13 May

Saying, “NO!” to an Editor

Hurrah! You have a revision letter from an editor and you are going to make every single, solitary, revision the editor asks for. Right?

Maybe.

When can you say, “No,” to an editor?

You can refuse a contract for any number of reasons. Money, vision for the published manuscript, an unkind word. You never have to sign a contract.

Once a contract is signed, though, you are under contractual obligation to make reasonable changes to the manuscript. You should go into the revision process with a hopeful, positive attitude, expecting to do everything that the editor asks for. The mutual goal is a successful book, and the editor (presumably) knows what sells and how to improve your story to make it sell better.

What if you disagree? The editor is asking for some particular change in your story, and you think the editor is wrong? It’s time to try the editor’s way. Yes, try. Let’s hope that it does work.

If trying it the editor’s way doesn’t work, it’s time for diplomacy. Diplomacy is when you gently work through a difficult, sticky issue and wind up with a result that makes both parties happy.

Explain. When I have faced the problem of disagreeing with an editor, I did a long, detailed explanation of why I wrote the manuscript the way I did. In one case, I had chosen words based on assonance, or certain vowel sounds. The editor’s alternative completely destroyed the voice and sound of the piece. As soon as I detailed my strategy for writing, the editor agreed.

Suggest alternatives. On the other hand, you may be able to suggest a third alternative which incorporates part of the editor’s change, but keeps your ideas, too. The editor will likely agree because your mutual goal is a successful book.


Do not bring in outside comments at this point. It isn’t a time to say that your critique group loved it this way or that way. At this point–when the editor has put down cash–the editor’s opinion is the only one that matters (besides yours.)

Be kind and respectful. Your attitude is crucial. If you go into a conversation knowing that you disagree, you can still be courteous. Remember: your mutual goal is. . .

Be confident. Sometimes, the editor has pinpointed a problem and really doesn’t care HOW you solve it, as long as it gets solved. Editors often don’t know what they want; they just know that what is in front of them doesn’t work. Be confident of your writing skills! you can make the right decisions about your story. Go deeper, into the heart of the issues raised. Solve the problem in a unique way that blows the editor away. S/he won’t mind. Not at all. Because the mutual goal is. . .

The Ultimate No. Of course, you have the ultimate No. If you really, really disagree, and you can’t find that mutual agreement, you can–if you really have to–get out of the contract. It’s sticky and no one wants this. But you can back out. You probably have to repay advances, and know that this will affect your reputation. Weigh this action very seriously and carefully, and be sure you can accept the consequences. Don’t do it lightly. But yes, you are in control of your own story. You can say, “No,” to an editor.

3 thoughts on “Saying, “NO!” to an Editor

  1. Thanks so much for these words of advice. My contract’s done and editorial notes can’t be far behind. I’m very worried about changes they might want. Your tips will be very helpful. :-)

  2. Pingback: Monday Must-Reads (5/17/13) - YESENIA VARGAS

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