Six Steps for Disagreeing with Your Editor without Straining the Relationship
If you’ve read books or watched TV shows or films about authors, you may have the impression that writers don’t get along with their editors. Often, you’ll see the two arguing over line cuts or character deaths or substantive content changes. The editor’s job is to make the manuscript marketable, even if it’s at the expense of a writer’s wishes, right?
Yes and no.
Sometimes the editor does need you to “murder your darlings.” As the writer, you likely have grown fond of word, plot, or character choices that may not serve your purpose well in the long run, and it’s hard to spot those trouble areas when you’ve been invested in your work for so long. You may find that your editor gives you a lot of hard but valuable truths.
But I’ll let you in on a secret: your editor wants your feedback, even if you disagree. In fact, as editors, we especially want to know if you’re unhappy with our changes. But please don’t just go removing all the changes we made. Follow the steps below to facilitate a happy, healthy relationship with your editor.
Step 1: Give It Space
When someone offers critique, it’s human nature to respond emotionally. You’ve worked hard on this project—of course you’ll become angry or hurt if someone responds negatively. That’s okay. But don’t use those emotions as an excuse to say or do things that may not contribute to everyone's best interests.
Push your feelings aside for a moment and finish reading all your editor’s notes and changes. You may find that a comment left on page 1 makes much more sense when you’ve seen a similar comment on page 100. If you still don’t understand or agree, take some time to process. Work on other writing projects, go for a walk, catch up with a friend, bake some sourdough—do whatever you need to do to clear your mind before returning to your work. Reevaluate your editor’s comments once you’ve approached it with a rational mind.
Step 2: Understand Why Your Editor Recommends the Change
Put yourself in your editor’s shoes. Is he following a style guide you’re unfamiliar with? Is she approaching the structure of your curriculum from a marketing standpoint rather than an educational standpoint? Can you think of any other reason why your editor is suggesting the revisions you disagree with?
If you’re not sure why a change was made, ask. Chances are your editor will be more than happy to explain the decision. And once you understand the reasoning, you may find yourself agreeing with the choice after all.
Step 3: Decide Whether This Is Worth Pushing
If you’re still not happy with the edit, consider addressing your concerns with your editor. But before you write a long email, ask yourself a few questions:
Will following my gut make my work seem less professional?
Will following my editor’s advice affect the tone or voice, or will it still sound like me?
Which choice will give my readers a better experience?
You may find that when you reevaluate the suggestions, your editor’s choice might not be as important as you originally thought. If it’s a low-level issue in your mind, you may want to save your energy for discussing bigger issues down the road.
Step 4: Explain Your Reasoning
If you still disagree with your editor, bring up your concerns, but start with explaining why. You might explain that a misspelling was a purposeful allusion or straying from standard hyphen usage would be easier for your younger readers to follow. Help your editor understand your perspective.
Don’t be defensive. You should be having a conversation, not an argument. Defensiveness will simply foster more disagreement and bitter feelings.
Step 5: Suggest a Compromise
If your editor hasn’t changed his mind, suggest a compromise. Perhaps you don’t like the rewording he offered, but you can think of a better way to rewrite the paragraph while still fixing the problem he saw. You might even ask your editor to think of a way that satisfies you both.
Be prepared with a backup solution (or two), if possible. One of these solutions will likely be more helpful than the others.
Step 6: Agree to Disagree
You won’t always agree with your editor on everything. That’s okay. Ultimately, if you hired the editor, you’re still the one with the final say on your work. You can choose to disregard your editor’s suggestion.
If you do decide to go your own way, let your editor know why you have chosen to do so. The feedback may help her know how to better serve you in future projects. And please thank your editor. She’s just doing her job and trying to help you, and she deserves your respect.
You’ll likely find that you won’t need to go through all six steps listed above. After step 2, your problem might become a nonissue. But having a game plan for how you’ll address disagreement will help you prepare for the times that you do find yourself in conflict.
In all of this, remember that you’re a team. Your editor wants you to succeed, so do whatever you can to keep that relationship healthy, just like you would with any other working relationship. Work together, and you’ll find a helpful colleague and an advocate for your work.