It’s only subjective! They don’t know everything! You have to stick to your guns! Over the years I have been privy to conversations wherein authors discuss/argue about editors. Likewise, I am often asked by aspiring or newly minted authors, ‘What should I do when an editor makes suggestions and I don’t agree with them?’
Sometimes there is a fine line between your judgement as the author and the comments/suggestions/insights of your editor. I won’t deny this is a tricky dance. I definitely won't be able to resolve this issue in one small blog post. But I will give it my best shot...
The first advice I would give is this: Listen to your inner voice. If you are reading the editor’s notes and internally you are arcing up, angry, exasperated, fit to burst with indignation, then you are probably not really reading the notes. Your ego is in charge. Your ego has slipped into defensive mode and, can I just say, no good will come of it.
After that first slap, after the initial shock that comes with an annotated manuscript, (‘but they said they LOVED my book now look at it!’) do nothing. Allow yourself to be indignant for a day or two. Chew it over, angst about it, whine to your poor, long-suffering partner or better still take several long, brisk walks. Then, LET IT GO. At least as best you can.
Now, with a clearer head, and some bandaids on your wounds, go back to the manuscript. Read the editor’s notes calmly with as little emotion as possible. Be systematic. First, tick the comments you agree with wholeheartedly. (I call these the ‘der comments’. The ones I cringe over and think ‘well, der, how did I not see that?’). Then, consider the other comments and work through those systematically as well. Make your own ‘in response’ margin notes. Maybe try some of the contentious suggestions ‘in the rough’. Another practical tip, do all this on hard copy, never on screen. Also, do this work in a gorgeous café, somewhere you feel happy and inspired and slightly removed from yourself. It can help clear the fog.
You will find that as you do your rewrite not all of the editor’s suggestions will remain relevant. A tweak here, a reveal there, will negate the need for changes further down the track. Likewise, a new scene might necessitate another new scene further on. This is where it can all get a bit muddled, this is also where you may find yourself resisting. After all, you’ve been working on this ‘thing’ for eternity, can you really summon the energy to crack it open and do even more work? Sadly, you may have to. That is what Authors do. All writing is rewriting.
Above all, please remember that your editor is on your side. Your editor wants the very best for your manuscript. She wants your book to shine, otherwise why would she put so much thought into her notes? Your editor also wants your book to sell and I hope you want that, too. In addition, your editor is your first real reader. She is certainly your most astute, attentive reader. She is being paid to do this, so she has to treat it seriously. If you are new to all this, think of it this way—you now have an editor, an advocate, a guide, a professional word angel. What a blessing! Be gracious.
A very dear author friend of mine, a man I respect without reservation, once said, ‘When my editor speaks, I listen very, very carefully.’ I think that sums it up beautifully.
Listen. Then take a deep breath and sharpen your pencils. The real work is only just beginning...