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How to Disagree With Your Editor

Atlin Merrick Publishing Reference

By Atlin Merrick

How to Disagree With Your Editor by Atlin Merrick

We don't start off knowing this stuff.

When my first books were published I knew nothing about anything. Do I have to make every change the editor asks for? Can they do it if I don't agree? Will they hate me if I disagree?

No, no, and no.

Edits to Your Beloved Manuscript

Every writer is edited. All of us.

Oh sure, maybe not the famous ones, but you've read a later work of a superstar, the stuff no editor touches because the writer's too powerful? Yeah, well then you've seen how those books too often needed help they didn't get.

Let's hope that if we ever hit the bestseller list, we don't suddenly lose sight of the fact that all of us need another set of professional eyes on our work.

Why?

Because good editors make a book even better.

There are bad editors, sure, but most who do this for a living don't want to rewrite your book, we don't want it to sound like us, we want to make it as good as it can be, clear and powerful.

Okay, That's Good; So I Can Disagree With My Editor?

Yes, yes, and yes.

You're always welcome to disagree that a change is for the better, but we'll ask you why. No editor wants an unhappy writer, but good editors change things for clarity, readability, to help the story flow. We want your voice to be as strong as possible and that's why we make edits.

For example, a lot of writers start their stories too early, including long chapters of set up. I once asked a writer – who had eight published novels – to remove their book's first three chapters and weave that information into the story later, because the fourth chapter was where the story started.

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That writer agreed, but had they not, we'd have talked about it. Your book will never be changed against your will. You own it, it's yours, if we reached an impasse you always have the option to take your work to another publisher – the original manuscript, not the one we worked on together. The goal is always for us both to be happy.

So yes you can disagree, but do so with good reasons and politely.

We expect writers to feel strongly about their work, we also expect them to understand their book has now become a collaboration. Your publisher has to be happy with the final book, just like you do.

So agree, disagree, but understand we're working on this together now, so let's do our best to hear one another.

That way we'll make something great.

Atlin Merrick is commissioning editor for Improbable Press. She's also a writer and loves edits that make a story better. First she hyperventilates though. Later she loves.

Want another viewpoint on this? Have a look at Katie Chambers thoughts on having your MS edited.


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  • Atlin Merrick on

    What you’ve said Narrelle, yes, that. Especially about expert knowledge. Sometimes we as writers forget what other people don’t know and good editors help us share our super-smarts more clearly! :p

  • Narrelle HARRIS on

    This is 100% absolutely spot on. As a writer, I’ve been edited and the edits have always, ALWAYS, made my book better – by smoothing out some clumsy sentences, pointing out continuity errors or clarifying things which it turns out I hadn’t actually explained or explained poorly!

    I’ve also been an editor, most recently of an anthology, and even the award-winning authors required some tweaks and suggestions for clarity, continuity and the theme of the book. Each and every one was gracious, thoughtful and happy to discuss points where they disagreed with me (usually on points of expert knowledge – so we would generally work out how to clarify the text to make it clearer to non-experts!)

    I try to be the kind of editor I like to have – open, communicative, respectful, but clear and professional on the changes the story needs to be the best it can be.


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