do it!' While true, there was a valid reason for her to have one." - Elizabeth Eulberg, author of Take a Bow.

"If the changes make sense to me, I'll make them. Before my agent or editor sees a manuscript, it's already been read by my mom and beta readers, who all make suggestions, and I generally take their advice. That’s the only time I’ll adjust my content—if it makes sense for the story." - Cara Lynn Shultz, author of Spellcaster

Find out the authors' biggest pet peeves in fiction writing on Tuesday!

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