There was an interesting conversation happening on Twitter today among some reviewers about things that squick them out. Some topics were forced breeding, “daddy” as a pet name for the hero, etc etc. Now a lot of times (one could argue most of the time) these things are author decisions. They want a book about breeding or a book about the D/s age play dynamic of Daddy/little girl. Not my thing, but it might be just what another author wants.
But the conversation reminded me of some stuff that wound up on books of mine, not because I wanted them there, but because I didn’t speak up loudly during edits. You see, among new authors (and in my case, authors who’d had bad issues at an early career publisher) there’s often a huge don’t-rock-the-boat mentality. These people are publishing your book, so of course you should do what they say. So…you don’t argue when they delete all your semi-colons (after all, you had read somewhere that people don’t like them). And you don’t argue when they suggest changing your character’s name because…reasons. (You weren’t that committed to the name anyway, right?) This is perfectly normal behavior.
And it’s perfectly bullshit.
I’m sure you know there are clauses in publishing contracts that discuss the terms of editing. Be sure to read those very carefully and, if necessary, fight for your right as author to have final say if a compromise can’t be reached. Because I have seen some dodgy contract clauses (and heard horror stories about it happening) where if a compromise can’t be reached, the publisher basically has the right to do whatever the fuck they want. This is hugely problematic because, as the author, it’s still your name on the cover. Make sure you retain the right to put out a book you’re proud of.
Now, I’m not saying fight for every little thing. That’s also bullshit. Publishers don’t make money unless a book sells, so the goal is to work with your editor and publisher in the best interests of your book.
Bear with me for an idiotic example that isn’t terribly far removed from something that happened to me. Let’s take the “daddy” thing from above. Say you wrote it that your heroine’s nickname for the hero is “tiger.” Your editor insists that “tiger” is too close to “cougar” and therefore is likely to cause gender confusion. She suggests because your couple is into kink that “daddy” is much more common and you should go with that. You question, but she seems very insistent.
If you are new or you have been beaten into submission at some point in your career, you’re going to go along with it. Guess what? You’ve now squicked out a sizable contingent of your readership. And even if that wasn’t the case–maybe it just bothers you on a visceral level. Guess what you aren’t going to want to promote super heavily, much less excerpt widely? Why? Because in your gut, that’s a product that you no longer feel confident/excited about–it no longer represents you as an author.
That’s not good for you. Not good for the book. And not good for the publisher.
But you’re new, or you’re nervous. Just saying “no” doesn’t feel like an option. So, you say no with an explanation and a willingness to compromise. It’s a give and take, but you, as the author, have a responsibility to stand up for your book and your characters. If there’s a plot/character reason that “tiger” is incredibly important (something in the heroine’s past, perhaps), then tell the editor that. Commit to explaining why it matters.
I recently had an edit letter that included a call to remove what I felt was some pivotal stuff from my manuscript. After having a massive panic attack (as you do), I penned a lengthy letter to my editor explaining which things I was totally cool with but holding firm that two things were very important to the character development and the development of their relationship…and here’s why. In the end, it turned out the whole thing had been a communication error (editorial telephone, yay!), but had I not reached the point where I was willing to stand up for those characters and that book, I would have lost something that really mattered to me. From my perspective as an author, the book would have been less. (And believe me, this is a book I’m super stoked about and incredibly proud of–that’s the last thing I want.)
So, yes, be polite and professional in dealing with editors and publishers (and for the love of all that is evil, don’t be a speshul snowflake and argue everything or even most things), but never, ever, ever compromise the integrity of your work because you’re afraid to rock the boat.