by Raelene Gorlinsky
This is a follow-on to the previous post, Do It Right. Specifically, the issue of having an editor or agent ask you as author to make revisions to a story before they will consider buying it—and with no commitment they will buy it even if revised. One of the things I listed is that "Penny" got such a revision request on her path to successfully selling her book.
So how did Penny handle the revision letter? To start, she understood that there was no guarantee that making the requested changes would get the book sold. He might still not like it enough to accept it. But it was another opportunity. So she evaluated the suggestions and responded to each one.
- Make the story darker. “I can do that. Here are my ideas for how…”
- Change a specific element, with a suggestion on how to alter it. “Yes, no problem.”
- Rewrite the story in first person POV (it was in third). Wow, both of them realized that’s a major effort and would take a lot of time, plus could significantly alter the tone and style of the story. “I hadn’t thought of this and am not sure it will work for my story, but upon consideration I understand why you feel it might make the story stronger. I will rewrite the first three chapters into first person and send that to you for review. If you like it and are then willing to accept the book, I will revise the whole thing into first person.”
Discussing suggested changes or negotiating how to do revisions is perfectly fine. You as author need to understand the editor's or agent's reasons, what they are looking for, why they think these changes will make your story stronger and more marketable. Of course, the editor's or agent's willingness to go through discussions and reviews will depend on how much they really want this story, how much they love it. If they think it has "potential" but is borderline or iffy, they are less likely to want to put additional time into it.
And do be sensible about how you word that discussion. Never, ever react with the "you're destroying my writing style, you're killing my baby!" attitude. You should have some faith in this person's understanding of the business and their advice, or else why did you submit to them? So seriously consider their advice as a way for you to learn and improve. Have a professional and calm discussion based on your mutual goal of making this story the best it can be. State up front that you want to be sure you understand so you can do it right. If you seriously object to any of the suggested changes, explain why and then listen to the other side.
If you find yourself dealing with an editor or agent who refuses to discuss or explain, who takes a "my way or the highway" attitude (I've never run into one, but a few authors state such experiences), then you may want to rethink trying to sell your book to this person. Do you really want to deal with that attitude for the whole editing process of this book and any future books? Perhaps you'd do better to just politely state that you don't think you and the editor/agent have a shared vision for this book and so it might be better if you don't work together on it, and perhaps you'll have some future submission that meets their needs.This revision process displayed Penny as a smart and business-like author who could communicate and cooperate. That's the type of author an editor or agent wants to work with.