When An Editor Wants A Rewrite

Consider this common dilemma: you send a piece to an editor, who emails you back saying they basically like it, but need you to make some changes. As you review those changes, however, you realize you disagree with most of them. What do you do?

Most people think they have four options:
Option 1: swallow hard, take a deep breath, and do what the editor asks. Your work then gets published in a form you’re not happy with.
Option 2: send the editor a long email explaining which items you’re happy to change, which ones you won’t, and why. This asks your editor to spend a big chunk of time – time editors don’t have – laboriously hammering out a final version. Because most editors are absurdly overworked, many would rather just reject your piece.
Option 3: call the editor to have a detailed phone discussion. This is a voice-to-voice version of option 2 — and will likely create the same result.
Option 4: withdraw the piece and try to place it elsewhere. This strongly discourages the editor from ever working with you again.
Clearly, none of these options will do. Here’s what I recommend instead:

First, unless you’re on a very tight deadline, don’t respond to the editor’s request for two or three days. Give your unconscious a chance to further process the editor’s suggestions. Over time, you may see more wisdom in the proposed ideas – or you may discover some creative ways to address the editor’s concerns without harming your piece.

Second, don’t discuss specifics with the editor, either by phone or email. Instead, send a brief email that says, “Many thanks for your suggestions for revising my piece. I’ll get you a new version by (date).”

Third, rewrite the piece, but don’t mindlessly follow the editor’s suggestions. Make whatever changes seem reasonable. Also make any changes you don’t agree with that don’t harm the piece. But if you feel something shouldn’t change, don’t change it, even if the editor asked you to. In spots where you agree that a change is needed, but you disagree with what the editor suggested, do whatever you feel is best for the piece.

Fourth, send the rewrite to the editor, along with a note that says something like this: “Dear ____: Here’s the rewrite I promised you. I’ve incorporated many of your suggestions; in other cases where you correctly spotted problems, I came up with alternative solutions. I think the piece now looks quite good. If you have any more questions or concerns, let me know. Regards, _______.”

Most editors understand that writers won’t agree with them all the time. They don’t expect your rewrite to be perfect, and they don’t expect perfect compliance from you. Indeed, editors often think, as their publications go to press, “This isn’t exactly what I wanted it to be, but it will certainly do.”

There’s another reason why this strategy works. Because editors are frantically busy – single-working-mother-with-eight-kids busy – they don’t have time to make every piece into exactly what they want it to be. And they also don’t have the time to dump a decent but less-than-ideal piece and find a replacement. By delivering a rewrite and otherwise leaving the editor alone, you turn editors’ time poverty to your advantage. You make it easy for them to accept your rewrite as is, and time consuming to do anything else.

In the end, you get everything you want: publication in a form that pleases you, and a satisfied editor who considers you easy to work with.