Thursday, March 3, 2011

This story would be so much better if....

I've said this before and I'll say it again. Agents and publishers are trying to sell a product. It's their bottom line. Their suggested edits will reflect that. But what if they ask for a major change?

A blog about just that happening came across my twitter stream the other day. You can read the blog at Ellie Ann Battles A Black Protagonist. For those of you who want the cliff notes, pretty much the agent suggested changing the black, male main character into a white girl. The agent's reasoning was for the genre, Middle Grade, that sort of story wouldn't sell. What was selling were girl protagonist. Apparently young, black boys don't read.

Whether or not that's true isn't my point. My point is that is a major change! Was it even possible for Ellie to write the story with a girl? It got me thinking about my stories and my characters. I didn't sit down and decide this one is going to be this gender and this color while that one is this gender and color. Nope, how I wrote my characters is how they appeared to me. I can't change their gender or skin color. It would destroy the realism. They way they think and act is connected to those two factors. I can't see Tommy as a African American or Latino. JJ and Cage? There wouldn't be a story if I changed their genders so the relationship would be hetro and easier to sell. Another story I have a boy who is half black half white and I can't picture him any other way.

The thought of having someone – anyone – tell me I need to change my characters because that stereotype doesn't sell irks me. Makes my blood boil. Aren't you getting it? I didn't make them this way! This is how they were born! Sure the birth wasn't flesh and blood but it still happened in my head. At first there was nothing then BAM! A character appeared, fully developed with personality, likes, dislikes and features that stated what gender and ethnicity they were. Not only am I insulted you think they should change but they are too!

Maybe I'm reading too much into it. Maybe I have to step back and remind myself that agents and publishers are trying to sell a product and they have to go with what sells. Still! I think characters appear as they are for a reason. It's part of the story and saying they need to change to fit in with the rest of the sheep is just encouraging the idea individuality isn't okay. We need to go with the flow. Well guess what? I'm changing the flow.

16 comments:

  1. I know agents/publishers can and do ask for re-writes to make the book more saleable but I think I would struggle to make the main character a different person altogether. She's in my head now, I know her. It's definitely a difficult decision to make. Stick with your character or murder them off to make it to the shelves. I wouldn't like to have to make that decision.

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  2. Wow, that would be hard to do - change the main character. It would change the entire story! Where would one begin? I have read a lot of blog posts about editor requests. At what point do you put your foot down, maybe shop for another…If that's even possible? Or, do you shelve the book until that type of character will sell? Tough call.

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  3. thanks for the visit, and for the link to Ellie's stuff.

    We all appreciate the support.

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  4. What a great post, you said that SO well! Here's to staying true to character *raises goblet*
    Cheers!
    -Ellie
    p.s. thanks for the mention. :-)

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  5. Roberta I'd probably shelf it. I just can't see changing my characters that much.

    Ellie, had to mention you. This post wouldn't be possible if not for you. =)

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  6. why dose a book sell? an editor should look for errors of print not rewrite the story. an agent/salesman if he can't sell it then he or she is not doing their job. there many books that never see the light of day because of this censorship. i don't like it. and i cannot support it. self publish looks more of the way to go. if some guy can sell a million rocks that anyone can pick up anywhere then a book will sell no matter how it is written or who the character is or is not

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  7. I can appreciate that an agent suggests anything that will make the book easier to sell, however it's up to the author to stick to his/her guns about what is essential or not. If your story needs is about a black man, then certainly changing the character to a white girl makes it less "your" story. Personally I avoid anything that reeks of being formulaic, so cookie cutter characters would turn me off. Integrity is very important, salable or not.

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  8. While suggestions are always worth considering, especially when it comes from an agent, I think you should stick by your guns. Changing the main from a black boy to a white girl - I don't think one could possible suggest a more drastic change than that. As far as your story line is concerned (whatever it is), a white girl wouldn't make the same choices as a black boy is way too many instances - it would destroy the story. If you agent wants a story with a white girl, give her a different manuscript and promote this one to another agent - I don't know, I might go with another agent altogether.

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  9. I changed my main character's gender AND their sexuality, haha.

    But it is a difficult thing to do, and requires a lot of forethought and work.

    I'm not sure how I would react if asked to make such a major change. I'll get back to you on that if I ever get to cross that bridge!

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  10. Brad, you don't count because you came to that conclusion on your own. Ellie had an agent tell her she should change gender and race. =P

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  11. I came here from The Blog Farm.
    My father works in the publishing business in the UK. I'm afraid if you want to get published by a reputable company these days you have to play by their rules. You could self publish and take the world by storm, but you'll be 1 in a million!
    I like reading trashy US detective novels, and they nearly all have female lead characters. These appeal to women who sympathise with the lead and to men who like the sex(y) appeal.
    I enjoyed my visit here!

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  12. I agree with Anna, If the publisher is not convinced by my reasoning, I would change publishers rather than change the story. Great post and interesting topic, Patricia.

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  13. I think it depends on your goals - if all you care about is selling as much as possible (then by all means, it's smart to listen to "experts" even if they are not always right). But I could see how you go with your gut feeling and stay true to the story - It's very possible that it could be a bigger success that way (but it's more of a risk).

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  14. Lots of great comments here, personally you can listen to their advice but you don't have to take it. It's your story, its your passion. People like that have been proven wrong before but they also have experience in this area. If you feel changing your characters in any way compromises your story, you have to ask yourself if you change it - are you compromising yourself? can you be true to this now you've changed it?

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  15. It would be hard for me to change that much to a story I worked long and hard on. Such a big change and for me it would feel like they took my story made it their own and gave me some of the credit for... Just my thoughts

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  16. Having written and studied for years, I've learned a few things. First, fiction is far harder to sell than nonfiction. And the publishing world is under major change, bookstores are closing throughout the country, time to think outside the box. Agents prefer authors new novels, rather than new writers. Self-publishing is the best way for new writers to test the water. And it's fairly inexpensive. Publishers use to market new authors. No more. They're understaffed and juggling many books at one time. You must promote yourself. They want writers to provide your own marketing plan. "Publicize Your Book" by Jacqueline Deval is an exellent place to start. Think about it and good luck.

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