Edits Happen

Edits happen. However, they occur to different degrees. I’ve submitted work that has needed no editing, not a single word, simply because the editor has announced it as perfect. Other times both sides have maintained a polite exterior while secretly tying on the fisticuffs.

There are various takes on this depending whom one speaks to. I’ve had one writer/editor say to me she’s had work appear under her name that little resembled the work she had created, but she sees this as the price to pay to get her name in print.

Let me introduce an adage: write what sells and maybe one day you’ll get to write what you want. This applies equally to editing as it does to finding a suitable market. How those edits happen can shock.

Having no edits can be as bad as too many. Edits include a thing known as ‘house-style’. Most publishers have one and they can affect sentence structure as much as punctuation, etc. It gives work by that publisher a ‘uniformed’ appearance. This makes sense to a degree. I’ve read some anthologies which left the writers’ individuality so open there was no coherent feeling to the publication. No matter how excellent the stories, the overall feeling can be shabby. Some writers have no grasp of punctuation or grammar; just because their work shines, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to learn, or shouldn’t have their work edited.

The problem with house-style is that if it’s too rigid, it can mean the publisher writes to formula, and the books it puts out risk all read like cloned copies of one another. It’s also frustrating for the writer to adhere to an unbending set of rules.

The biggest problem is many publishers will send out a contract, and the writer signs in all haste, delighted… until the edits arrive. Yes, MANY publishers will accept work without initially detailing required edits, and sometimes those edits can be extreme. They may want the writer to cut entire chapters or even remove a character or add another. I’ve nothing but respect for those publishers who detail these changes in a cover letter prior to the writer signing on the dotted line. Yes, they take a slight risk the writer will implement those changes and take the work elsewhere, but in reality the chances are if the writer decides not to sign it’s because they’ve disagreed completely; they will never use the suggestions made by the publisher.

Which is better? The risk the publisher might have improved a work that will be an immense success elsewhere, or they sign on a writer who decides they cannot work with the publisher ever again? Even if stuck in a contract, the writer may quietly or not so quietly give the publisher a bad name and still take back their work at the agreement’s end. Surely it’s preferable to be on good terms?

I’ve equally heard cases where a publisher negotiated with the writer over what they were ‘allowed’ to do in the editing process. I can’t speak for the whole publishing industry but in my experience I’ve discovered that many British publishers and/or smaller magazines don’t take stories and books with a view of putting them under a vast editing process. They either like a story and take ‘as is’ or they don’t take it. As small press is the starting background of many authors, a larger publisher dissecting their work can be a shock. Alas, the writer feels conned, and the publisher mistakenly believes the writer is arrogant. Neither is necessarily the case — it’s simply a lack of understanding and miscommunication. A writer wants to create. The publisher wants to sell. The publisher expects one thing, the writer another, and both can make many assumptions.

The editor should point out plot holes and weak areas, tidy punctuation and grammar. If the publisher is large enough, the work would finally go to line-editors and/or proof-readers who will more closely check for typos and similar errors. I believe it is preferable for both parties if they discuss any changes larger than these from the outset, but be aware this isn’t often the case.

Women’s magazines can be notorious for completely changing a story. They’ll take a work but the story that appears may differ in content, structure and style than the one the writer sent in. They regard this work as more commercial. The writer gets paid by accepting they are selling an idea more than their writing style.

Some publishers write to formula. This is especially prevalent in the romance industry. One well-known romance publisher I won’t name here would reportedly dictate which page the first kiss was to happen on. They, rightly or wrongly, believe they’ve worked out a pattern that sells and they stick to it. If it’s an erotic romance publisher, they may want a sex scene so many pages in. Some readers want more sex; some will want less. Whatever the genre, majority sells and, therefore, dictates.

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