What does a working relationship between a writer and an editor look like? Author and HNE client, Jessie Clever and I have known each other for more than ten years. So in our case, it looks a little snarky.
Welcome to Letters to My Editor. She writes to me one week on her blog. I reply the next on mine. Mayhem just might ensue.
Books and babies: two things that bring out the best and worst unsolicited advice. Expectant parents, like unpublished writers, are especially tantalizing targets for the expertise of every other parent, or writer, in the world.
Before I address your question, I consider the plight of the adviser. Most of us have at some time or other felt socially obligated to offer a piece of wisdom to a colleague or friend. My own exceedingly generalized and unoriginal piece of unsolicited advice for the world of the written word is this: we could all benefit from approaching a writer’s manuscript as though it were the writer’s living, breathing offspring.
It’s not a huge leap, really. A manuscript is the creation and responsibility of the writer in whom he/she has invested a significant amount of time, energy, and love. So, for example, when I’m asked to comment on someone’s work, I try to think of myself as this manuscript-child’s teacher sitting down for a conference with the parent-writer. Yes, I need to be open and honest about the young’un’s progress and behavior, but I should never dismiss or usurp the vital and unique relationship between story and author. Thought and talk (in that order) about an author’s manuscript should be as considerate as if it were about their kid.
Now on to your question and the receiving end of advice:
When do you dare to break the mold as a writer and when do you not?
Again, I find the parallel in the world of parenting. Clear rules do exist, like using a car seat or preventing your infant from chewing on electrical cords, but there are other areas that require individual discernment, like when your baby will first try ice cream or what toys you choose to introduce to your child. Lots of opinions are out there, but only you, the author/parent, should ultimately decide when to break the mold. How do you figure that out? Look at your work as a baby and consider the questions below. With your answers, hopefully you’ll be able to carefully choose which points to concede and on which proverbial hills you’re willing to make a last stand.
- What’s your goal for your manuscript? (To be true to itself no matter what, to be published, or to sell well are all valid answers.)
- Where’s the balance between this particular story’s individuality and the best chance it has of being read?
- Who are you as the guardian of this story? What are your values/principles?
Raising your manuscript will require both protecting it from harm and letting its sweet baby knees get scuffed. What works for one author might not for another, and what proves to be a death knoll for one manuscript could be the elixir of life for the next.
Be sure to subscribe to Jessie’s blog at Romancing a Blog to get her next letter!