A big fear that I hear a lot from not-yet-published authors is “what if my agent/editor/publisher wants me to cut/change things that really matter to me?” I can understand this fear, but I have to say that, at least in my experience, this has not been nearly as terrifying as it sounds.
Tip #1: Listen to them!
The first thing to remember is that making your writing better is their job. They’re good at it. There have been a LOT of things that my agent and editor have had me change in GOLDEN BOY. I have completely thrown out and re-written the last 70 pages of the book three times. I have re-written the beginning a total of fifteen times. But, you know what? It’s gotten better and better each time. So, to a certain extent, do what they tell you to do. Yes, sometimes it hurts. Sometimes you can work what you had to cut from one place back into another place… and sometimes you can’t. But I can honestly say that my book wouldn’t be half the book it is now without the input of my editor.
Tip #2: When you do disagree, do it nicely!
“But wait,” you say, “what about when you really don’t want to do what they’re telling you to do?” Good question! And here’s my answer: First, try to do it anyway! If cutting from your manuscript hurts too much, try cut-and-pasting it somewhere else and trying what they assigned you as an “exercise.” It may work out better than you thought it would… and, if it doesn’t, you have a good basis for approaching your agent/editor/publisher. After all, you did try to do what they asked you to and this gives you a nice platform from which to phrase your disagreement. Be polite and professional when you need to express a disagreement, and highlight the fact that you tried it their way and it didn’t seem to work. “I read your comment X and tried to do Y in the book to address it. It didn’t seem to work for reasons A, B & C. Is this what you were looking for?” Asking for clarification can be a wonderful way to get others to reconsider whether the change is really a good one or not.
Tip #3: Use the phone!
If at all possible, try to talk it out rather than putting it in writing. It frequently leads to a discussion rather than a stalemate.
Tip #4: Give them something to work with.
“No, I won’t change that. It matters to me,” is just not a good comeback. Realize that your agent/editor/publisher is trying to help. The best way I’ve found to give them meaningful feedback on proposed changes is to be very specific. Instead of “No, I won’t change the beginning again,” try, “I’m happy to change the beginning if you think it will help, but if I have this start in chapter 3 like you suggest, I lose X & Y from chapters 1 & 2. How would you suggest working that back in, or do you think that content should be removed entirely from the book?” … or something to that effect. The more detail you can give them about why you are reticent to make a change, the more likely they are going to be able to help you in a meaningful way.
Hope this helps! As always, drop me a comment and share your tips on how to communicate successfully with the professionals.