Being published is a dream for so many writers, and each story is important to us. We want this story to be read, we want people to love it. We want to see it on bookshelves. (We wouldn’t be putting ourselves through this agony if we weren’t passionate about getting our book published.)
But… the book is also important to us. The characters have meaning. What happens to them is important! (Most of us wouldn’t be able to go through all the work to write and edit a book if we didn’t LOVE the story and characters.)
So what happens when publishing doesn’t agree with the story you have completed? What if, in order to reach the dream of being publishing you have to change something you don’t want to?
This month, I worked as a mentor for #teenpit, where high school writers submitted some of their writing to be mentored by some awesome writers. During the process, my mentee asked me this super deep question about choosing art or business.
We were discussing a possible shift in perspective of her book and she asked me this:
“No matter what I do, I know that if I took the whole thing [insert suggested book changes here] it'd be a million times more marketable, and I'd have a better chance at being published… And I don't want to deviate from my story just because I want to appease the industry, but at the same time, this is my story, and I want more than anything to see it in the world.”
Oh man. That’s a seriously heavy question!
How much are we willing to change to be published?
It’s a very personal question. For some people the answer may be “EVERYTHING! I’ll do whatever it takes to be published!” for others it may be “Nothing! I won’t change for you!” (In which case, I suggest self-publishing). But for most of us the answer is going to be somewhere in-between.
I don’t have a definite answer for you—only you can answer this question for yourself— but I do have some advice that might help if you’re ever in this predicament.
This was my response to my mentee (with a few tweaks to make it less specific, more universal):
"I went through a long R&R process with Entangled for my first book. We totally re-plotted it. It meant an almost total rewrite. I was okay with the changes because it made the book stronger. But there was one thing my editor suggested that I didn't agree with.
There's a scene at the end of the book that my editor wanted to cut. I took a long time to think about it and decided I wasn't willing to cut it. That scene felt like such an important part of Anna's story and honestly, it fit the new focus of the story (A huge theme was about her lying, this was her big moment of telling the truth. Even facing the truth). I told him I wasn't willing to cut it, and he said we'd make it work (a relief because I was really willing to walk away from the deal for that scene). When he read the final version he said he teared up during that scene.
My suggestion is for you to decide what the heart of this story is for you and stick to it. What don't you want to lose?
For me is was Anna. Is was her journey, her emotions, and her sweet relationship with Jackson (though he used to be Arney. They changed his name!) Everything else in the book could change, but so long as those emotions stayed, I felt confident about it.
What is that thing for you?"
It's a hard line to find sometimes. You will need to change things to be more marketable, that’s just part of publishing and if you want to be successful in traditional publishing, it’s a thing you will have to do. BUT this is your story. Please don’t ever forget that YOU make these choices. And it’s okay to walk away from a situation that you feel uncomfortable with, even if it means walking away from a potential publishing deal.
Finding the line you aren’t willing to cross... that parts up to you. It isn’t always easy but you’ll feel better if you are willing to compromise without losing the heart of your writing and story.