Just Walk Away

On 2020-05-27 by Karen M. Dillon

So, once upon a time I took a class on how to finish your novel, which was a pretty good class.


But, from the 10 weeks I spent taking the class, there are two very distinctive things that I remember.


Firstly, I was like 19 at the time I took the class so I was the youngest person there and at the time urban supernatural fantasy stories were my main thing (I say at the time, but they’re still my main thing) and the people in the class including the instructor didn’t really know what that was. They just heard me say my WIP was like urban supernatural fantasy and they somehow just heard the word fantasy and immediately thought Lord of the Rings. So it meant for the first couple of weeks I got some really unhelpful feedback about my chapters not being fantasy enough.


The other thing, is something that I frequently think about every once in a while. There was this writer in the class (I can’t remember her name, I think it was Jane, so I’m going to call her Jane.) So Jane was working on a book for children aged 10/12 and her idea was something that I thought was very unique.


In one of the classes she said that she had pitched her idea to some agents and had somehow wound up in a meeting with a major publisher (not going to name it, but it was one of the big 5). And she was over the moon with excitement.


So Jane has this meeting and pitches her story and they are really into it. They’re ready to talk about contracts BUT first they want her to make a MAJOR change to the story. The change would affect the entire plot and essentially make the book into an entirely different story, but with the same basic idea.


She just said, no thanks, as she didn’t think she could stand by a story that wasn’t the one she wanted to tell.


Now, her decision was something that at the time, and to this day, I a million percent agree with.


Because I would do the exact same.


The instructor of the course however, entirely disagreed and thought that she should have made the changes and gotten the contract.


So the guy who was instructing the course is a published author and he told the class that when his publisher was securing international publishers for his books the Japanese publisher loved the story but didn’t like how one of the secondary characters died in the end and wanted the ending changed before they would publish it.


When his agent told him, he was like, sure no probs. I’ll just write a different ending.


So I have some mixed feelings about this.


Firstly, changing a minor thing like a secondary character not dying (where the death has no impact on the plot) maybe isn’t that big of a deal. I personally don’t feel it’s comparable with what the Jane was asked to do, which was make a major plot change.


Secondly, (and I’m a bit precious about my stories so maybe this is just me) but I couldn’t imagine making a change to any of my stories, including changing the ending, because someone else asked me to. It’s like, you write the story that you write, you write it including the things you need to include, and what happens to the characters is what happens in the story. That’s all there is to it.


Obviously, an editor plays an important role and their job is to help you refine your story to help it get told in the best way possible, that might mean adding scenes in, or taking scenes out, or going into negotiations about why you need to keep that one scene where the characters are watching TV because they have one important conversation point and then they help you get that conversation point into a place that doesn’t include 20 pages of reading about characters sitting on a sofa staring at a TV.


Basically, editors are like photo filters who help make the story readable and sensical. They’re not supposed to PhotoShop your book beyond your recognition which is basically what Jane was asked to do.


And I have this idea in my mind, that there are two types of people who write.


The type who writes to tell a story where any sales are inconsequential and the type who writes to make sales where the story that’s told is inconsequential.


When the instructor said that she should have changed it, I just started thinking that he was the type of writer who wrote a book because he thought it would be a good way to make some extra money (spoiler alert, it’s not) and he didn’t really care about his story so making any requested changes didn’t bother him.


Maybe I’m making harsh judgements on the instructor…but that’s just how I feel.


Anyway, to this day I still think about Jane and how she’s basically a hero.


The lesson to take away is that if you are a writer a publisher needs you more than you need them, you have a product to sell and they need a product to sell. So if you’re ever offered a contract, don’t let overexcitement cloud your vision, make sure you’re 100% happy with the terms and conditions, read all the fine print.


And at the end of the day if you’re being offered a deal that you’re not happy with, do what Jane did and walk away.




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