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So there's an editor who has accepted a story of mine for publication... but he wants me to change the ending. Normally I'm pretty open to editorial changes, but in this case the proposed changes alter the timbre of the piece by changing the ending from a "downer" ending to something more upbeat.

Is this a reasonable request from an editor? What are the pros and cons of accepting this request?

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Note that this question is somewhat hypothetical, since I've already agreed to make the requested changes. But I'd like to see whether the question is considered on-topic, and of course what the community thinks. –  JSBձոգչ Nov 29 '10 at 17:50
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I think it really boils down to: who understands the story and it's audience better, you or your editor? (Unfortunately, that's not an easy question either). –  MGOwen Dec 9 '10 at 1:45
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up vote 14 down vote accepted

I can't say if it's reasonable or not, but it's not unheard of. There is also the fact that the editor does like your story.

The biggest pro of going through with this is that you get your story published, but is it worth it? As you said, you are changing the timbre of the piece, and if it makes it something you're not happy with it might not be worth doing the work.

Here's what I would suggest, ask the editor why he thinks the ending needs to be changed. There is always the possibly that he has a very good reason why he think the upbeat ending is better, maybe there is something in the story that he believes leads to the happier ending. Once you know why he wants it you can try to sell him on your original ending or work out what needs to be tweaked in the story to make the downer ending work for him.

Working with an editor is a two way street, and it's always better to work with them for this sort of thing to find something that works for both of you.

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This isn't a binary choice.

You don't need to view this as a "take it or leave it" decision - this is something you can talk to your editor about. And you don't need to choose between your ending and your editor's proposed ending - you can write a third ending, a fourth, a fifth, a sixteenth if need be.

Odds are, both you and your editor have valid concerns about each other's preferred endings. They'll be a lot more complicated than "upbeat vs. depressing," involving lots of factors and considerations, and once you understand why the editor isn't satisfied with your ending - odds are that you can come up with a new one that will satisfy both of you.

Of course, there are cases where an editor's view of a story differs vastly from the author's; sometimes you might disagree with an editor's concerns entirely, and then you'll need to decide whether publishing the work is worth the harm you feel is done to the story. (In this case, I think the two guiding principles are: how likely am I to be able to sell this to somebody else? And how do I feel about having my name signed to the revised story?.)

But the situation you're at right now is one where you disagree with the editor's proposal - not necessarily with his criticism. That's really not a problem, if you can incorporate those concerns and that criticism into something of your own, something that works with your story.

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I'm both an author and an editor. As a writer, I would be uncomfortable changing the ending to my story if it seemed wrong to me. Sure, the editor has the right to make that suggestion, but if it doesn't sit well with you, I would rethink it. It depends on your degree of opposition. Does the new ending sound terrible to you or does it sound like a reasonable alternative?

As you said, you've already approved the new change, but as an editor, I'm concerned that your editor wanted to make the ending more positive. IMO, that's changing the direction and the tone of your story. It's not something that I would do. Sigrid

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You can always shop it to someone else. The bottom line is, are they going to pick up your story without that change? If they are, then you can ignore the request, and if they're not, you have to decide if you need the money more than you want the ending.

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