Sunday, June 5, 2011

Liz's Lair: Knowing Which Battles to Fight

Before I get started on this topic, I want to let everyone know that Mortal Deception will not be released today. Since Amazon has started a new mystery line along with their romance line, my agent wants to submit it first. If they decide to pass on it, I will get it up in a hurry, and we can drink cyber margaritas. Stay tuned.

Now to the topic. I know a writer who will never change anything about her story, no matter who suggests the changes. I used to think she was being true to herself… that she was confident in her own writing. But after going through edits with my own editor, I no longer hold my friend up as my hero. She remains unagented and unpublished with a story that has garnered more rejections than Stephen King's 150 or so. I can’t help wondering if she had made a few revisions, would her story have had a better chance in NY? Is her failure to bend a little keeping her out of the bookstores?

With that in mind, I decided to share my own experiences with you about changing my story. Fortunately, my copy edits were minor and not too painful. The first big curve ball came my way when my editor said that after a marketing meeting to discuss my book, they not only wanted to change the title Ducks in a Row to Liver Let Die, but they also wanted the series to be called The Clueless Cook Mysteries instead of the original Casserole Lover Series.

I balked … argued that it made my heroine seem stupid and suggested several other possible titles. My editor said she would go back to the arts and copy gurus and talk to them, but they really did like the Clueless Cook title since my heroine takes over as the culinary reporter at the local newspaper and has no idea how to cook.

I was satisfied she would look into it, but before she called back, I had a change of heart. The room at Berkley had been filled with marketing experts with who knows how many years experience between them. Who was I, a retired nurse with a BA in arts, to think my way might be better?

I called Faith (my editor) and told her I was fine with both the book title and the series’ title. I will call this banter with her the Battle of Titles, and this round went to her. I had waived my white flag.

Next came Faith’s copy edits. My cozy differs from most of the others in the genre because it’s written in third person and includes the hero’s POV. I even had a few scenes from the killer’s point of view as this is how I write my straight mysteries. Faith wanted me to cut the killer POV scenes… said they took her out of the heroine’s POV and didn't say anything that the reader didn't already know or wouldn't find out later. However, she said if I felt strongly about leaving them in, we’d discuss it.

This was my chance to win a battle. Instead, I deleted all three scenes. Round two – the Battle of the POVs again went to Faith. After reading through the scenes again, I realized she was right on.

The last big thing I conceded was the name of my heroine’s newspaper. I called it The Ranchero Globe. The copy editor argued it should be Ranchero Globe(without the italicized and lowercase "the".) I argued that on the cover it's listed as The Ranchero Globe. Last week I heard back from Faith that as per grammar rules, it will be Ranchero Globe. When I checked on the cover at Amazon, I discovered they had deleted the "the" and it now reads Ranchero Globe.

Okay that one was a draw. I argued that it should be exactly as it is on the cover. So they fixed the cover.

There were a few more points I argued, and apparently, they made my changes. I was never overly aggressive...merely expressed my wishes as to why I wanted to keep certain things in. Faith is a dream editor, and I trust her judgment implicitly. Remember when I asked her what she needed from me for book 2 before I wrote it...a synopsis, three chapters? Basically her response was that it was already under contract, and I just needed to write it. If she puts that much trust in me, then I have to trust her editorial instincts. She’s been at this a whole lot longer that I have. I couldn't be happier with the entire Berkley team working on Liver Let Die. I should be getting my galleys before long, and I think I’ll need surgery to get the perpetual grin off my face as I hold "my" book in my hand

So, my point in all this is how do you know when to make the changes and when to stick to your guns? No one wants to be labeled "difficult", but after all, it is our story. I want to know how you handle it when someone suggests a major change in your work. I know a lot of you enter contests and have CPs who sometimes see the story differently than you do. Do you pick your battles or draw the line in the sand like my friend?

Do you concede some things and save your best arguments for things that really matter to you? Inquiring minds want to know.


Kari Lee Townsend said...

Great post Liz! Love the photos too :-)

I agree...Faith is a dream editor!

I have pretty much always deferred to her, because I too think she knows her stuff.

Though I do compromise sometimes and ask questions and explain my reasoning for what I did and offer a suggestion for fixing it. Most times that does the trick, and she says okay that will work, then I get the best of both worlds. I get to keep what I want and satisfy my editor.

So excited for you to get your galleys!!!

Anita Clenney said...

This is a great topic Liz. I ran into the same thing with Awaken. When Christine first sold the book, the editor said, "The hero is Scottish. Shouldn't he be wearing a kilt when the heroine finds him?" I totally balked. No, he's a covert warrior sent to America. How can he run around hunting demons in disguise in a kilt? My warriors dress to blend in wherever they're sent.

Then I thought about it, and it made sense that he would wear a kilt until it was time to blend with the locals. So I changed it and put him in a kilt when the heroine finds him, and it immediately set a different tone for the book. Such a simple change but it added to the story.

My editor made other suggestions, some that helped, others that I battled, some we compromised on. She wanted me to get rid of a couple of minor characters, but I thought they were important, so I kept them, and she was okay with it. In book one, I wanted to end on suspense after my happy ending, but she felt it was too much. I disagreed, but we reached a great compromise. I learned to at least listen to her with an open mind.

In book two, she thought there was too much suspense and not enough romance. I didn't agree about the suspense, but she was absolutely right about the romance. I changed it, and it made a huge improvement to the story. I think writers have to be open to suggestions.

Katt said...

Hey Liz, such great advice!

As a Triple-Un (unagented, unsold and unpublished) I have yet to run into this problem exactly. However, one agent who rejected my full gave me a REALLY good explanation why -- and I've used those thoughts and suggestions of her group to do a major revision.

magolla said...

Great post, Liz!

I think your friend is doing herself a disservice by being close-minded about changes. Change is hard, but it all comes down to making the story BETTER.

When I queried GNOME, I had edited it about eight times: tightening, removing scenes, trying to make my protagonist more likeable, etc. I felt something was still wrong with it so I had a friend read it.
--my pacing was seriously off in the first 3 chapters.

Oh, I could have tweaked and tightened, but why bother?

I CUT the first 10,000 words of a 42,000-word middle grade novel. 1/4 of the entire story. Yep, cut, tossed and rewrote the first chapter in about 1200 words.

Sometimes it pays to listen to friends and ultimately training your own writing gut to know what to do.

Liz Lipperman said...

Kari, I'm so glad you have Faith, also. She is never "my way or the highway" and makes you feel like you do have some measure of control.

So you've already had your galleys?

Liz Lipperman said...

Anita, it sounds like you knew exactly what battles to choose. It's hard to cut stuff from our manuscripts. Right now there is another discussion on a loop titled, Slaughtering your babies. I'm not sure I would go that far, but it does make you think.

Good luck with your series.

Liz Lipperman said...

Katt, hang in there. I predict you will not be triple "uns" for very much longer. After all, you did win the Hook, Line and Sinker contest here at the blog and did get an agent interested in your story.

I'm curious what kind of advice the agent gave you if it's not too personal to share.

Liz Lipperman said...

Oh, good grief, Margaret, it would have killed me to cut all that. I say that, yet that's exactly what I did with my
Columbia story. I kept getting contests results that said it sounded like two different books, so I finally cut the first 125 pages and started with the kidnapping. I still have those pages and hope to use them in a novella.

And for the record, it was worth your effort. I loved GNOME.

Lindsay said...

Interesting topic Liz since recently I also had to choose which battle to fight.
Recently, I submitted 4 short stories for a benefit anthology and the publisher loved them all. Except, we all know there's the except, for the ending to one of the stories. They told me the ending they wanted, or at least how they wanted the ending. I wrote back with a rough idea for my suggested ending and they loved the idea.
I don't know if I won the battle but I sure didn't lose it either.

Marilyn said...

This hits home! I'm on page 201 of 305 in my edits. Whew! My editor is deleting at least 30 pages, and I love some of the scenes she has cut. But I feel much better now that I plan to add a Deleted Scenes section to my website, like on DVD's.

I had to change my title from PAPER COVERS ROCK, which I had for years as I worked on this story because Random House had another book coming out with that title. Can you believe it? I changed it to CHILD OF THE MOUNTAINS grudgingly, but now I think that title is much better.

It's a lot of give and take--more give than take, I guess.

Katt said...

Hey Liz,

Nope, not too personal. This was the second agent to give me a contest win (SWFRW). When she and her group rejected my full, their biggest complaint was that the spunky heroine lost her spunk.

There were other things as well but I believe it came down to working so hard on polishing those first chapters for submission and then not putting the same work into the rest.

Part of that problem also came from not taking time to let the ms sit and stoop for a while before rereading.

I'm now, a year later, rewriting that story and seeing it much more clearly.

Once finished, it will go to two authors whose critiques I won at the Brenda Novak Auction (...then I ran out of money to win yours but put up a good fight!)

Once they've had a go at it, I hope to send it off for the Golden Heart... because hell or high water, I'm going to nationals in 2012 so why not take a shot at going as a finalist!

Melanie Atkins said...

I've never had to make too many wholesale changes, but I have deleted or changed love scenes an editor deemed as too detailed or wrong for the line. And I had to do a major revision on a timeline that was spot on. How I missed that, I don't know, but the revisions almost made me go blind. The book was so much better after it was done, though. Wow. An editor with an eagle eye is a godsend.

Cathy said...

Great post Liz!

When I received feedback in a contest, I made the decision about whether the suggestion improved the story or was something I didn't want to change.

I'm waiting to hear from my editor right now. I have a different process for working through her notes. I see the relationship with her as more collaborative. She may see something I hadn't considered or have an idea to strengthen the plot or characters. If I really disagree, I may explain and see if we can find a common ground.

Hope your friend sees that a fresh approach may be what her story needs.

Cathy Perkins

Cassy Pickard said...

Liz: Great post! My issues begin with me. I find I often am having the same kind of conversation back and forth with myself. Sadly it often becomes group speak- I say "cut" and I say "keep." It's like watching a tennis tournament, only I'm on both sides of the net.

Susanna Fraser said...

So far I love working with my editor...but I have an awesome editor (Melissa Johnson at Carina). So far the only requested changes I've pushed back on are ones that would've introduced an inaccuracy to the story, and then I try to find some other way to get the same result. For everything else, my motto is, "Is the molehill I want to die on?"

Mary Marvella said...

Good post,I'll try to remember what you said when I make it that far in the process.

Liz Lipperman said...

Lindsay, good for you for sticking to your guns. I don't think editors try to make us unhappy. They just don't know when something is important to us. One of the things I argued about was using capitals for God or anything to do with Him.

And yay that your suggestions made it better.

Liz Lipperman said...

Marilyn, I love the idea of posting the deleted scenes form y our story on your website. I would reuse them in another novel.

And I love the title, Child of the Mountains. I haven't read your book, but COTM tells me so much more than PRS.

And can I say one more time, I love the cover.

Liz Lipperman said...

Hey, Katt, thanks for sharing that. I sometimes think we all polish those first few chapters and get lazy in the middle. That's where I get wordy.

As for the auction, thanks for making me look like I'm not a loser. The last I checked I was going for $12--then Bam! I was up to $121.

The girl who won sounds like she might be a beginning author (one manuscript) and probably needs me way more than you. I can't wait to see her manuscript. I so love helping new writers.

Liz Lipperman said...

I gotta tell eveyone, Melanie was one of my beta readers for Mortal Deception, and boy, did she find stuff I didn't. Seems I have comfort words!! A second reader picked up on something neither Melanie nor I did. So, you can't have too many eyes checking.

Glad you got those revisions done, Mel. Don't you have a new release?

Liz Lipperman said...

Kathy, fingers crossed your revisions aren't too bad. It sounds like you're going into this with a compromising attitude, which is good. Be sure and choose your battles wisely.

Thanks for commenting.

Liz Lipperman said...

Cassy, I love that visual --playing tennis with yourself. It really is true. I had a great line in Liver Let Die that Faith thought was too racy. So, I took it out. When I questioned about a later reference to that line and asked if she wanted me to take it out, she decided the line was too cute. She put it right back in and said she'd take the heat for it.

Lindsay said...

And in the new ending I put in some pink floppy eared bunny slippers which adds a touch of humor at the right time

Liz Lipperman said...

Susanna, great attitude about changes. I've heard nothing but good things about the Carina editors. We had the mystery editor as a guest blogger not too long ago. I was thoroughly impressed.

And thanks for stopping by. Hope your shoulder is all better.

Liz Lipperman said...

Oh, Mama Mary (I'm older than you, BTW!)your day is so coming and when it does, I'll be right here to remind you about choosing your battles.

Donna Cummings said...

Liz, this is really helpful info. When we're writing, we have control over everything, so it's hard to relinquish that. Even though others love our work, we've loved it the longest. LOL

I suspect that making changes might get easier the more it happens. The first time has got to be a shock to the system. :)

meatzien said...

Little Sister---as with life--you are very smart, grounded and have lots of good common sense---like you said let the experts think about it--and you think about it--and pray for guidance--sounds like you made some serious decisions regarding your creative genius--your family --like you can hardly wait for the big whoop,whoop when one of your dreams come true--Pretty soon little sister--Love ya---Meatz

Liz Lipperman said...

Lindsay, the slippers sound adorable. I'm glad they made the difference for your story.

Liz Lipperman said...

Ah, here's my big sister commenting on my blog. You gotta love family. You could say anything and they'd back you!

I can't wait to see you in a couple of weeks. ILY.