Consider the Client (Working with Publishers)

As a teacher of developmental editing, I want students to get comfortable with being able to advise big solutions to big problems. Often this is the best way to truly help an author produce superior work. It is also an invaluable method for stepping back to see the big picture (a poorly constructed conflict, for example) versus focusing on minor details (the author uses too many dialogue tags). The first is a failure of storytelling; the second is merely a housekeeping detail.

But when editing for the big picture, you have to consider the client. When I’m working for book publishers, they have almost always scheduled a book for production (and this includes getting marketing and promotion lined up) by the time it gets to me. I have a limited amount of time to produce my edit and the author has a limited amount of time to produce a revision. I have to consider these constraints in my suggestions. I may very well think that story was ill-conceived and poorly executed and that it needs to be completely reconsidered starting from page 1.

But the author cannot do this in the time they have. Most publishers only allow a month or two for this revision; most authors have other jobs/obligations and cannot devote more than a few hours a day to the process. And if I’m the cause of an author missing a deadline, even if the AE in theory agrees with me about the ms’s problems, I’m never going to work for that company again.

So I’m unlikely to tell such an author to rewrite her first-person ms in third, since that’s a fairly massive undertaking to do right. But if this is a coaching client committed to exploring her process, then that may be exactly what I recommend.

If I can’t use my big solution, I don’t just abandon the problem. I try to see if a smaller solution will work. For example, I once edited a novel with a first-person narrator who was in her head too much. A shift to third POV often solves this, but the author didn’t have time to revise that extensively. I did suggest the protagonist adopt a cat so she could have someone to say these things out loud to. Turning an interior monologue into some snappy patter at least gave the story a feeling of movement (and made the character more relatable).

I’m no fan of prologues (I feel these are a lazy way to work backstory into a novel) but for one ms, I had the author chop the first three chapters, then write a brief prologue to show the backstory rather than trying to figure out a way to make it more integrated into the forward action. It was a gimmicky solution to the problem, in my opinion, but the most realistic one.

So, while I am all in favor of picking the solution that will solve the most problems in the most elegant way, I’m also a realist: sometimes we need to come up with a shortcut.

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