When to Reject Your Editor

Last time I mentioned that when working in Track Changes with an editor, you should accept most, if not all, of the editor’s changes. It should go without saying, but listen to what your editor has to say.

Yes, there are bad editors who will try to impose their voice and vision over your own. And some editors have a tin ear—a writer at a conference once told me her copyeditor had replaced every gonna and coulda with going to and could have. When faced with those kinds of changes, reject away, kiddo.

At a conference last year, I heard Orson Scott Card say he had once received a manuscript back from a copyeditor who was apparently unfamiliar with science fiction and had therefore made hundreds of changes that ruined his story. The damage was so severe that he sent a copy of his original back to the acquiring editor and demanded a new copyeditor, because the first had fouled up the manuscript so badly that the job had to be started over.

Bad editing does happen. If you don’t trust your editor to give you good advice, then you need a new editor.

editor rejection
Illustration © tumsasedgars • Fotolia

But most editors I know—and I know a lot of editors specializing in multiple topic areas—have your best interests and those of your readers in mind. They will only make changes that make your text more clear and readable. So keep an open heart and mind as you review your editor’s changes to your manuscript. Those changes are most likely there not for the editor’s self-aggrandizement, but so you can deliver a better book to your readers.

Too often editors encounter writers who refuse to make recommended changes. In one recent case, a colleague asked how to handle a client whose narrative was disjointed but who refused the editor’s advice for restructuring the plot on the grounds that beta readers had not seen any such problems.

We acknowledged that the story belongs to the author, who therefore bears final responsibility for the quality of the finished product. We can’t force the writer to make changes.

But if you are paying an editor to advise you and then you reject the advice, what are you paying for?

Beta readers, while very helpful, are not trained editors, so they can miss things editors will see. Also, a beta reader may feel that something in the manuscript is lacking, but they will not have the knowledge to figure out what it is or why is a problem. They may not have the vocabulary to describe the problem in a meaningful way. So they won’t bring it up at all, since they can’t explain themselves.

When your editor suggests a well-reasoned change, consider it carefully, at least a little while. Play out in your mind the ramifications of that change. You may decide that implementing the suggestion would change your story or its presentation in ways that are not acceptable to you. If you can articulate to your editor a compelling reason why you’ve chosen to refuse a particular suggestion, that’s fine.

For example, my client Shirin Humzani, in her book The Education of Amal, chose not to say where the story was set. When I recommended she specify at least a region, if not a city, she explained that she wanted the story to appeal to people from either eastern Pakistan or western India. So she deliberately left the setting vague. That was a valid reason for making her artistic choice.

But the writer who rejected her editor’s restructuring advice is refusing professional guidance in favor of amateur opinion. The most likely explanation for such a refusal is that the author is not willing to do the hard work of restructuring, so instead of following her editor’s recommendation, she is falling back on her beta readers to rationalize her decision.

When you’re deciding whether to reject an editor’s advice, your primary consideration should not be how the choice will affect your workload or your ego. Your primary consideration should be what will produce a book that will be most engaging for readers.


Disclosure of Material Connection: The Amazon link above is an affiliate link. This means if you click on the link and purchase Shirin’s book, I will receive a pittance of a commission from Amazon. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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  1. The *kinds* of editing there are may bear repeating. There’s a tip-over point when it’s no longer strictly editing but revision.

    When the work becomes more revision than editing, my comment boxes nearly turn into sub-manuscripts explaining what went awry as well as recommending one or more ways to fix it. I invite their questions & input at any stage of the process because I want them to understand the why of any change for the benefit of their own future writing. I respect them as the creators of the works enough to reconsider my own recommendations if they feel a suggested change does something they really don’t want.

    I’ve also learned to make sure I have a copy of the original manuscript if what I’m editing has already been in another editor’s hands. More than once, I found that what I was fixing was another editor’s changes rather than the author’s work.

    1. Good points, Glynda. When comments get lengthy, I usually move them out of the manuscript and into an editorial letter. That kind of revision guidance is what my colleague was offering when she recommended her client restructure the story. Usually when that’s needed, we provide the guidance and let the author do the revisions.

      1. I wonder if that approach may be one of the differences encountered with free-lance editing as opposed to editing for a publisher. Works I’ve most often been involved with were already accepted for publication pending edits and revisions. Something like: “we like this story and accepted it, but it needs a lot of fixing, so work with the author and make it shine.”
        With a couple of exceptions, I’ve rarely had any say in what was/wasn’t accepted. I just helped fix ’em. 🙂

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