In the olden days, when I was writing non-fiction, I never had anybody read what I’d written until it was in print. My editor, of course, had read it, and made comments, most of which I paid attention to on the grounds they were sensible. I remember one particular editorial demand that I did not think was sensible, but it was made clear to me that that was the way things were to be. Our conversation got heated, and I finally said in exasperation, “What I think doesn’t matter. You hold all the cards,” and he said, “Right.”
I am delighted to say I never had to work with him again. (He also mentioned to me after publication that he was annoyed I didn’t thank him more fulsomely in my preface. Jerk.)
That’s not the way it seems to work in my new writing life. For one thing, all of us seem to lean on each other to some extent. I suppose this is due to a couple of changes since my non-fiction days: first of all, editors have less time than they had then, and they expect to get material that is virtually ready to go in many cases. Agents do part of what used to be the editorial function, now that they function as gate-keepers for the majority of publishing houses, and critique partners do the rest. Plus which most of us read at least some of the outpouring of how-to-write-better books — I can see 10 of them , quickly glancing around from where I’m currently sitting. Hopefully, we learn from them. It would be a terrible waste of money otherwise!
But of course each of them has some particular element of fiction writing as the secret of success. (Didn’t they have to persuade their publishers that they had something different and unique before a contract was signed?) So of course I have 10 separate hobby horses see-sawing back and forth all around me.
So who do I listen to? Well, we’ve established that we have to listen to the editor, should we be fortunate enough to have one, and may they not all be jerks. We generally choose to listen to an agent, although there is a prevalent line of thought that a bad agent is worse than no agent, and so some critical faculty is needed to sort out what makes sense that they tell us and what doesn’t. And then the critique partners, beta readers, and all the rest?
Who do you listen to? Why? What does it take to make you sit up and say, “Oh, yes”? Does absorbing someone else’s point of view help when evaluating our own work? How? And, in a small voice, why?