Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Interpreting editorial letters

As an author, I get editorial letters; as an editor, I write them.
How do you handle them when you're the author? How do you want the author to handle them if you're the editor?

As the author, I usually ask for clarification if I don't understand something. If an editor suggests a change, I feel that I have to do something -- that I can't just leave whatever it was as it is. But even if the editor has made a suggestion, I usually feel that I can solve the problem my own way. If I really like the editor's solution, I'll use it; if I don't, I'll think of my own. I always do something.

But I've heard of authors who just leave things as they are!

As an editor, do you think the author has to fix what you've commented on, or is that optional? And what about how the author fixes it? Are you annoyed if she doesn't do what you suggest, but solves the problem her own way? And what would you do if an author (this happens to me as an editor sometimes) interpreted everything you said as praise and didn't want to change anything?

Not to be sexist, but this does happen to me more with male authors: I'll send a letter saying what I liked, and then suggesting changes, and the author responds,

"Oh, you liked it! Great!"

When I'm the editor, I'm in a different situation from most people reading these pages, I think -- I'm being paid by the author to get the ms. into publishable condition. So what I do in that case ("that case" being when I've sent a long letter and the author responds only to the praise) is get blunter -- painfully blunt, sometimes.

So you'd think I'd be good at reading editorial letters, but not always! When I'm the author, letters from an editor I don't know can be really hard to interpret, and I've gotten it wrong more than once. So, anything anyone has to say would be helpful....

Lastly, I'm talking here about books that are under contract. Alvina's post (was it called Rejection Letters 101) on submissions was hugely helpful. It's easy to misinterpret those letters, too.


Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Great post! Thank you.

The vast majority of the time, I cheerfully make some sort of change to accommodate an editor's suggestion. (I'm one of those writers who loves to revise.)

I'm under the impression that editors don't necessarily want me to "paint by numbers" and making another change sometimes shifts the whole anyway, so it's not always exactly what's suggested. But certainly I make every effort to get to the heart of the issue.

That said, I occasionally decline a suggestion if it's not in sync with, say, a cultural perspective. Often my Native American characters, for example, are coming from a different point of view than is assumed, even by our friends. So I need to stay true to that.

alvina said...

I never expect authors to accept all of my suggestions/changes. I do appreciate if for the bigger issues the authors explains why they disagree or didn't make a change. If I still feel strongly, I'll keep pushing, but generally I'm able to let it go if I understand the reasoning. And it never matters to me if the author accepts my suggestions or figures out his/her own way of solving the issue.

Generally our rule of thumb is that it's the author's work--it's their name on the book. If I feel strongly about something and they resist, I'll push three times, and then let it go.