I know everyone is busy writing end of the year posts, and this might not be the kind of post that falls under that category. But I'm always interested in anything that has to do with books and publishing. And for me, personally, I learned something interesting that I'd like to share with other authors and readers.
In almost twenty years of publishing I am proud to admit that I've only had one incident where I didn't agree with an editor and pulled the story from publication. It happened about five years ago, with a short story I'd submitted to a print publisher for possible inclusion. The odd thing was I'd worked with this editor before on other books and I thought I knew him. However, when the story came back and I had to review his edits, I was amazed at how much he'd cut, how many words he'd changed, and how he'd slanted the entire story in an entirely different direction. Ultimately, we couldn't reach a compromise and I politely asked him to pull the story from the anthology. Three days later, I sold the same story to another print publisher and they didn't edit a single word. They copy edited a few things, removed a couple of commas and removed a few superfluous words. But the story remained in tact. And, I eventually went on to work on something else with the first editor, and all was fine.
Since then, I haven't had any other problems and don't anticipate any. I love all the editors and copy editors I work with. I've always viewed their changes and suggestions as assets to my books or stories. And I've always agreed with them when they suggested minor changes. In many ways, working with an editor and copy editor is a collaboration between author and editor. It's fun, we joke around a lot, and the e-mails keep flying back and forth. And if both remain open to all suggestions, the final edit of the book or story only gets better.
Then one morning this year I opened an e-mail with copy edits for a book I'd submitted a month earlier. In this case, I wasn't worried. I'd always worked with a specific copy editor for this particular publisher and I'd always looked forward to reading her edits. In fact, I've learned a lot more from her, I'm sure, than she's learned from me. But when I started reading the edits this time, I knew from page one something was different. And I knew this wasn't my beloved copy editor, whom I'd always loved working with. This was someone new, with a snarky voice, who didn't seem familiar with any of my books...or books in my genre. There were remarks and questions in the margins I normally don't receive from my usual editor. One particular word that was integral to the book that I thought should have been capitalized throughout the book had been changed to lower case.
I always try to research as much as I can and I try never to assume anything, and I'd already researched this particular word the new copy editor had changed and found that readers, magazines, and most other publishers believe, very strongly in most cases, this particular word should be capitalized. So I went through all the edits with an eagle eye this time, addressed each comment and question. I made a few of the suggested changes and refused to alter a few other suggested changes. I was polite when I refused to take the suggestions. I used little smile faces. I've always believed it's important to be a professional as possible, and still get the point across.
When I submitted my review of the edits (actually, she'd missed a few important copy edits I'd had to go back and fix myself), I was told the word would not be capitalized and given a good, solid reason. This was the only area where the publisher wouldn't back down, and I didn't mind at all. This particular word can be capped or not capped, depending on the style a particular publisher uses. And, though I personally would have preferred the word to be capitalized for the sake of the readers, I didn't have a problem agreeing with the publisher this time. And, the publisher agreed with all my other replies to the copy edits. So I was fine; the publisher was fine; a compromise had been reached.
But, I couldn't stop thinking about one particular phrase the new copy editor had questioned and I'd refused to change. I'd used this phrase in a steamy romantic scene in the book and the copy editor didn't think it was real enough. She even went as far to say, "I don't think there is such a thing." I'd used this phrase before in other books. It's about as minor a phrase as "The back of his neck." But I disagreed, politely, with the new copy editor and refused to make the change on principle. But then started to question my own instincts the next day. Did the snarky new copy editor know better? Should I have agreed to make that particular change? At that point, though, I didn't want to confuse anyone and decided to leave it alone.
The other night I sat down to read Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. I'm a huge fan (she's one of the few authors I'd bow to...lol) of her work and I hadn't read this particular book in years (if you haven't read this classic, run out and get it). By that time, the edits from my own book were way in the back of my mind and I was only interested in reading about the sad life of Pecola Breedlove in The Bluest Eye. And then I came across a very touching scene that involved sex, where Toni Morrison used the exact same phrase to describe a particular body part that the new copy editor had questioned in my book. I put The Bluest Eye down and stared for a few minutes. I'd come across this phrase before in other books, but never by an author with Toni Morrison's excellent reputation. And then I took a deep breath and smiled. I realized that if Toni Morrison can get away with using this phrase in a book like The Bluest Eye, so can I.
And I learned something new this year: trust your own instincts when it comes to edits and revises. No writer does anything by accident, especially when it comes to certain words and phrases. Although some copy editors think they know it all, they don't. I know I'm only talking about a phrase that was a simple as, "The back of his neck." And it could have been changed without altering the intent of my book. But I didn't think a copy editor, who probably has about eighteen years less experience than I have, should have even questioned it in the first place, at least not in such a bold way. Of course I didn't do it...but I felt like sending her a copy of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye just to prove a point.