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The Art of Being Flexible

by Janet Lee Barton

Oh, you may be finished with the manuscript-as it is right now. You may have gone over it multiple times-had critique partners, family and/or friends read through it several times, too. Then you send it out. But it still doesn’t mean you’re finished.

You may have an agent or publisher interested in it, and even get an offer of representation or better yet, a contract! But you still aren’t finished. In fact, you’ve only just begun. And now is the time to learn to be flexible. In this instance and according to my dictionary, it means to be “ready and able to change so as to adapt to different circumstances or conditions.”

For instance, you may be asked to change the title of your book. I can hear several gasps from here. I’ve actually heard writers say they’ll never change their title. But really, one should never to get too attached to a title-and especially not so much that you’d refuse to change it. If you are in this for the long haul the chances of you needing to change a title are quite high. But it is not worth putting your career on the line for, nor is it worth giving your editor the idea that you might be hard to work with.

So make that change and get ready for the next one–because there will be more. Believe me-I know. You might be asked to change a scene, take out that favorite paragraph-the one you worked days to get just right. Or maybe you’re asked to take out a plot line-or add a new one-what can possibly be better than the one you’ve been asked to take out? Or you might be asked to take out a secondary character you love, or all of the above. Yes, I can see that isn’t what you want to hear. None of us do. But it can and does happen.

Yes, sometimes you can ask to keep something in just as it is. But most times you need to think about it first. If the requested change is something you know your character would not do, or something you truly feel strongly about, you can say so-nicely of course. Then you and your editor might need to talk things through to get to a mutually satisfying decision. It can be done.

Learn what to stand firm on and what to give way on. The most important thing to remember is that your editor wants to help you make your story the best it can be. Sometimes your ideas on how to go about that differ, but you should always be flexible enough to listen to what your editor is saying, then think about it-really think about it-and see if the editor’s idea might make for a better book. I’ve found that most times they do, if we are flexible enough to take their ideas to heart and work with them.


Janet Lee Barton was born in New Mexico and has lived all over in Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. She loves researching and writing historical romance. Janet and her husband now live in Oklahoma, and are part of what they laughingly call their Generational Living Experiment with their daughter and her husband, two wonderful granddaughters, and a Shih Tzu called Bella. The experiment has turned into quite an adventure and so far, they think it’s working out just fine.

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3 Responses to The Art of Being Flexible

  1. Robin Patchen says:

    This is so true, and I’ve learned that, when you have a great editor, you can trust her to do what’s best for the story, even when it hurts (and sometimes it really hurts) to take out that favorite scene.

    Great article, Janet.

  2. Janet,I have so learned the truth of this in my latest edit. Thanks for the reminder of the fact of lfie!

  3. Janet, you are so right. This is great advice for any writer at any stage in her career. Be flexible. Be easy to work with. Don’t sweat the small stuff and then when something big comes around, your editor is much more likely to listen.