Who Has Final Say?

Kris Rusch’s latest Business Rusch post is about working with editors. It’s a great piece and well worth reading.

One of the things she talks about is who has the final say in what your manuscript looks like. She’s referencing another article written by an editor who clearly works for a publisher that contractually gives the final say to your content editor; you can discuss and negotiate and try to persuade, but bottom line, at this house it’s the editor who says what words end up in your book once it’s for sale. This isn’t a great situation, especially if your editor has a completely different vision for your book than you do.

This reminded me of something I read in Laura Resnick’s book Rejection, Romance and Royalties, which is a collection of her columns and articles and such from various publications and places. (Also a great book, well worth digging up and reading.) One article is about awful glitches, and there’s a doozy perpetrated by an editor working for an imprint of Kensington called Precious Gems.

This is on pages 127-8 in my copy:

Trish Jensen, writing under the pseudonym Trish Graves, sold them a novel called Just This Once in which the hero, among other things, mentors a teenage boy, steering him away from street gangs and toward organized sports. So you may imagine the author’s shock when, upon reading her galleys, she discovered that the editor had changed the boy into a raccoon.

(I think I speak for everyone here when I say, “What?”)

When Jensen asked the editor why on earth she had rewritten a teenager as a small nocturnal carnivore, the editor replied that the hero’s mentoring the boy could be misconstrued as having undertones of pedophilia. (All together now: “Huh?”) So the obvious solution was to rewrite the kid as an animal.

I am not making this up.

Jensen says, “I screamed to high heaven, my agent screamed to high heaven. We wanted the book pulled. Kensington said it was too late. They couldn’t pull it, and it was too late to turn it back into what it had been.” Understandably, she adds, “I was heartsick for a long time. To this day I can’t look at that book.”

The lesson here is that when you allow an editor absolute control over your work, as that Precious Gems contract stipulated, the results can be worse than your wildest nightmares. Jensen made sure her next contract with Kensington didn’t have that clause, and she warned other Precious Gems writers about it, too. She’s wryly philosophical about the experience these days, saying, “Now I’m known as ‘the raccoon author.'”

As for Precious Gems, the imprint no longer exists. It folded within a few years of the raccoon episode. A rare example of things turning out as they should in the publishing industry.

Seriously, a raccoon?? Laura doesn’t go into any detail here, but I have to wonder, did the editor do the fairly extensive rewrite it (sounds like it) would’ve taken to actually make the raccoon character fit into the book — like, instead of a boy who was drifting toward a gang and was steered toward sports, have it be a raccoon who was raiding trash cans and messing up people’s attics, who was trained or rehabilitated by the Guy? That would’ve taken a LOT of work, I would think, if this is any kind of a significant subplot in the novel. Or OTOH did the editor just change out the boy for a raccoon, but have it still playing Little League or whatever? Did the raccoon character still have dialogue after that edit…? o_O Incredible either way.

Kris strongly recommends never signing a contract that gives final say to the editor, nor signing away your moral rights. I’m sure very few professional editors would ever consider raccooning one of your characters, or anything similarly outrageous, but then I’m sure Ms. Jensen never expected her editor to do that either.

Read Kris’s post, and be careful of your contracts.


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Angela Benedetti lives in Seattle with her husband and a few thousand books. She loves romance for the happy endings, for the affirmation that everyone who's willing to fight for love deserves to get it and be happy with someone. She's best known for her Sentinel series of novels, the most recent of which is Captive Magic.