When you write a romance, you become attached to the characters. They become part of you. You also become attached to scenes, plot points, and even the style and structure of your work. It’s inevitable and it’s lovely. You should be attached to your manuscript and all that it contains, you created it. It’s part of you.
Yet, it’s also inevitable that you’re going to be asked to eliminate parts of your story that you are attached to.
Here’s how it happens…
You submit your story to your critique group and they return with a consensus that an entire chapter is superfluous. (Of course, it’s your favorite chapter)
You submit to an agent and she says that she’d like to represent your novel but before she sends you a contract you have to make your heroine more likeable. (You like her just fine.)
You submit to an editor and they come back and request that you get rid of an entire character’s POV. Gasp!
You submit to a publisher and make your way through several rounds of editing before they suddenly tell you that you need to change the location for the story and the occupation of the hero. What?!
These are real examples from shit that’s happened to me and I’m not alone. Regardless of who you’re submitting your manuscript to, your best friend and sister or a top selling literary agent, someone is going to ask you to get rid of something in your manuscript that you love. It’s hard. It’s cruel. And it happens…
What do you do?
The gut reaction is to tell them to go bleep themselves or to cave instantly and change it. After all, everyone else must be right and you must be wrong.
Neither reaction is super helpful to you as a writer or to your manuscript.
What is helpful is to go through a process and to make the best decision you can for yourself at the time. So let’s look at the three steps in the process so that when this happens, and it will, you can have a system to fall back on.
Question their Authority
Consider the source of the information and how knowledgeable they are about romance, writing, and what their experience is. For example, if a friend/beta reader is telling you to get rid of a character, what are they basing their recommendation on and how well to you trust their knowledge and experience? Even if the advice is coming from a respected agent or publisher, consider the source. Maybe it’s a new agent or a new editor and they may be basing their recommendation on limited experience and knowledge.
Questioning the source doesn’t mean that they’re wrong. It’s simply important to evaluate who is giving the advice and why they’re giving it. It helps you take a step back, thus reducing your emotional reaction to the feedback. It forces you to be a bit more objective about this heinous request.
How Does the Change Impact Your Story?
The second part of the thinking process is to consider that they might be right. If the suggestion is a valid one, then consider how the change may impact your story.
You can play around with this. For example, if someone says to get rid of the POV of one of your characters, say you have a villain POV and they want it gone, you can begin making those changes to see how it changes your story.
THIS IS IMPORTANT!!!
Always always always save your original without the changes. Don’t start making changes to the manuscript and eliminating scenes and points of view to your original manuscript. Save it. Copy it to a new document and begin revising. I know this seems like an obvious step but it’s so important that I didn’t want to risk it. Here’s why, let’s say you make the changes to your original manuscript and you don’t like them. Now what? How do you go backwards and get back to the original story? You don’t unless you have two separate documents.
Okay, so playing around with the changes allows you to explore the validity of the request. It lets you see if their suggestions make the story better, or not, and you don’t risk anything in the process. Sure, you may lose a little time but in the big picture that’s okay. Your goal is to have a good, publishable, and saleable story, right?
So that brings us to the third consideration…
What Are Your Goals? What Is It Worth To You?
Here’s where you have to weigh the pros and cons of making the changes that have been requested. If you’re attached to your hero and an editor asks you to essentially delete him and create a different hero, it may not be worth it to you to make those changes. It depends on your goals for the story.
A little personal sharing…
I was through a third round of editing for a publisher. They’d asked me to change a few things and I did. My book was in committee and I was optimistic that they were going to offer me a contract. Conversations were quite positive and I’d willingly made the changes they requested. They came back from committee and asked me to delete two points of view from the story. I thought my head might explode. Wouldn’t that have been something that was suggested before they ever sent my book to committee? That’s a major overhaul to a manuscript. I was confused then pissed and then resolute.
I thought about what I wanted for this book and the story, in my opinion, was better told with the 5 points of view. Pulling it down to three just didn’t make sense to me. Publishing with this particular publisher wasn’t an ultimate goal for me. I just wanted it published so I said no thank you and I’ve never regretted that decision.
When someone asks you to make a change you’re going to want to weigh the pros and cons of the changes as they relate to your goals. If Harlequin asks you to change the heroine and you’ve always dreamed of writing for harlequin then you might bite the bullet and make the changes.
If telling the story your way is more important than publishing with harlequin then you might say no thank you. There is no universal right or wrong answer. There’s only a best choice for you and your story right now.
You’re a writer!
That sometimes means sacrifice and it sometimes means listening to others and trusting that they can help you make your story better. And sometimes it means sticking to your instincts and following your heart. It’s never an easy decision but hopefully these three steps will help you work through the decisions when you’re faced with them.