YA Highway asks this week: How far would you go to get published? They mean, how much would you change about your writing or your manuscript? Would you choose a trendy premise (vampires or dystopian anyone?), would you switch genres? Would you do minor revisions to sign with an agent? Would you do major revisions to sign with a publisher?
Personally I would do all of the above and more, not because I’m desperate to be published (I’ve BEEN published; it’s really not that exciting) but because these are a part of a career as a writer. The one I hesitate over most is the first – choosing a trendy premise. Not that I WOULDN’T choose a trendy premise (my current MS is dystopian, kind of), but that I wouldn’t do it just to get published. I’ve had the inspirational image of my current MS in my mind for a long time – it came to me in a dream actually. The best way to sum it up is that it explores the fine line between being protected and being imprisoned. I wasn’t sure how to tell this story but when I combined the image with the setting it seemed to work. I was off to the races. I didn’t do it because I thought it would “sell”, I did it because I thought it would “work”. There’s a difference.
Switching genres? I’m not really sure what this means. Does it mean that I would write in genres other than what I usually do? I don’t have a usual genre so there’s no problems there. Would I change the genre of an existing MS? That’s something different, and relates more to the two last questions.
Would I do minor revisions to sign with an agent? Done it. Next. Anyone who would hesitate to do this is an idiot. Agents know what they are doing. I recently did a revision to sign with my new agent and it solved a problem that has been plaguing me since I finished the manuscript. It was, in fact, huge weight off my mind.
Would I make major revisions to sign with a publisher? Of course I would. But only if I thought they would work. For me, the story is the most important thing. I happily made a TON of changes to the script for Hildegarde but fought tooth and nail against some others. As I explained to the producer and director at the time, a book or screenplay is only a window into the world. It is not the world. No one lives in that world but the writer. Only the writer really knows what will happen in that world if those changes are made. Sometimes it won’t matter. Sometimes the whole world will fall apart.
Then there are the times when it gets, well, political. Some writers say they would never change the race or sexual orientation of the character. I rarely write about race or sexual orientation so to me, I’m not sure it would matter. I guess I would hesitate to sign with a publisher if I thought they were racist homophobes (that is SO a word, SpellCheck!), but personally I try not to get too deep into the politics of the people I work with. Chances are I’ve submitted to publishers and agents who are pro-life for example, while I’m pro choice. Perhaps some agents and publishers might have views about the Middle East that I don’t share. Just how awful does a person need to be personally before I can’t stomach working with them professionally? Frankly, I hope I never have to find out. I guess what I’m saying is, it depends on the motivation for the requested changes.
To illustrate what I mean I’m going to tell you of a publishing opportunity I DID turn down. I wrote a picture book manuscript called ‘Molly’s Family Story” which was about a little girl sharing with her class the fact that her grandfather resisted being drafted into the Vietnam war by taking exile in Canada. For those of you who don’t know as many as 100,000 young men made this choice in the 60s and 70s. Many thousands, their children and grandchildren still live in Canada. They are still politically active, protesting the Iraq war and even helping deserters from the US military who refuse to participate in Iraq. It’s an educated, aware and tight knit group. In short, a good market. It was a good project. I submitted it to every press in Canada that published picture books and was rejected by all of them, bar one.
A Canadian press , a feminist press, emailed me (email! I ask you!) in a pink froth about this manuscript – they loved it! They wanted to publish it! They were so hoping no one else had snapped it up (they actually said “snapped it up”). Oh, but one small problem, they couldn’t publish it with any reference to Canada or the Vietnam War. They wanted to ‘universalise’ it.
In other words they wanted to sell it in the USA. They suggested I rewrite it so it looked like the grandfather resisted the draft from, say, Turkey. I agreed, in no small amount of shock, to think about it. Then I came to my senses. We reached an agreement. I would let them publish a bastardised version of my story, a story of resistance to militarism that made it look like the USA was a haven for pacifists when they took it out of my cold – dead – hand.
Don’t get me wrong – I love America and Americans. I’m less enthused by the militarism that sometimes pervades the culture there. I’m certainly not enthused at all about the war in Iraq. But the main point I was trying to make with my book is that this was a period in CANADIAN history that we could and should all be very proud of . The world has changed dramatically since the Vietnam war; Canada has changed. Canada now routinely deports US military refugees. Canada up until a few weeks ago, had a strong military presence in Afghanistan. Canada bust up the Occupy Protests just like everyone else. Canada was not always so. Apparently this “feminist” press didn’t get it. They didn’t get my manuscript. I didn’t get a publishing deal either.
Was it worth it? would I do it again? Yes and yes. For me, a story is what it is. There’s a golden line running through a story that cannot be broken. Some changes don’t break the line. Some do.