Friday, 17 August 2012

Re-Writing Before There's Cash On The Table

Scenario:  You've written and re-written and polished your book.  You've got feedback.  You've re-written and re-polished.  You've sent the manuscript out.  An agent likes it but makes suggestions for rewriting the manuscript - do you do them? Alternatively, the agent has taken the manuscript on and sent it out, an editor at a publishing company is interested but wants changes to the manuscript - do you do them?

In other words, do you make changes BEFORE anyone commits to your work?  It's not unusual for people to do extensive re-writes and still get turned down.  

I think Yes  - if you really really understand the underlying reasons why they want the changes AND agree with them.  

For example, my Dutch editor said she wouldn't buy Nice Girls Do unless I made a story change.  She said that readers wouldn't believe that Anna would end up with Will because they hadn't already slept together.  She didn't care how I got them into bed together, only that sex had happened and that it was great.  I understood the reasoning, and agreed with her.  I made the changes - which meant whole chunks of new writing, not just tinkering - and liked the end result so much that that version is the one that was published around the world, not just in Holland.

So I understood the problem, agreed with it, and could see how I could change the ms to accommodate a solution which strengthened the novel.  The understanding is key.  

The problems occur when the agent or editor says something vague, like they want the character to be a little more positive.  You look at the ms, think your character is already pretty positive, but add a few more positive bits of dialogue.  In other words, you're showing willing with the idea of changing material but without really understanding what the underlying problem is.  Because you haven't understood, you can't deal with the problem - it'll be luck not skill if you get it right.  

If you don't understand, ask.  If you can't ask, then talk with writing friends - can they see what the agent or editor is getting at?  If you understand but disagree, again try to get a discussion going.  Put your side, listen to theirs.  It there a third way that will satisfy both of you?  I've re-written drafts and my editor has been surprised at the extent of the rewriting, but it's been the only way for both of us to be happy - and I assume the readership too, as the rewrites have always been better than the original.

Try to get a discussion going and keep at it until you can see the way forward that works for you because if you try to write without your heart being entirely behind what you're writing, you will fail. 

And then what? Which version is better?  I've seen people re-write extensively and still be turned down. Then they send out the revised ms, and get more suggestions that lead back to the first version. That gets turned down too. The author is left confused, demoralised and derailed. Now they have three versions, and they have no idea which is best. Or even which is closest to their original vision.

So the answer to the original question in my opinion is simple - Yes, if you understand, and No if you don't.  


Louise said...

Interesting post, thank you. I'm in that position now - an editor has suggested some quite major changes and I'm not sure I want to do them. I understand what she is getting at, but I'm not sure I agree with them ...

Anonymous said...

Yes, I am in that position, too. The agent suggested some changes, though she was very positive, and it has taken three weeks for me to understand what she meant. Quite simple, really, too many secondary characters and therefore too complex. So I'll change it. She's right. Jacky

Penny said...

Thanks, and yes, this helps to sort out a few ideas I didn't quite know I knew! It's different with shorter magazine stories, of course. Rewrites possibly not as daunting for one thing! I think only a handful of mine have ever reached print as they were first written. But trust is the key. You're lucky if you and your editor are in sympathy... which in my case mostly means I Agree With Her :-) [also because she's been writing a whole lot longer than I have!]

Sarah Duncan said...

Louise, you should only do what you believe in or it won't work. Is there a third way that will satisfy you both?

Jacky, that's a really helpful comment because sometimes it does take time for the penny to drop - editors don't always express the problem they perceive clearly. Good luck with the re-writing.

Penny, trust is key - you have to value their opinion.