Some time ago I heard a woman tell a story about how she’d sent a manuscript to her publisher, and her editor sent her a 17-page, single-space revision letter. That would be a revision letter approximately 12 percent of the entire length of the manuscript. Hearing that made me happy, not for the first time, that I didn’t have a publishing contract.
However, self-pubbing is not for the faint of heart, as most of us attest to every day in these posts. The other day I got the revision letter from my freelance editor, a woman with many years’ experience editing romance at a big publishing house, and it was a winner, as far as I was concerned: only six pages for a 269-page manuscript. Not nearly the work of my fellow writer from the first paragraph.
I’m a retired editor myself. I know everybody needs an edit. I have no emotional attachment to my darlings. My favorite key on my keyboard is the delete key. When I ask someone to edit my work, I accept that their changes reflect their best effort to clarify and improve.
So I made all the small changes she asked me to make, many of which were “duh” moments, which increased my confidence in her skill. And then I started on the big changes. “Your character has been suspended from her job,” my editor wrote. “You can elevate her stakes by making her be fired altogether.” So true, I thought. How did I miss that?
I went to the page where that issue first appears, and, well, it’s not that simple. My book is light-hearted, and my character is in the CIA. Right now, to gain authority, she tells everyone she’s in the CIA, which, if she’s suspended, isn’t a lie. The book’s running gag is that no one ever believes her, to her immense annoyance.
If she’s fired from the CIA, though, she has not even the thinnest veneer of authority when she asks questions. And I lose the running gag. The stakes are higher, yes. Do I want higher stakes? Boosting the stakes makes the character’s goals—and the book—more serious. It deflates the humor I’ve worked to include.
I’m still thinking about whether or not to make that change, which surprises me somewhat. When somebody tells you there’s a problem, there’s a problem, even if you can’t see it at that moment. I accept that raising the stakes for my character would make her more appealing to some readers, who could identify with being fired and my character’s efforts to get her job back. I’m just not sure that higher stakes gets me the book I wanted, planned for, and worked toward—or that a different crowd of readers wouldn’t like just as much.
Have you ever ignored your editor’s advice? If you did, why did you? And how did that work out for you?