Tip of the Week July 13

Tip of the Week: Future father-in-laws do not make good party planners.

Now at first glance this does not appear to be a writing tip. I appear to be about to ruminate on the difficulties of letting my future father-in-law plan the rehearsal dinner phase of my wedding. But first glances are decieving.

Just as my future father-in-law does not know enough about my wedding party to make all the ultimate decisions about my rehearsal dinner, your agent or editor or critique buddy ultimately does not know enough about your manuscript to make the final decisions concerning its form. Agents, editors, and critique buddies are there to guide you and to make suggestions. They are there to make your manuscript better than you dreamed possible. But in the end, the manuscript is yours. You are the one who has to decide whether or not to make the changes. I'm not saying to lightly disregard your critiquer's input, especially if it's an editor or agent. We are paid professionals, who contrary to popular belief, know what we are doing. The suggestions made are not for our entertainment or to see how many hoops an author will jump. But if you just do not agree with the direction being offered, you don't have to take it. It's a closely guarded secret, but the truth is, you can say no. You had better follow that no with a nice long explanation of why you feel this way, but you can say no. Your work is yours, and you should never let anyone change that.


Wendy said...

Hi! I have a question on who has the final say on editing changes...I just had a short story published in an anthology. I asked the editor what changes she had made to my story, and she provided 5 edits (isolated sentences), telling me that those were ALL of the changes she had made. I told her which changes I disagreed with, and why, and we reached consensus. Or so I thought. I just got the book in the mail. There were many more changes than the ones she'd mentioned. Before printing, I wanted to make sure the finished product was perfect (no typos or misunderstandings about the edits we'd discussed), so I also asked for the final formatted pages (mine only). She put me off, telling me the book was not yet done, and was being proofed. As time passed, I asked again, several times, and she didn't reply at all. The next thing I knew, TA DA! The book was finished, and I had no input on the other changes (some of which are awful).

My question is, how much power does the writer have to make sure that the final work is as he or she intended it?


The Buried Editor said...

Ultimately, it depends on your contract. Most read that the publisher has the right to edit the work to a publishable state, and that the author has the right to input during the editorial process. In the event of a disagreement, nearly every contract says that the publisher wins. This is purely because if a publisher has spent a small fortune getting a book edited and laid-out and then the author wants to remove every em dash or something, the publisher does not have to go to the expense of reformatting the book.

That being said, your post did set off one major red flare for me -- you never got to see a proof. It is not customary for an author not to see some kind of final layout. Publishers like authors to see them so they can find things like typos and the like. Even with copyeditors it's amazing what can be missed. It's also normally in the contract that the author is given the chance to proof a proof. I would check yours. Although, ultimately the press might still have done the edits you objected to, at least you would have had another opportunity to object.

This has gotten fairly long. If you would like to discuss this in more detail that would be more appropriate in a private setting, feel free to email me using the link on my profile page. I'll try to give you any advice I can. I can also give more specific examples of how my press(es) handles anthologies. I'm just running out of room here.