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Which Hills Can I Die On?

In publishing, we work with editors. I have done so for the seven books I have published or contracted, and have worked with 100+ authors on their own books, including New York Times bestsellers.

Even though I've edited over one hundred authors, no one seems to agree on one point: when can I put my foot down? And when should I kill my darlings?

Each author has a different tolerance level for what major overhauls they're willing to do. I discovered I had one this past week when I felt that edits given to me would compromise the integrity of my story.

So where do we draw the line?

Although I cannot provide a definitive answer for every author, I'll ask you a series of questions. Depending on your answer will determine if you should put up a fight or if you should accept the edit for your manuscript.

Make sure to trust your gut and hold fast to the integrity of your story. You may have a smaller tolerance threshold for edits than I do, and that's OK (my tolerance level is pretty high, according to some of my friends in the industry). But know that the more you dig in your heels, the more likely a publisher or agent will turn you down.

Are you a debut author?

I have worked with authors who have sold 20+ titles to debuts who are just getting started.

Many of the authors who had dozens of titles under their belts were a bit pickier with my edits. I allowed this because I trusted they'd been through the process numerous times and had a great track record.

But if you do not have a lot of titles, you may have more stringent guidelines at a publisher. I've known publishers to ask debuts to do major overhauls of their manuscript and when a debut asked to keep an arbitrary element a certain way, the publisher said no.

With this in mind, if you are a debut, you can't put your foot down about much. But you can ask to keep integral parts of the story. Publishers do allow for some things to stay the same, even with debuts, but don't expect the preferential bestselling authors receive.

Do you have a publishing contract for this book?

I ask this because many publishers have adopted the phenomenon known as Revise and Resubmit Request Loops. My opinions on these requests aside, many small, mid, and even larger publishers will make an author edit a manuscript ad nauseam, until the writer produces a book that fits that publishing house best. Then the house offers a contract (it used to work the other way around).

If you find yourself in a Revise and Resubmit loop, and the publisher keeps asking for edits that will sacrifice the integrity of the story, it's OK to say, "No," and walk away.

But if they ask for more minor edits, I would suggest doing those to show your flexibility as an author. With that said, know what makes YOUR story YOUR story, and don't compromise any of the elements that contribute to the core purpose of YOUR story.

If you have a contract with them, you probably have a smaller amount of leeway. After all, they're paying editors to go through your manuscript and expect you to do most of the changes asked.

Will the change affect the core elements of the story?

It's hard to define what this means for every story, but let me use an example from my first published book Blaze. Blaze is a modern-day Daniel story, so the original source material is important to the structure of a story.

Editor: I don't like the modern-day Daniel elements. Get rid of those.

In this case, I would put my foot down and say, "Sorry, but that's kind of the point of the story." But if the editor pointed out something more minor to change, I should make that change, unless I ABSOLUTELY had to keep it. For instance:

Editor: I don't think Danny's eyes work well as green. I'd change them to blue.

It's not necessary for Danny to have a specific eye color, so I'll make that adjustment for the editor.

Whether you have a contract or are working with a freelance editor, make sure to communicate with them what elements you absolutely must keep. But also know that editors serve as a mediator between the author and reader. They may spot something in your story that has fallen into your blind spots.

Trust them and their credentials, but also trust your gut.

Just don't die on EVERY hill.


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