Monday, May 28, 2012

28. How to deal gracefully with editorial suggestions

First, a disclaimer: I love editors. My first book editor not only improved my writing,  she became one of my best friends and still is. Editors have a hard job, and it has become much harder as the publishing business has changed. In fact, very few editors even have time to edit anymore.

Still, it is always difficult to accept editorial suggestions even when they are spot-on. When I wrote Pandora’s Children, my idea was to tell the whole story, including what had happened before the first book, Pandora’s Genes. So I wrote this very long, very intricately plotted story, switching back and forth not only among the different characters in the present, but also in the past.

When I turned it in my editor hated it.

She told me to take out all of the scenes from the past.

After fuming and feeling certain that I wasn’t really a writer for a few days, I did most of what she asked, though I did still include a few of the scenes that I felt were important.

I haven’t been writing books lately (except for the third book in the Pandora’s series), but I recently sold an erotic short story to a new anthology. My editor loves the story. She wanted very few changes. She did ask me to remove a particular paragraph, saying that it didn’t really add anything to the story.

But that is my favorite paragraph in the whole story! I wanted to say. The story is about an older woman who finds she has become invisible to men. She is thinking about her prospects while listening to a mockingbird. Here is the paragraph:

I stand in the patio breathing deeply as the sun drops toward the pink stucco wall behind the restaurant. Atop a light pole a mockingbird runs through his repertoire.mocker head-on crop 2-27-2004 8-23-54 PM 805x850 Ornithologists have found that mockingbirds sing to establish territory and to attract a mate. If a male fails to find a mate, he doesn’t give up. He keeps singing, day and night, until breeding season is over. I try not to feel sorry for myself. It’s natural, I tell myself. Younger women are prettier.

I liked the paragraph because I felt it added a certain poignancy to the story, plus, I adore mockingbirds. I considered arguing with my editor, but instead I cut all but the first two lines. She knows what she wants. And the truth is, she bought my story. It’s no longer mine.

But as it turns out, I’ve gotten to use the paragraph after all.

Tomorrow: the future of this blog.


  1. Writers need the equivalent of the "Alan Smithee" pseudonym that directors use when they want to disown a movie. Maybe put in "Q" as a middle initial to indicate that the final product has been altered beyond recognition.

  2. Usually I didn't find out till it was already done. That happened to me once on a Ladies Home Journal piece, and I had to call up all the people I'd interviewed and apologize. :-(