I’m here at Marcon, and it’s late. I’ve had a full day — a long drive, a panel, a signing; I’m ready to go to sleep.
But today’s panel was on “How To Be Edited,” and since I was the moderator, I wound up giving the topic a good deal of thought. The other panelists had lots of good things to say, which I won’t attempt to repeat here. But the bottom line is this: When you get comments from an editor, or even from a Beta Reader — a friend who has read your story or book manuscript at your request — you need to take those comments seriously. I would never say that even the most inexperienced of aspiring writers needs to follow every suggestion from every reader. I remember my editor, who has been in the business way, way longer than I, telling me in his revision letter on my very first book, “This is your book, David. In the end what you do with it is your choice.”
That is sound advice. But the fact remains that we can learn a lot from those who read our work. Most of us are imperfect editors of our own work; even the most experienced writer still has to work to create the necessary distance to self-edit effectively. [And I will talk about creating that distance in another post.] That’s why outside readers can be so helpful. And that’s why, when an outside reader, particularly an experienced professional editor, identifies potential problems with our work, we need to take those criticisms seriously. I have written a lot of books, and I feel pretty comfortable standing up for myself in conversations with my editor. But still, I usually accept at least ninety percent of the changes he suggests. Because he knows a lot about the business and about writing, and because he is not nearly as close to my work as I am. He can see flaws to which I am blind.
So trust your Beta Readers. Trust your editor. Remember that a reliable reader has the same goals you do: He or she wants to see you produce the best work possible. So take those critiques to heart. Be true to your creative vision, but don’t be so wedded to your wording and your original choices that you can’t recognize valuable constructive criticism when it’s offered to you.
And, of course, keep writing.