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I write fiction, I guess you could say experimental fiction, but I just feel I am more of a stylist. Every story of mine that's been accepted was taken as is. Now, for the first time, I am dealing with an editor who sent back a heavily edited draft of a short story. They did more than cut: they rewrote. I withdrew the submission, and thanked them. They wrote back, told me they really wanted it, and would I be ok with light editorial touches? I feel extremely uncomfortable with this process.

I understand concision. I understand plot holes and grammar mistakes. I understand being too close to the work and needing to pull away. I understand why people need extra eyes. What I don't understand is this: Is it common for an editor to rewrite your sentences? I thought they would suggest rewrites in those aforementioned sections, but to rewrite parts in a story whose language is driven by rhythm seems, to me, not worth it. I feel it isn't worth it to try to explain what something means, why the structure represents a certain action inside the story, why rewriting my sentences makes me feel like I never even wrote it. I just want to know if this editorial process is common, because I may have to steel myself for it.

Writing took over my life, because it knew I couldn't handle people. It consumes me, but in a good way. A great way. Now I'm back to dealing with people. To have to deal with someone rewriting my sentences makes me wonder if submitting is even worth it anymore. My first desire was not to be published; I wanted to look at something and love it, and know I created something I feel is a work of art--not to others, but to myself.

Henry Miller once wrote: "The act of putting down words is a narcotic." He was right. Unfortunately, dealing with an editor is like sobering up.

  • Be mindful, this is a subject covered many times on this site: writers.stackexchange.com/questions/575/… – FraEnrico Nov 21 '17 at 8:27
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    It seems that you are mixing personal feelings and professional ones. If you want to publish with a publishing house as a professional, it is expected you level up with the publishers' workflow. If you don't like one's approach, you can always say no and turn yourself to others - or if you have an agent, have your agent choose the publishing solution that most fits you. It is ok to discuss and argue with your publisher, but publishing is a cooperative job - they don't do a service to you, and neither you are a servant to them. – FraEnrico Nov 21 '17 at 8:29
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    @ FraEnrico - apologies. I posted my answer before I read your comment. Close enough that I might have to plead "homage" to avoid a charge of plagiarism. Great minds and all that. – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Nov 21 '17 at 10:48
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    I'm in a screenwriting group. The leader of the group has told us that we should hope to not only be heavily edited but even exploited by the people who pick up our scripts - because that means being paid, having our work shown to audiences, and, most importantly, opening up new doors for better opportunities. But this group is also very much focused on having a successful writing career over achieving our own pure artistic visions, so whether you take this advice depends on your personal goals – Kevin Nov 21 '17 at 18:53
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The editor is there to make sure the publisher is happy with what they're publishing. This doesn't always coincide with what the writer wants to say, but the reasons for this will include many that don't involve the word "better" except when it's followed by the word "fit" - house style and a knowledge of the readership or intended market being obvious ones.

I think it would be worth seeing what the publisher means by light editorial touches - they obviously like your work if they're suggesting compromise.

If you still don't like what they've suggested, it would certainly be worth telling them what the writing means and why the style is important. The worst they can say is "no", in which case you're in the same position as if you'd never asked. And you can always say "no" too.

I wouldn't tell them why rewriting your sentences makes you feel you never wrote it - that's a personal emotional response, and your publisher will be looking to establish a professional relationship. In this case, part of the problem is that you're not dealing with people - you're dealing with representatives of a company. They're going to be more susceptible to an argument based on technique.

If, in the end, you're writing for yourself or for art, do you really need a publisher? But in this case I'm intrigued, and it sounds like it would be a shame if you didn't make a connection with a wider audience.

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It changes from editor to editor and from writer to writer.

There are stories where the original manuscript was completely turned upside down by the editor. A very famous case in Italy had the young writer submit a novel written in first POV, and the editor changed the whole thing into a teenager diary (in agreement with the writer, of course, not behind her back). It was a massive hit and a literary case, a best seller.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez said that in the end of his career, his novels were taken just as they were, not because he got famous, but because, I quote him, "I am more experienced and I know how to do my job". So even in his case, at the beginning, the editors would help.

So the answer is yes, editors sometimes rewrite. Their job is to help the book come out in all its potential and to serve well the publishing line of the house. As in every job, there is a way to do it right and a way to do it harshly and heavily, so sometimes editors can be not helpful, but it's not the purpose of this answer to judge each person's job.

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I'd also say it is worth seeing what "light editorial" is about.

It might be worth asking what is driving them to change, I'd ask about a few (three) specific changes you see as critical that are ruined by the editorial changes.

If you can understand the nature of their concerns, you might be able to generalize them enough to address them by making your own changes and rewrites to fit their demands, within your own 'rhythm' parameters. For example, what you think of as 'rhythm' is so ungrammatical or forced that, to the editor, it disrupts the flow of reading too much to try and figure out what is supposed to be communicated, which also breaks their suspension of disbelief, and that is why they changed it. If you know that, perhaps you can work harder to make it non-disruptive, in your style.

Or you can refuse to change it because it is your "art". That is always your prerogative, but exercising it may mean not getting published.

  • I like how you put art in quotation marks. Very snarky. – August Canaille Nov 22 '17 at 6:10
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An editor should NEVER rewrite. What they should do is make suggestions on how to improve the writing. The writer will not always agree or even want to make changes. And I say this as someone who has done editing on NY Times Bestsellers. Had I changed what she put, she would have hurt me. Instead what I did was point out logic errors, spelling errors or places with plot holes or continuity problems, suggested word changes to make it flow more smoothly, removing an entire paragraph because it was rehash. Specific examples off the top of my head: an adult character grew 2" between books. She had a plane thousands of miles in the air. Once, a character knew another characters name before being introduced. I felt the story would start better at chapter two as chapter one was simply redux of previous book and too long. It wasn't my job to rewrite what she wrote, but to help her make it better. Sometimes she made the changes, others she refused. It truly isn't the editors job to rewrite.

  • The line between "suggesting a change" and "making a change" is very very thin, and can look different for the writer and the editor. – Stig Hemmer Nov 22 '17 at 8:25
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    I have met editors who will insist on a change. Then it is up to the writer to decide whether to accept or just say no. I have been told no, I will not make that change. But an editor should be able to justify a change. Your editor is not your parent and shouldn't say because I said so. – DCook Nov 22 '17 at 14:38
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I think there might have been a miscommunication here.

The editor has given you a list of suggested changes and you read it as a list of demanded changes.

As you clearly know, you have the power to walk away. You can also say "take it or leave it" about your original text.

However, editors generally know what they are talking about. Some of those changes are likely to be good changes. If you can stomach the editing process your story will be better for it.

Look through the suggested changes, accept the good ones and reject the bad ones. Maybe accept the neutral ones to make the editor happy.

At this point you can go back to the editor and say "I have changed my story as much as my heart allows. Take it or leave it."

Others have suggested a dialogue with the editor about why the changes has been made. This is a good idea, but might be more "dealing with people" than you are willing to do.

  • No, the editor sent back my manuscript rewritten. It's my docx file, with 40% cut and a lot of my sentences rewritten--not for grammar or clarity, but just reworded. – August Canaille Nov 22 '17 at 9:36
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    @AugustCanaille It is not clear to me what you are saying "No" to here. – Stig Hemmer Nov 22 '17 at 9:51
  • @Probably your "The editor has given you a list of suggested changes and you read it as a list of demanded changes." -part. – storbror Nov 22 '17 at 18:04
  • Might the "rewrite" have been done to spare the space? As 40% were cut, did the remainder occupy as much space in your version as in editor's? If editor's is shorter, that was an extensive shortening that included rewriting parts. – Oleg Lobachev Nov 22 '17 at 18:43

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