I did a Writing for Children morning with a class of 2nd year Professional Writing and Editing TAFE students last week. One of the things they were struggling with was the thought of being edited: how to deal with someone wanting to change your work; how to negotiate – and even wondering whether an editor’s suggestions affect your copyright (No, they don’t.)
I think the most important thing to remember is that the editor and the author want the same thing: the best book possible. Sometimes you’ll disagree about what that means, and the more you each care about the book, the more passionate the disagreement can be. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy this part of the process so much: it’s a dialogue, and it’s how a sudden surprising solution may be born. You’ll rarely get a chance to discuss your work with anyone who cares that much, so you might as well enjoy it.
I find there’s a psychological process, rather like the Kubler Ross stages of grief, when an editor asks for a major change: Denial “She can’t be serious! It’s perfect the way it is!”
Despair, “Maybe it’s not working, but there’s no way I can fix it.”
Acceptance, “I can’t see how to do it yet, but there’s going to be a way.”
And finally, “Ah, ha! This is exactly what needs to happen.”
Sometimes if an editor asks for major cuts or changes I copy the whole ms into a new document, so mine is still intact and I can try what she suggests without feeling I have to commit to it. Usually when I see it like that, I can see that most of what she’s suggested is right.
Of course you won’t agree with everything an editor suggests. Sometimes they will miss the point of what you meant; sometimes they’ll suggest a change that is contrary to what you mean. But even if their change isn’t right, it nearly always means that there’s something in that scene, paragraph or sentence isn’t working, and you need to look at it again.
And occasionally, an editor will simply have misread, or have a different opinion, and you’ll feel passionately that this is something you can’t change. So don’t. It’s your book, and your name on the cover.
I’ve been lucky over the years, and have worked with a variety of editors – and learned from all of them. We haven’t always seen eye to eye during the process, but the best editors are the ones who’ve challenged and pushed me to take this ms into the book I want and haven’t always known how to find.
Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio