"Before I Can Offer You a Contract..."

What lovely words! And the rest isn't bad, either. An editor wants me to change two sentences. Two. That's hardly worth pondering. Of course I can change two sentences. In fact, you can write them the way you want and I'll sign off on it.

I'm not the sort of author who thinks my work is immutable. I've learned over my lifetime that what I think I've said is often not what others comprehend, and it isn't anybody's fault. Communication is subjective, and what one person says in jest can be a deadly insult to someone else. Written communication is even worse, because it lacks clues from tone of voice, expression, and body language. You can't see the twinkle in my eye, so you may not get things I intend as humor.

There is, of course, the question of how much is a person willing to change his/her work to please an editor. I can't say, but I suppose it's dependent on who's asking, what they're asking for, and how much incentive (money) is involved. I'd certainly rather have an editor tell me what's weak and ask me to fix it than to have them put a book out that readers hate.

But how much do I trust someone else's opinion about my work? An editor is a reader like any other (only with more power). Her job is to improve my work, and there's no benefit in throwing obstacles in my way. Anything an objective reader notices as "wrong" should be considered by the author, and the editor is tuned in to what the industry requires. That's not to say I have to do everything the industry wants, but I need to consider what experts advise. That's not to say there aren't editors out there who steer people in the wrong direction, but I've always believed in the wisdom of listening to those who have been in the trenches.

So sure, I can change two sentences. And if there's more to do, I'll consider that too. Now about that contract.

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Comment by Jack Getze on July 15, 2009 at 7:24am
I'm with you, Matt. I'm sure journalism has a lot to do with our attitude. Two sentences? I appreciate your even asking.
Comment by I. J. Parker on July 15, 2009 at 1:06am
I generally make changes requested by an editor. However, I have refused on occasion. Keep in mind that editors may not be as knowledgeable as you think they are. Some are practically fresh out of college and perhaps not trained or experienced in the conventions of mysteries. I had one once who wanted to jettison 9 pages of the killer's dialogue with the protagonist. The 9 pages contained the explanation of the crime. Rule of thumb: change everything that makes the book better, plus everything that does no harm. Stand firm on important stuff.

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