Shannon Stacey

Weekend Question: To stet or not to stet

The question for this weekend is…

Would telling my editor where to shove her red pen kill my career? She corrected my grammar and caught my typos and pointed out plot inconsistencies, but then she goes on to “suggest” rewrites that change sentence structure. She likes long flowery sentences and this is a romantic suspense. Another example is when I used the word “stroked” and she wanted it changed to “petted”. He’s stroking her hair, and she doesn’t have four legs and a tail.

How do you tell your editor she’s overstepping her bounds without ruining your relationship with her and getting a “difficult” reputation?

Please feel free to chime in with your advice!

Don’t forget, if you’ve got an anything-writing-related question, email it to me at with Weekend Question in the subject line! All questions are posted anonymously, and authors who wish to answer anonymously can email their answers to me, as well.

12 comments to “Weekend Question: To stet or not to stet”

  1. Karen Templeton
      · February 22nd, 2008 at 11:00 am · Link

    This is probably gonna get me in trouble, but this is something that really fries my clams. An editor’s job is to correct mistakes, fix grammar, spot inconsistencies…*not* rewrite your prose. My attitude has always been that it’s my name on the cover, and that if I’m going to be taken to task for something I’ve written, I’d at least like to be the one what wrote it! :eyebrow:

    My own editor wouldn’t dream of imposing her own tastes on any of her authors, so my only set-tos have occasionally been with other editors who’ve done work for her, or copy editors. And I have no trouble stetting something when the “suggestion” or correction simply isn’t me. Some things really don’t make a difference, of course (although I still grrrr to myself when the change is totally arbitrary), but changing my style? Uh, no.

    Granted, it’s far easier for me to say this to you than it is to an actual editor, but I’d thank you for catching the goofs, etc., but then gently, but firmly, insist on her leaving the other stuff alone. The reputation on the line is the one based on what’s on the page!

    But man, you definitely have my sympathies. I had one book, many years ago, that my husband still refers to as the “hatchet job,” the editor got so carried away with reinterpreting my story. Trying to sort that out was the most miserable two weeks of my life.

  2. Jaci Burton
      · February 22nd, 2008 at 11:10 am · Link

    Well I’m not sure I would tell my editor where to shove her red pen…lol, but if the edits are inappropriate, you are well within your rights to “stet’ them so your original prose remains. Obviously long flowery sentences aren’t going to cut it in a romantic suspense, and some word choices aren’t going to be appropriate for the language style you’re going for. That being said, you need to figure out what her motivation is in suggesting these changes.

    I take each and every edit under consideration and determine if it’s right for my characters and story, always trying to be objective. Does it make the sentence or dialogue stronger? Am I being too emotional about my work? (We’re writers–it happens). Often my editors can look at my work much more objectively than I can and make great suggestions. Sometimes the suggestions an editor or copyeditor make is not what I want my characters to say or think, or where I want the plot to go, so I will end up ‘stetting’ the suggestion so the original work remains. There always should be, in my mind, be a logical reason for the change. For example, if you used ‘stroked’ already in the paragraph, perhaps she’s trying to get you to use a different word to avoid redundancy (I have no idea since I can’t see your work and am trying to figure out why she’s making these changes. I could be totally off base here and am basing my comments on how my own work is edited at times.).

    You can also question your editor on why she’s making the changes and tell her your concerns. You and your editor have a working relationship, and communication is vital. Opening a dialogue with her and discussing your concerns is the best way to fix this. You both want the same thing–the best book possible. I hope the two of you are able to work together and resolve the issue in a way that satisfies you both. There’s nothing better than loving your editor, and nothing worse when you don’t. Good luck! :grin:

  3. Charlene
      · February 22nd, 2008 at 11:34 am · Link

    Editorial changes tend to fall into 3 categories. Makes it better, doesn’t matter (i.e. the change doesn’t make it better or worse), or alters meaning, intent, voice, etc. If it’s in the 3rd category, I’d STET it. But the vast majority of suggested changes make it better or don’t matter, and if it doesn’t matter, why fight it? Save your energy for the things you care about. If you don’t argue most changes and stand up for the few you really think are important, your editor shouldn’t object.

  4. Karen Templeton
      · February 22nd, 2008 at 11:38 am · Link

    :Granted, it’s far easier for me to say this to you than it is to an actual editor, but I’d thank you for catching the goofs, etc.,::

    Argh. That’s supposed to be thank HER for catching the goofs.

    Apparently, Shannon’s cold has verrrry long arms.

  5. Bev Stephans
      · February 22nd, 2008 at 3:26 pm · Link

    Okay, this avid reader is going to wade in with her 2 cents worth! Tell your editor that long flowery phrases send me into eye-rolling territory. That’s for young adults and even they have problems with too much gush. As for “stroked” vs “petted”, I like “stroked better. You’re right, “petted” sounds like you’re fondling your dog and dog-fondling is out in romantic suspense!

  6. Natalie J. Damschroder
      · February 22nd, 2008 at 8:29 pm · Link

    I’ve been wondering about this a lot lately, because of friends’ situations. In one case, the copyeditor changed a sentence so that an inanimate object was breathing instead of the heroine (or something like that) and others were cases of changing the voice so much it was jarring.

    I’ve been very lucky, none of my editors have tried to change TOO much, the few times there was an issue we were able to talk it out and come to a compromise in most cases. I discovered with my third published book that I’m NOT as easygoing about small things as I always expected I’d be. I want to pick my battles and save it for the important stuff, but it’s not always easy when even a tiny change makes it something I would never have written. But at least I’m aware of my shortcomings! :)

    I’m eager to hear what others have to say, too.

  7. Lynn
      · February 23rd, 2008 at 12:12 am · Link

    This sounds like a bad match of writer and editor. An editor who gets the writer doesn’t try to rewrite the story S/he accepts your style (even when it’s not to his/her personal taste) and instead zooms in on your weak areas and pushes you to improve them.

    Now, that said, don’t piss off the editor by telling her where to shove the red pen. Talk to her politely about these issues. If you don’t want flowery sentences in your romantic suspense, I’d say that: “You suggested I make these sentences longer, but that’s really not my writing style/I feel they would be too flowery for a romantic suspense story.” Then listen to what she has to say about it. Bottom line, it’s your story and your name on the book, but she decides whether to offer you another contract or not.

    Editors can’t read our minds. The majority of them are very busy people who do the best they can. She may think she’s helping you grow as a writer by making these suggestions. Being up front with her gives her feedback, and should help her better handle the next book she edits for you. Just be polite, because an aggressive or confrontational tone will only put her on the defensive.

  8. Shannon
      · February 23rd, 2008 at 11:23 am · Link

    Okay, I’ve received an email answer that the answerer would like posted anonymously. I did say I would post those for anybody I found credible. Before I post it, by credible I meant not an anonymous flamer. It doesn’t mean I found that person to be correct or that I agree with the comment or even that I’m comfortable posting it. But I made the rules, so I’ll play by them.

    From Anonymous Author:

    That happened to me when I signed a contract with a supposedly reputable epublisher. When I got my edits, I didn’t know what to do. She changed word choices and sentence structure. She even rewrote an entire paragraph. Not suggested changing it, but actually rewrote it.

    I asked around privately and found out my “editor” had no credentials. She had no education and no experience in editing. She didn’t have to work her way up through the ranks like they do in New York. She was an aspiring writer who couldn’t get published so she became an editor instead.

    This woman who had no qualifications for editing and wasn’t a good enough writer to get her own books published was given my book which she then tried to rewrite for me. I pulled my book. I consider myself a professional and I expect my publisher to provide me with professional editors.

    If that’s not your situation, then you should follow the advice they said. It’s good advice. If you’re in a situation like mine, I’d tell her to shove the red pen.

  9. Shannon
      · February 23rd, 2008 at 11:54 am · Link

    Okay, back to being me.

    I can’t really offer a lot because it’s not something I’ve had to deal with, but I will say I think there has to be trust between a writer and her editor. And it’s not something that happens instantly with the first book, but builds with each one.

    So a while back my editor says my hero’s a bit of an ass. I did a little here and there to try to soften him up, but I explained to my editor that I felt a man in his situation would react like that to having his world turned upside down and I was being true to his character. Okay. Go try to find a review of Forever Again that doesn’t mention the hero being a jerk or the reader wanting to punch him in the head. Seriously. On the flip side, when she’s pointed a lack and suggested adding something and I listened, I’ve been rewarded by reviewers and readers.

    The lesson I’ve learned: Consider very carefully before blowing off my editor’s suggestions.

    BUT—that’s not based on the fact her title is Editor. It’s based on my trust in her judgement.

    Another lesson I’ve learned: Go through my edits and declare them done. THEN, later or the next day, I go through the ones I stetted again. I’ve already allowed myself that “I wrote it this way and I want it this way” reaction (edits bring out the inner diva I didn’t know I had before, I guess). But when I go back through I give serious consideration to the comments and almost always make the change. Not always, but I have a reason for any I don’t want to make. Usually voice-related. But part of my process is to go through once as the Diva Writer and once as the writer who knows her editor wants to make the book better. Just my process.

    So with the examples in the question, here’s what I’d do—

    It seems odd that an editor wouldn’t understand that sentence structure can—and should—be used to heighten suspense and give a sense of urgency. BUT, if you overuse it, you dilute the impact. Is she suggesting longer, flowery sentences during action scenes? Or during “rest” scenes? (I’m thinking flowery means lots of commas and stuff, not ooey-gooey type stuff.) She might be trying to balance the sentence structure to maximize the impact of the short, tight sentences.

    If not, a note saying “I feel the current sentence structure heightens the sense of urgency and suspense” might suffice.

    With the stroking/petting thing—If you look back a few pages, is there a possibility you’d already used stroking a couple of times? My editor will highlight when I use a word too many times in close quarters (which happens a LOT) so I can pick another word. Just a thought.

    If not, just stet would be enough.

    So maybe allow it to sit for a day or two, then duct-tape the inner diva and read the suggestions again with the mindset of a partnership. Don’t be afraid to ask why a certain suggestion was made. If you feel strongly a change negatively impacts the work, don’t make it, but you should have a reason.

    And if you feel this editor isn’t a good editor for you, then with very great tact explore the possibility of switching. Never tell them to shove it because, just as writers move up the totem pole, so do editors. It would really suck if someday she was the Chief Editing Goddess of a mass conglomerate romance house and remembered you.

  10. Shannon
      · February 23rd, 2008 at 12:11 pm · Link

    Okay, I just want to pull a piece of my rambling mess up there out and clarify it a bit.

    My first reaction to edits is emotional. I recognize it and I work with it. I go through the edits once. Then once that process is done, I can go back and be more analytical and give a more unbiased consideration to the comments.

  11. Karen Templeton
      · February 23rd, 2008 at 12:41 pm · Link

    Just a clarification: IMO, there’s a difference between those astute suggestions good editors leave in your margins or make in a revision letter — like, oh, your hero being a wuss :eyebrow: — and the prose-tampering thing. It’s definitely the editor’s job to make the book better/stronger/clearer/tighter/more polished, but as much as possible without leaving HER imprint on it.

    The ideal editor should be an all-wise, invisible force for good. Sorta like God. :boogie: My own editor fits this description to a T.

    If a scene feels too long, the editor should suggest it be cut rather than cut it herself (UNLESS the author is comfortable with that!); if the problem is redundancy, simply noting how often the offending word pops up in the same page with a comment that maybe some variety wouldn’t hurt gives the author the chance to make her own corrections. (And I, for one, am very grateful if someone catches those slips my poor old eyes miss after five thousand editing passes. :crazy:)

    But after a dozen years in this business, I heard too many horror stories about either meddling or — sorry — undereducated so-called “editors” to automatically assume they all know what they’re about. Can’t tell you how often I’ve had to stet grammar “corrections” that had me rolling my eyes, or rewordings that made no sense whatsoever (a word to the wise: Know your grammar and syntax, chickies, because you can’t always trust the “professionals”). I’ve heard of fellow authors in near tears — and we’re not talking newbies, here, by any means — because some overzealous copyeditor (or editor, for that matter) decided to almost completely rewrite the entire manuscript.

    Do you ever tell anyone where to hide their red pen? No. Go vent to your crit group or husband or cat, but not to her. And definitely, as Shan said, go through the ms twice — I, too, often find that at least some of my stets no longer seem half as crucial the second time around. But keep those lines of communication open — ask your editor why she thinks something should be changed. Sometimes, getting another take on the problem helps the author to see where the editor’s coming from, the suddenly the request makes perfect sense. If you still don’t agree, however, calmly stick to your guns.

    The worst-case scenario? Maybe you and this editor/house AREN’T a good fit, and you will part company. It’s been known to happen. Yes, it’s scary thinking of jeopardizing future contracts, but what’s the point of staying somewhere if you just end up frustrated and stressed every time you turn in a book?

  12. Emma Wayne Porter
      · February 23rd, 2008 at 2:19 pm · Link

    Now residing on both sides of the fence, I second a lot of what others are saying.

    In general, editorial changes in wording aren’t (or shouldn’t be) arbitrary. Already, as an Ed, I can say echoes or 2x usages are probably the most common reason changes are suggested. Keyword here being “suggested”, and if no reason for the change is given, I would hope an author would ask for clarification.

    As a writer, though, I know I develop raging cases of “page blindness” where I’ve been over something so many times I can no longer see what’s really on the page, and often don’t see the problem until it’s pointed out. So before I STET something, I always want to be certain I understand why the “red pen of death” was applied.

    That said, (once emotional reaction has been allowed to cool off) if you genuinely believe the editor you’ve been given doesn’t suit you, your work, your genre or your voice, ask for a different one. Happens all the time, and it’s hardly the end of the world.

    As to telling someone to shove their red pen, I think the first rule I learned about publishing a decade ago was that “today’s receptionist is tomorrow’s senior editor”. It always pays to be professional, no matter what. Besides. Edits are about readability. They’re not personal. So why take it that way?

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