Thursday, May 10, 2012

Having My Own Work Edited, Part 1 of 4

I recently sold a story called "The Fourth Wish" to a paranormal romance anthology being published by Cliffhanger Books. I don't know much about paranormal romance. In fact, as much as the editors liked my story, my ignorance of the genre caused some problems, and they've asked me to change a few story elements to better fit what readers expect from such stories.

I have no problem making those kinds of changes. Why? Because even though the money I make from occasional short story sales is negligible, I pride myself on a professional attitude. My personal opinion of what "professional attitude" for writing means can be summed up in this pair of phrases: 

Amateurs write for themselves. Professionals write for the people who pay them.

If you're serious about having your work published by others, sold by others, and marketed by others, then I think you need to be serious about letting others have some say over what you write. I'm friends with a couple of people whose primary source of income is freelance writing. Do you know what those people write for a living? Whatever their paying audience tells them to, that's what.

Oh, they can reject assignments that go against their ethics or religion or something. They're freelance writers, not minions of some evil overlord. But if these people were asked to write 2,500 words about litter on the Atlantic City boardwalk in exchange for their going rate, they'd do it, even if they aren't all that personally interested in boardwalk litter. And if the editor read a draft and said "This is great, but can you focus more on the north end of the boardwalk?", they'd rewrite the article. They wouldn't go off on some bombastic tirade about artistic integrity.

Now some people say writing fiction is like any other artist creating any other art: the artists have to follow their muses, the crowd be damned. That's fine, if you honestly don't care whether anyone ever sees your work. Me, I'd like people to read my stories. Otherwise I'd never send them to magazines. I'd just hide my stories under my bed and go around calling myself a writer, and I'd cough in embarrassment any time someone asked where they could read anything I'd written.

Because I want others to read my stories, I will accept help from people who know my intended audience better than I do. Kevin from Cliffhanger told me even though it was perfectly in character for my sarcastic genie to use the word "retard," Cliffhanger's audience wouldn't like it. So, I changed the wording. Karen from Cliffhanger told me my story worked fine as it was, but her readers would want the female in the romance to appear sooner. So, I started revisions that introduced her in the first sentence.

"The Fourth Wish" is part of a series of connected stories that I intend to sell as a novel when it's ready, and I might reverse a couple of Kevin's and Karen's suggested changes when that time comes. But for Cliffhanger Books, I'm trusting my editors and following their guidance because they know my audience better than I do, and because I want that audience to read my story and like it.

Next time: the challenge of taking a story that's part of a larger tale and making it stand on its own.

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