Thursday, February 23, 2012

The World Still Needs Editors, even when they’re wrong…

Reason #4 in the continuing series of Why the World Still Needs Editors:

Along the way, most writers have received editorial letters with advice that’s just plain wrong. But even when advice is misguided, it can help you tell your story.

Case in point: Riding to Washington (published by Sleeping Bear Press and beautifully illustrated by my friend Dave Geister) is a picture book about a young white girl who experiences segregation while traveling by bus with a “mixed” crowd on the way to attend the March on Washington in 1963. It’s based on stories my father (a white home builder in Southern Indiana) told me about the trip he and my grandpa made from Indianapolis to DC in that summer of ’63.

While I was submitting the manuscript, one editor asked if I’d be willing to change the girl’s race.

I didn’t consider it for a nanosecond, and the manuscript was soon accepted by Aimee Jackson, now of Book Bridge Press.

The lesson here: When you know it’s as it should be, stick with your guns. The editor’s request to change the character’s skin color was useful. I’m not particularly introspective or deep. I hadn’t given this detail of the story lots of thought before. I’d just been writing something based on my father’s stories.

But the editor’s question made me absolutely sure of one thing: the girl was as she was meant to be, for this particular story.

Conversely, when an editor’s letter lands on your desk and is full of questions offering food for thought—and inspiration for more and better writing—listen and find the answers. (See my previous post for a slew of excellent questions—all right on target.)

Answer or not answer….The choice is yours. Experience tells me my stories are better for listening to the questions.

1 comment:

  1. Riding to Washington is a wonderful book - glad you were able to discern which editorial suggestions spoke to the heart of your story.