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.
Sometimes an author’s point can get sacrificed at the expense of marketability. In my humble opinion, this is almost always a bad thing. The author’s intent breathes passion and energy into a plot. It drives action and fuels conflict. Removing it is practically an amputation.
Keep in mind that it is possible for a certain story to be the wrong vehicle for an author’s point, but the loss of message is far more likely due to a lack in one of two areas: knowledge or communication.
Knowledge is power, right? Or at least, your greatest ally. Know your intent. Granted, awareness might not come until after you’ve written the darn thing, but be open and honest with yourself about what you’re writing. Is it personal? Is it meant to speak to a certain situation or audience? Take some time to write your point down as its own separate blurb. Make it clear, concise, and genuine. Boil it down to its essence until you could rattle off the gist to anyone. Keep it on a sticky note next to your keyboard. Tattoo it on the backs of your hands if you must (probably not the best advice I’ve given). Knowing your intent is your first and most important line of defense against unnecessary sacrifice. That sticky-note blurb will guide you when deciding whether or not to go to the mattresses in the editing process.
Share your intent with your editor and be willing to elaborate as needed. Not only should your editor be respectful of what you’re trying to say, he or she is going to help you get your point across more consistently and effectively. This does require patience, openness, and collaboration. Strengthening your message might actually require pruning it back before it becomes a Chekhov play that hits the audience over the head with symbolism and meaning every two lines. (Apologies to Chekhov lovers everywhere. His work is great, but I’ve certainly never had to ask, “Please, Anton, what did you want me to take away from this?”) If you and your editor know what’s at stake, your intention has a doubly strong chance of becoming a healthy, meaningful factor of your manuscript.
If your editor knows about your point and is still saying you should scrap it entirely, listen to their reasoning before making a decision. Ask questions. Whether or not you make the change, there might be some valuable information in what they say. On the other hand, if he/she doesn’t ponder the situation carefully, isn’t willing to explain, or doesn’t respect your attachment, get the heck outta there. It might mean waiting longer to be published, but you have the right to be heard at your best, not simply at what will sell.