There’s nothing quite like that moment when you get a manuscript critique back from your editor. Nothing quite like that rush of exhilaration mixed with apprehension … or possibly abject terror. What will the editor say? How much will you have to go back and change?
If you’re new to the process, you might expect the following:
1. The editor loves something you did and wants you to keep it the way it is. Validation! Hooray! Whatever the editor approves of—your characterization, your structure, your word choices—it’s one less thing to worry about as you focus on the areas that didn’t work as well.
2. The editor doesn’t like some element of your writing and shows you how to improve it. Obviously, this is a lot less fun to hear. You may be disappointed in yourself for not having gotten it right to begin with. You’re probably frustrated about the amount of time and effort it will take to fix the problem. Still, the whole point of hiring an editor was to make the book better, and now you know how to do that.
But there’s a third option you may not have considered:
3. The editor makes a suggestion you don’t agree with. At all.
It happens. In fact, it’s unusual for a writer to agree with each and every suggestion the editor makes. Don’t freak out. No, really, don’t freak out. Deep breaths. It’s going to be okay.
The first thing to do when you find yourself face-to-face with questionable advice is … nothing. Don’t argue with the editor. Don’t plunge in and do what the editor tells you, either. Just let the critique sit for two or three days.
Once the initial shock has passed, you’re ready for the second step: trying to figure out why you disagree. A tip from acclaimed fantasy author Neil Gaiman will serve you well here.
When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
Say your story centers around a love triangle, and your editor objects to its resolution. Mark would never choose sincere-but-boring Laurie (your editor argues)—he’d lose interest in her within a week. It’s more realistic for him to run off with Danielle, the dangerously unpredictable Alaskan bush pilot. If you still don’t agree after a few days, go back and puzzle out what the editor is reacting to. Maybe you failed to show Laurie’s more enticing qualities. Maybe Mark’s character growth, which enables him to stop running from healthy relationships, isn’t as apparent to readers as you think. The solution: instead of changing the ending, tweak previous passages so that the ending makes more sense.
Take heart. You survived writing a whole book; you’ll survive the critique. Just remember that it’s possible to take an editor’s advice seriously without sacrificing your vision.