I went back to the doctor today even though I think she’s an idiot. Why did I do this? Well, she had what I needed, an antibiotic prescription. I think she’s an idiot because she’s has misdiagnosed me even after I told her what was wrong. She calmly dismissed my concerns, sent me home with an allergy pill and told me I’d be fine.
My face and jaw have now swollen up to the size of a summer melon and my eyelid is dripping contagious discharge. So I went back, she charged me for another visit and finally gave me the antibiotic I requested for the severe sinus infection and conjunctivitis . I knew I was getting a sinus infection and I told her but she dismissed me.
Why am I telling you this super icky story about my health? Because editors, workshop members, family, friends and agents will try to tell you what is right or wrong with your story. In some cases, they may be right but, in the end, you know the story better than anyone else.
As a writer, you should have a feeling when something isn’t quite right with your work. Some say believe in your work and stand by it, no matter what. I say faith in what you’re doing is fine but no matter how much belief you have, it won’t inflate a flat character or fix a monster plot hole.
But you should have faith when you know you’ve polished your work to be the best it can be. Some changes are a matter of taste, not necessity. Only make changes you can live with.
If something feels truly wrong, then don’t do it. For example, if your agent says your male cop needs to be a four foot tall female contortionist with a penchant for body piercing, say no if it doesn’t fit your story.
You can say no. Some writers forget that magic word.
But also remember you need the antibiotic too (book contract). Is what they’re asking for more than you’re willing to give? If they want your male copy to be forty instead of twenty-five, will that ruin the story for you? If not, it may be worth the concession.
But how about if they ask you to amputate? No way, right? But what if your manuscript has a malignant plot hole, would you be willing to amputate a sub-plot, a character or your ending to cure it? Sometimes your manuscript will need a drastic cut to save it.
How do you know when to cut and when to leave it?
There is no hard and fast answer. I wish I could lie and say there was. First, ask yourself if a large amount of your target audience agree with the consensus? You may have to get readers from your demographic to read and give you anonymous feedback. Sort of like a focus group. If 90% agree it doesn’t work, you may have to rework it.
If your gut screams no, then write a second version of it with the drastic change for one chapter. Set both the old and the new versions aside for a month. Then reread it. Does the change make it a better book? If so, go with the new version.
Lastly, the proof is in the pudding. If you can’t sell the book to a mainstream publisher without the changes, would you be okay with not publishing or self-publishing? Is being a commercial success important to you? How much?
You’re going to meet a lot of book doctors out there on your trip to being published. Some will lay their hands on you and make you feel all tingly inside but don’t actually cure anything. Others will be too quick with the knife and cut your work to the bone. Some just take the money and let you fall on your ass.
But occasionally you meet a doctor who can see the problem and help walk you though the solution. Those are the book doctors that every writer dreams of.
The one that knows how to make your book the best it can be.
No manuscript starts out perfect. Its figuring out how to make it happen that makes you a great writer or merely a good one.
Good luck and good writing.