Thursday, April 30, 2015

Query question: can the publisher make me change the ending?



Six people I asked to beta read my work completed it and had useful feedback about where the story lagged or where it might be confusing, but two of them (a third of my readers!) didn’t like the ending. They wanted a happy ending for the characters that they had invested in, and I don’t write those. I strongly feel that protagonists must face the consequences of their actions, and sometimes those consequences are heavy.
I guess the silver lining is that they cared enough about the characters to be upset about the ending.
Now obviously, when I’m looking for an agent, I’d be sure to find one that is happy with the current ending. But what happens if we sign with a publisher? Is it possible that a publisher would have a similar view as a third of my beta readers? Could they be thinking “it’s got promise and once we sign, we’ll fix the ending”? Does a writer have any control at that point?
If the publisher tries to radically change a book after the author signs, can the author withdraw the book?


Yes.
If the author doesn't want to do the edits or changes that the publisher asks for, it's entirely possible to pay back all the advance money and cancel the contract. (You'll end up paying back the agent's commission portion too--we did our job and sold the book. You back out of the deal, we don't give the money back)


This doesn't happen often, but it does happen.


The way to avoid this is to have an agent who asks the right questions of the editor: do you love the book? do you think there are major changes? if you do, what are they?


The editor doesn't want to sign up a book and work on it for months only to have the author disagree and back out of the deal.  The editor will have some serious explaining to do up his/her food chain, and those are NOT fun conversations.


Your agent should know before going on submission that changing the ending is a deal breaker for you. That will help her figure out what questions to ask when negotiating the deal.



62 comments:

brianrschwarz said...

Really interesting post Janet! I hadn't ever thought about that one!

CAPTCHA made me select all the breads again! :) This is NOT helping me on my low carb diet...

Lisa Bodenheim said...

"The editor will have some serious explaining to do up his/her food chain"

Holymoly, how complicated everything gets. Soooo internconnected.

I suppose this is NOT something to put in a query letter because we don't tell the ending in the query letter. But it would be a good question to ask an agent when The Call is received, just to be sure an agent is fully enthusiastic about our book with the ending we've chosen.

Brian: LOL, the unhelpful reCAPTCHA.

ugh...a steak reCAPTCHA?! I cannot do steak in the mornings! Where's my caffeine.

Kitty said...

The Showtime series NURSE JACKIE will come to an end this season; nine episodes remain. The executive producer was asked if he believed in "happy endings." He said no, that he believed in "authentic endings."

Nurse Jackie is a high-functioning drug addicted ER nurse (in NYC) who's also a lapsed Catholic. She's committed so many sins and crimes that she could spend an entire afternoon in the confessional, to say nothing of years in prison. But we do like her. So this idea of an "authentic ending" has the show's fans worried.

I don't like sugar-coated endings either, but there's authentic and then there's authentic. Just how authentic will the series' ending be? As much as I like protagonists to face the consequences of their actions -- I wouldn't have shed a tear if Tony Soprano had been convicted of his crimes -- I don't think I like the idea of saying good-bye to Jackie as she's shipped off to Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women. And yet that's where she belongs.

As to the writer... You're worried because a third of your beta readers wanted a happy ending. But think of it this way: twice as many liked the ending.

Sam Hawke said...

Changing the ending is a pretty big deal. I'd like to think that a publisher would mention to the agent/author if they thought the ending needed changing before they bought the book!

A friend of mine essentially rewrote the entire second half of her first novel because an editor loved the first half but didn't like where it went after that. But she was happy and comfortable doing it, and she was asked to agree to that new direction before signing off on the deal.

Colin Smith said...

For those of us still hunting for the elusive Agent, it does us good, I think, in our moments of frustration to consider what happens on the publisher's side of the business once you have an agent and go on submission. Of course, I have no personal experience, but I've read stuff. Bottom line--as I understand it, anyway (Janet please correct if I'm wrong): the editor doesn't have carte blanche to just buy whatever he wants. He has to present the novels he's interested in to a roomful of folks who then have to consider the merits of each submission. Factors include what the market is for the novel, whether they have anything coming out in the next few years that might be a competing title, and so on. So it really pays to make sure your editor loves your vision for the novel (including the ending) as early into the conversation as possible.

Another great Q&A!

Susan Bonifant said...

I appreciate the writer's question, I can even imagine having the problem, and I respect any struggle to protect one's integrity.

Still, for the sake of the writer's success and future, I would hope that s/he has soul-searched enough to avoid confusing integrity with vanity because they can look alike.

And these reCAPTCHA images all look like menu items from Olive Garden. Some are such faraway shots, I can't tell a soup from a cake. Every day it snips at me, "You have selected too few items," until I finally get a little number to type in instead.

Donnaeve said...

Kitty, I thought of The Soprano's too... and that show's ending is STILL causing talk about what happened. Did he or did he not die? The director or producer, can't recall who it was, said the music at the ending was key.

As to the questioner's situation, I like authentic endings too. In one of my books, I had a bit of feedback like this, i.e., readers wanted a more conclusive ending between my MC and a sheriff. I added in one sentence which revealed one action by the MC. This action would open up the door to possibilities, but still left a bit of a question. The ending wasn't about them though, IMO, yet b/c of the way it was written, I was the one who planted this thought in their heads, so it's on me if they needed more.

Anyway, I think the point about the questioner not wanting to change their ending is fine, but I wonder if the stance would change if editor after editor passes b/c they don't like the ending. (?)

reCAPTCHA for me was hamburgers. TOO EARLY.

Julie.M.Weathers said...

Years ago I read David Gemmell's LEGEND. It was a great book. The story was riveting. The ending dramatic. I've never read anything of his again. He did a fantastic job of making you really care about characters. Even minor characters. You loved them and rooted for them. Then he betrayed them and killed them all off. Even the MC,

Authentic ending. It was a massive battle after all.

I was emotionally drained. Wow, that's what you want from readers, isn't it? Emotional involvement? I suppose. I'm just not masochistic enough to fork out another ten dollars for entertainment to be depressed for days.

That being said, some readers are gut wrenched by FR. Some bad things happen, but it's also balanced by some good things so it isn't so depressing.

I tend to follow Joss Whedon's advice.

“Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” --Joss Whedon

Colin Smith said...

BTW, do I have some special Carkoonian privilege, or can anyone else just hit "Publish Your Comment" without having to check the "I'm not a robot" box, or do some kind of Captcha dance? At the most, I have to log in with my Google ID and password.

Just curious... :)

Matt Adams said...

I think the questioner is about ten steps early to worry about this, but I'll relate my story. After a bunch of querying, my agent offered rep. One thing though, she asked, what would you think about changing the ending (she thought it would be better a bit more ambiguous than the happy one I'd written). I thought about, asked a few people who'd read.

Then i changed the ending. Either you trust the people you work with or you don't.

And I would guess the questioner would, too, if given the actual choice between publication and non-publication. I think an editor would tell s/he that before offering to buy the book, but if they didn't, you'd have to understand they are BUYING the book. Not agreeing to print your masterpiece, but buying the print versions of it. If the questioner is uncomfortable with that idea, s/he should self publish and save everyone involved a lot of hassle.

It's like Dave Berry said after he sold the rights to his life/books/columns to a TV show (It starred Harry Anderson, the guy from Night Court). He insisted he retain complete creative control over how he spent the money. I think that's the wy to look at it.

LynnRodz said...

Ooh! I could have written this question. It's good to know, because like the OP I will not change the ending to my story either. Everything in life is not sugar-coated with happy endings. I haven't written a romance, nor a tragedy, but life happens and changing the ending would mean a totally different story - one I didn't write.

Like the questioner, I should be glad that people are invested in my characters enough to want to see them happy. I sent my synopsis to a beta reader recently and this is what she said in an email, "Reading your synopsis brings back all the emotions I had when reading the book!" (I know, I know, but it makes you feel good when a reader says something like that.)

I've been asked this "what if" question before and my answer is still the same. I'm also aware, if/when I'm published, some people will not be happy with the ending. It's not stubbornness, I'm willing to change and edit things, add or take out words, chapters, etc., but not the ending.

Thanks, Janet. Now I know to make that clear from the beginning.

Colin, I'm like you (maybe it's the old-timers on Carkoon) all I have to do is hit "Publish."

LynnRodz said...

Matt, I think it depends on the story. Would Love Story be the same if Jenny didn't die and her and Oliver lived happily (until mid-life crisis time and then they got divorced)? Of course not. Would The Bridges of Madison County be the same if Francesca had taken off with Robert Kincaid and left her family behind (until Robert traded her in for someone else and then she wanted to come home)? Of course not. Would Romeo and Juliet be the same if...well, you get the picture. It has nothing to do with thinking you have a masterpiece, some endings are not meant to be changed, otherwise it's no longer the same story being told.

Matt Adams said...

Lynn, not to question your reasoning, but I think it's short sighted. If someone whose income and career depends on making good books better -- someone who has risen to the level of being an acquiring editor at a publishing house -- tells you they think the book is better and more sale-able by changing the ending, you'd be unwilling to do it? No one in the process has any interest in making anyone's book worse. Why wouldn't you trust their opinion?

Maybe it's because I come from a newspaper background, where any word can be cut at any moment for any reason, but I think you always have to be open to the idea that other people -- people who are professionals at what they do -- those other people may be right.

kregger said...

*rearranges cart and horse and nods to OP for an appropriate question.*
I think this question should be grouped with the other woodland anxieties that keep writers up at night.
Seems to be a rare bird. I'd like to hear a RL example.
Personally, I've changed everything my editor has asked me to do. So on an integrity scale of one to ten, does that make me a two dollar...
or a new writer trying to get published?

Dena Pawling said...


A friend of mine submits directly to her publisher [most romance publishers allow this] and for her latest manuscript, her editor wanted her to change the ending, still a happy ending but not the way my friend wrote it. She pulled it. [Altho romance won't tolerate anything but a happy ending, so presumably this is not the genre the questioner writes.]

The Fault in our Stars did pretty well [understatement] and I wouldn't classify it as having a happy ending since most people leaving the theaters were in tears.

That said, Chinatown originally had a happier ending but it was changed into the darker ending [over the writer's objection], and the ending is why the film was critically acclaimed. If Chinatown hadn't had the ending it did, would it have done so well?

A dark ending isn't always a deal-breaker [depending on the genre]. But if changing the ending has the potential to make it better, I think it's worth at least serious consideration.

[About a month ago, I had to type a house number into reCaptcha, but 99% of the time I just have to check the box.]

Pharosian said...

@Matt -- In general I agree with you, but it bears remembering that acquiring editors are still human beings with their own preferences and prejudices. If that weren't the case, then you wouldn't have stories about the number of rejections some of the books that went on to become blockbusters got. Yes, agents are on the front lines of doing the rejecting, but Janet can tell you that acquiring editors do their fair share of rejecting, too.

So where one editor would be convinced the ending had to change, another one might love it as-is.

(Ha! finally got to choose among "cakes"! Sadly, the Woodland Creatures cake was not one of them.)

Shaun Hutchinson said...

Matt, you make a good point. When we were shopping my first book, a publisher was interested but only if I was willing to rewrite the last third of my book. I was initially against the idea, but when no other publishers bit, I talked it over with the editor and submitted a revised outline. She bought the book, and I rewrote the last third. As I started doing the rewrites, I was still skeptical, but by the time I'd finished them, I realized that my editor had been correct all along, and that the rewrites improved the book significantly.

That said, I think if an editor did request a significant change to the ending, I'd do the rewrite before signing the contract to make sure both the editor and I were happy with the new changes before committing to them.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I read on an agent's blog that different genres are expected to have certain endings. Specifically Romance has to have a happy ending. I don't write romance and can't remember the source but it was posted during pitchmadenss.

Dena, you posted before I could.

So we unpublished un agented can write whatever the hell we want and end it however we like.

When you've created a character and it's a series you have to lead into the next book or set up the next story.

In an interview J.K. Rowling talked about the freedom she found writing for adults. She could write what her hear desired and not stick to what was expected. This is off topic and she's now a goddess.

But it seems that writing is a solo act and publishing is a joint venture. I imagine that a writer who refuses to change the ending after the agent worked their hiney off to sell the book, negotiate and do all the work, would lose not just the publishing contract, advance, would also lose the agent.

How long is that sentence? I'm rambling.

They would probably have a messy income tax claims to file.

Julie.M.Weathers said...

I'm not trying to be an ass, but if the author is this adamant about not changing their masterpiece now, what would they be like if they were moderately or greatly successful?

I think the worst thing that can happen to a great many authors is becoming too successful. They are hell bent for election nothing be cut or changed and there are very few authors who really can't benefit from a skilled editor.

I remember having this discussion with one editor about a very successful author and they agreed. "But what are you going to do when that author is paying your electric bill?"

Authors get mega successful and don't like editors changing their stuff around, so they demand a new editor. What do you think the new editor does?

One very successful author wrangled around with international rights agent over some things so long the editor didn't have time to really do their magic and you can definitely tell the difference in that book.

Patrick Rothfuss in NAME OF THE WIND thanks his agent and gives a very telling acknowledgment to his editor.

Janet is spot on, ask what they want changed before you accept the money. I'm just wondering what else will be sacrosanct down the line.

Curious minds and all.

Kitty said...

I didn't know that, Dena, but you're right! Chinatown originally had a happier ending:
Polanski specifically did not WANT the sins to be washed away – he wanted them directly in our collective faces when the movie ended. As Polanski said about the film in 2000…
If it all ended with happy endings, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about this film today. If you…feel…there’s a lot of injustice in our world, and you want to have people leaving [the] cinema with a feeling that they should do something about it in their lives, [then] if it’s all dealt for them by the filmmakers they just forget about it over dinner, and that’s it.

Craig said...

Is that where all of those cruddy Epilogues come from? Compromise hell.

No I don't like most epilogues. I hate that six months after the big battle a baby arrive from immaculate conception kind of crap.

Sometimes they are worse than prologues.

Lets go Greek. Comedies and romance can have happy endings. Tragedies and thrillers can have dark endings.

Susan Bonifant said...

I wonder if I'm the only one who looks forward to when the OP pushes the curtain aside and says "Hi, it was me."

I think Matt and Shaun made excellent points about the willingness to trust the right experts, and when. Compromise is a beautiful thing and it doesn't have to feel like a sell-out.

Julie, agree ++

I remember listening to Anita Shreve talk about The Weight of Water and how she felt when the ending changed in the movie version.

"I didn't like it, but I had kids in college and when Hollywood comes knocking, you don't say no."

LynnRodz said...

Matt, Life/God/Karma, whatever you want to call it, has taught me to never say never. I know if I say, "I'll never change my ending." the Universe will send me a six-figure deal that includes changing the ending. (On second thought, maybe I should say it.)

What's great about Janet's blog is I now know to address this situation head on if an agent is interested. Better still, I should look for an agent who loves the ending and will work diligently to find an editor who loves it as well. Otherwise, as you say, there's always self-publishing, but that's not the way I want to go. I haven't even begun to query, so this is definitely putting the cart before the horse.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: I'm sure I've said it before (one of the drawbacks of being verbose--you end up repeating yourself... and I've probably said that before!) but having read some of the later novels by big-name writers, I'm convinced their work is given far less editorial scrutiny than, perhaps, their first few books. Whether this is due to the author's demands or the publisher being too soft on their prize goose, I'm not prepared to say. There are probably cases of both. Whatever the case, I agree: it's a bad thing. I hope if I ever attain that level of success I never lose the humility to admit that my work will always need some tough love before it goes out to the rest of the world.

Megan V said...

There's another question to add to the list of what to say if we ever get "The Call". Thanks original poster and QOTKU! :)

alaskaravenclaw said...

While it's hard to imagine I would have done this when I first started out, you actually can ask an editor about his or her vision for the book before the deal is signed.

Elissa M said...

I will change anything if I think it will make the story better.

I won't touch a word if it's just another person's opinion of what they'd like to see.

I know the story I'm trying to tell. I know reader expectations for my genre. I'm open to suggestions, but if a publisher wants a different story, they should just buy a different story.

LynnRodz said...

Colin, I think it has more to do with making the goose lay another golden egg. "Com'on faster, faster, more, more!" We see it over and over. The first books by an author are works of art and then they're whipping them out faster and faster into the hands of readers and the quality goes way down. Quantity over quality happens in publishing as well.

Is the demand too much for the author? Does the author become lazy and rest on his laurels knowing his fans are going to buy his books anyway? Is it as you say, the publisher becoming too lax with his golden goose? Who knows, but, unfortunately, it happens all the time.

Lawrence Sanders' first Deadly Sins and Commandment series were great and then the writing went downhill. Maeve Binchy's first novels were wonderful, her latter books, not so much. I see it beginning to happen with Guillame Musso as he puts out books faster and faster. Anyway, my two cents worth.

Julie.M.Weathers said...

Colin,

"I hope if I ever attain that level of success I never lose the humility to admit that my work will always need some tough love before it goes out to the rest of the world."

My posse is under strict orders to remind me I'm not that special regardless of how successful I may become down the road. Then I'll rent a place in Lincoln, Montana in the summer, write, pan gold, drink beer, and shoot pool with the locals who will only think of me as Don's daughter.

Julie.M.Weathers said...

Back in a previous life, when I had two agents, my children's book agent (bless her always) called me one day to report progress on my MG that was on submission. She gave me feedback on what the editors were saying. She loved it the way it was, but she was getting enough of the same remarks she felt it might be worth taking a look at.

We discussed it and I wasn't really sure how to change it, but I told her I'd work on it. Honestly, I liked it the way it was. Plus, it had an awesome title and I'd lose that if I changed it. I trusted her and she really was the gold standard of children's book agents at the time. We were a team so I went to work.

I finally simmered around enough to figure out how to rewrite the book and let her know I had a solution.

Not long after that I had the come to Jesus meeting with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the agents handling my suspense novel and decided I was done. It wasn't worth fighting the battle on the home front just to be able to write and fighting the other stuff too.

I can't really imagine an editor taking a book and then all of a sudden deciding they wanted the ending changed, but I suppose that could happen. Endings are kind of a big thing. The editors interested in my mg pointed out the problems they had with it up front.

Thankfully, the chances are an editor won't do what the army did to the Bradley tank in its design and turn it into something completely different.

Stephen Parks said...

Hey guys, I’m the questioner.

The genre is science fiction, which gives more flexibility for authentic endings than some other genres. Above I said “I don’t write happy endings.” That’s not always true, but it is in this case. A happy ending doesn’t serve this story.

And !’m not against tough love on my manuscript. I’m tearing it apart right now to fix short-comings the beta readers noted. But the ending was one of the first things I wrote, and one of the reasons I wrote the story. I wanted to explore how you end up there. Anyone reading the story sees that there is no happy ending on the table; this isn’t hidden and it shouldn’t be a surprise.

But one of my BRs, in particular, demanded some kind of ‘deus ex machina’ waving of a magical wand solution (along the lines of “It’s science fiction, couldn’t aliens appear and make everything better?”). The other unhappy BR was more nuanced, accepting most of the big bad at the end, but wanting the two MCs to reconcile instead of dying. The one MC’s character arc is about gaining the sense of agency to allow her to stand up and choose to die for the greater good, even as it means going against her partner. Reconciling (or even living) defeats that.

To me the integrity of the ending is more important that the story ever getting published. I write stories I want to read. If anyone else wants to read them, that’s icing on the cake.




On a personal note, it’s a long holiday weekend here in Malaysia, and I’m leaving for the airport in a few hours (sleep first, then fly early). I appreciate your advice and comments, and will catch up on them as I can, but realistically won’t be able to participate much before Sunday your time.

[x] I'm not a robot

Julia said...

Lynn - I agree wholeheartedly with your first comment about the QOTKU and being very clear from the get go what you want and who you're working with. As I've said before, this is one of the very few sites I consider worth devoting crucial writing time to in order to learn, for precisely this reason.

As to the question, we have a saying in our family: take what you want - and/but pay for it.

The meaning is, you can have pretty much anything in this world - but the trick is in how you go about getting it and what you're willing to devote to it and give up for it. If the goal is purely publication, then the ending isn't the issue. But if retaining rights is critical, then there are other things the questioner really ought to know (Janet posted a fantastic article addressing this very issue on Twitter about a week ago), relating to who gets what and in what percentages

Julia said...

Blast. Stupid iPhone. Anyway, my point was that the main issue really stems not from the ending of the book but from understanding of the process and who really ought to have what rights. Basically, the questioner needs to have a heart-to-heart with herself about what she wants most - complete ownership or traditional publication. And if it's the latter, then how much she's willing to yield.

Goldfish

Julie.M.Weathers said...

Stephen,

As people have said before, happy endings aren't required. What is required is that everyone knows going in what is expected of each business partner, and your editor is a business partner.

Good luck on your journey.

LynnRodz said...

Julia, I think I would have to cross that bridge when I come to it. I honestly don't know what I would do. Like Stephen, when I started writing this story all I had was the ending. I wrote it and built the story around it and it was the whole reason why I wrote this novel. I was working on a middle-grade ms, but this idea kept taking over until I set down the MG to write it.

As Elissa said, "...if a publisher wants a different story, they should just buy a different story." I would hope, as I said before, I can find an agent and an editor who loves the whole enchilada, cheese and all.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Well, since I'm not only attached to my titles but glued to my endings as well, I'm screwed.

My editor changes my column titles all the time and I don't have a problem with that but a former editor came up with a title once, that almost lost me my job. To say I was a LITTLE upset was like saying Ted Cruz loves Obama.

Stephan, stick to your ending. The only thing worse than being second guessed by someone else is being second guessed by yourself.

Julia said...

Wellll...

Okay. So, I *do* get to write for a newsletter. But I *don't* get paid for it. On the other hand, it does get published, and it does get edited by others who are real, live, legitimate publishers. All of which I simply put to say that I've come to accept what I can and can't deal with and what to expect from them.

They want short; they want clean.

I deliver that.

But on the other hand, that's for a nonfiction newsletter - it's not my heart and soul. Novels are different. You're pouring your own spirit onto the page, and having someone manipulate that affects the voice and, in the case of changing the ending, can make the entire point of the thing moot.

If your whole point was "Julie posted a stupid entry and the shark came and ate her and then she died," and your Agent sends it on and the ed/pub team sends it back and says, "Nope, the shark bit her leg off but she goes on to win the next writing contest," that makes the whole point of your story moot. But if you've already signed the contract... off you go to beat the shark on the snoot with your fist and get swimming.

See what I mean?

Dreyfuss

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

The Original Poster of this question is why prolific reading of these kinds of blogs is so hugely helpful to the near-to and already-querying population.

Matt Adams, kregger, and Shaun Hutchinson nail it with reminding us of what we think before and after signing with an agent or an editor/publisher can easily change. It sounds kind of annoying or maybe even patronizing to say that, but I know it was highly useful to know even before querying that the perfect title I came up with, for example, could be changed. If that was an eye-opener for me, then I really need to understand what else I might need to change before journeying into the traditional publication venue.

Julie Weathers says about her agent: "She loved it the way it was, but she was getting enough of the same remarks she felt it might be worth taking a look at."

This has been my experience, too. The questions I end up asking myself are:

Do I trust my agent? (yes, she has a billion times more experience than I have with selling books)
Do I trust the changes will not compromise my fundamental relationship with my story and characters?

I would hope that an agent would do exactly as Janet says - one who asks the right questions of an editor before signing any contracts. At that point is when we all discover what we are willing to do or not do with our books.

REJourneys said...

Julie: I agree about successful authors, though you could say that about anyone successful.

They really should listen to the people they work with though. Industries change and what made them successful yesterday could get them a rejection letter tomorrow.

Of course, the author should stay up with the trends of the market, but when you are being flung across the globe, signing children and kissing pictures, do they really have time for that? (The answer is you have to make time, but no one has made time yet. If they had, they'd have to invent a new number for how rich that person would be. Either that or they are keeping the knowledge of how to actually make time to themselves).

And Colin, I think people going soft on success cases is part of the problem. You work hard, become successful, and people start giving you breaks. It's sweet of them to care, but going soft on people (all the time) only hurts them in the end. Soon a new woodland creature, who has been working hard the whole time, steps into the limelight.

(Hooray lengthy comments!)

PS: Had to "Please select soup." That sushi image looked like it had soup in it...

Kate Larkindale said...

I think for the most part if you talk to the editor about why the ending is important and why you've made the choices you've made, she may be able to help figure out a way you can keep your less-than-happy ending, but make it more satisfying.

I just finished doing a revision on a new book for my agent, and one of the first sets of notes I got from her about the book suggested I change something that was a deal breaker for me. It was the thing that had inspired me to write the book in the first place and the one thing I really didn't want to change. When I explained that. we talked about various ways of keeping it in, but making it stronger and more authentic. I'm not sure yet if it's worked 100%, but it's still in the book, and I think it works better….

DeadSpiderEye said...

Can't we just go ambiguous?

"...and so as the glow of the second moon quenched in the azure sea, Zack regarded the the face of the Zogthurian princess in it's glow. At last, he thought to himself, the menace of the Zogthurian hegemony is forever extinguished from the galaxy. 'I'm pregnant!' she said."

bjmuntain said...

Okay. You've already had all sorts of advice from everyone else, but because I can't shut up, I'll have to throw my two cents Canadian in there (2 cents Canadian is about 1.50 cents American right now, I think...)

Happy ending, unhappy ending - it doesn't matter, really. What the reading has to be is satisfying. The ending has to be the logical end to the story that's told. The story has to lead to the ending.

Example: you write a romance. Della and Dylan are falling in love. Sure, there's a few problems - there has to be conflict - but they're in love. On the day of their wedding, just as they're about to proclaim their love to the world, an asteroid strikes crashed to Earth right on top of them. Everyone dies.

That's not a good ending. In order to make it a good ending, you have to point out that asteroid at the beginning. You might make a note of it getting closer to Earth, or of doomsayers saying 'the end is near!' But if you don't have *some* lead-up, it's a bad ending. The ending has to follow logically from the events in the novel. Sudden good or bad events, if unforeshadowed, never make for a good ending, happy or not.

Stephen: I read your post and had to snicker. Yup. Having aliens appear and make everything better is exactly the unsatisfying type of ending I'm talking about. If you've truly developed your characters and your plot so that the ending you've chosen is believable, then it's a good ending. "Believable" is the most important part of an ending - happy or unhappy.

Colin: Blogger is a Google company. Once you log in with a Google account, they know who you are. Me, I log in with OpenId and my WordPress account, so it doesn't trust me as much as it would if I'd use my Google account.

Matt: I hadn't heard that Dave Barry quote. I love Dave Barry. He's a wise man in a funny man's suit.

I got to choose pastas today! I hope they're gluten-free - they looked yummy...

Colin Smith said...

bj: I'm well aware of the Google/Blogger relationship. (Remember GFC...? It really annoyed me when they stopped supporting it for non-Blogger blogs.) However, that would explain why I get a pass on the Captcha stuff. Though I like to think it's a benefit of being a Carkoon exile. :D

bjmuntain said...

You're right, Colin. It has to be the Carkoonish ISP. It makes you ever so trustworthy. :)

Julia said...

Colin: Georgia Fried Chicken? :D

We're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

Colin Smith said...

Sorry! Sorry!! Before I get hauled away by the AP (Acronym Police): GFC = Google Friend Connect.

Colin Smith said...

And ISP = Internet Service Provider. Any others? :)

Julia said...

Drat. I like Georgia Fried Chicken much better. Or maybe Advanced Placement Georgia Fried Chicken.

Actually, that doesn't work very well, does it?

So, here.

Avoid
Perturbing
Great
Ferocious
Carcharodons

:D

Apristurus sibogae

Bonnie Shaljean said...

Assuming that an author adamantly does NOT want major surgery done on her book:

Can the creator of the work require that she be given final refusal on proposed major changes, and legally ensure that the publisher cannot force them on her, without her having to actually withdraw the book and face punitive financial consequences (never mind lost time)?

After all, the publishers do know what story they're getting before they sign on: they've read it. Whereas the writer can't foresee all the changes she might be told to make, so she can't always forearm the agent. Has she any power other than bailing out and going back to the trenches?

b-Nye said...

I must be a writer from a different planet. I'd change the ending the beginning ( I have...) and characters names if it make a better book. I want my work - theme, voice heard and I trust as a first time author, EVERYONE knows more than I do. The business of writing is harder than the creation of story...for me.

bjmuntain said...

Nah b-Nye. Just about anything can be changed and/or improved (although a change isn't always an improvement).

But what if changing the ending changed the theme you were wanting people to see?

Not trying to change your mind. Just something to think about.

Choose soups? Again? But... there's cake...

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

After much consideration I like what Matt said. AND I like what DB said too.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Stephen, I enjoyed discovering your blog when Janet allowed us to link here.

Bonnie, Janet did say to inform the agent that changing the ending might be considered a deal breaker.

I think that it would be a bad idea to proactively suggest conditions the writer is not willing to change. It seems like a red flag. I mean when Awesome Agent calls publisher to sell a story they would probably hate to say, "oh and Felix refuses to change the ending."

Lynn,
"Does the author become lazy and rest on his laurels knowing his fans are going to buy his books anyway?"

Consider this: a writer (creative professional, artists, even actors) can be branded by a certain style they write, become bored but have to pump out the junk. Quality declines but they are stuck by market and their branded arse.

Janet mentioned in a post (Week in Review maybe) that an agent might not take on an author if writer plans to change genres from one book to the next - slashers to romance to mysteries.

Bonnie Shaljean said...


Yes, I read what Janet wrote. My point is not just about endings, it's about major changes generally - ones the publishers may demand which you don't know about in advance, and can't forewarn the agent of. I must not have made this clear.

But my real question, as stated above, is whether the author has any recourse other than pulling out, paying everybody back, and starting over.

AJ Blythe said...

Totally off-topic, but I log in with my google ID and still have to prove I'm not a robot - but not by selecting soup, just the tick in the box.

I guess I must be both untrustworthy and boring *sigh*.

As for the OP topic, as I write cozies, which have to have the mystery solved, I'd never have to totally change an ending - after all, the whodunnit is woven throughout the whole story. So probably tweaks only? That I could do :)

Stephanie said...

My agent loved my book. But when she sent her editorial letter and line edits, she suggested I change the ending (it was in another character's pov) because she knows that publishers will have a difficult time with it as is. And I was reluctant, because I loved my ending. The ending was right for the characters and the way I wanted to say goodbye to them. But I said I would rewrite it because she's the professional and I trust her, and I really want this book to sell. Turns out, the ending is so much better now, and she was right. I still have my original final ending on my laptop and that's where I will keep it. It's all mine.

On another note: there is a series titled Divergent- it's third and final book killed off the beloved main character at the end and the ending overall was less than climactic. Fans were pissed. Fans have refused to see the third movie. Fans of the book series have heard what happens and refused to read the third book. They also refuse to read any of the authors future work, because they no longer trust or respect her.

Sam Hawke said...

Woah, missed a spoiler alert there Stephanie!

LynnRodz said...

Stephanie and b-Nye, I'm all for improving my story or having (as Bonnie said) major surgery done to my book. And I agree some story endings would be better changed, but other stories wouldn't. My examples of Love Story and The Bridges of Madison County would not have improved IMO (in my opinion) if Jenny had lived or if Francesca had taken off with Robert. If those scenarios had happened, there wouldn't have been a story.


Angie, I agree. If a writer/artist/actor has to "pump out the junk" no one benefits from it. But who's behind that pressure? If the farmer lets his geese lay their golden eggs in their own time, then everyone profits. If the farmer insists that his geese lay those eggs as fast as they can, those eggs are no longer the best quality eggs.

Now I know those geese can't go on strike and demand better working conditions, but an author/artist/actor can. So perhaps the question should be, do we want to make liverwurst or foie gras? Okay, I'll stop because I'm getting off topic here and besides I don't want PETA coming after me. (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)

bjmuntain said...

Jumping in at the end with one more comment regarding much-published authors 'pumping out junk'.

I started reading Piers Anthony's Xanth series when the first three books were out. I loved it. As the series went on, I missed some of the previous characters but loved some of the new. With Ogre, Ogre, though, the series took a twist. While puns had always been a part of the series, the fans started sending in puns for Mr Anthony to include. After awhile, the series became more about the puns than the characters. But it was still okay, so I kept reading.

And then came the point - and he even pointed it out in one of his lengthy afterwords - that he was only writing the series now for the money. And he found that he could write a Xanth novel in a month or two, so it was an efficient way to make money. He also pointed out that the current novel had started one month, taken a break, wrote a few more chapters, took another break, then finished it - and he couldn't see any difference in the work. It all flowed nicely. He said.

Because it was very noticeable to the reader when he took those breaks. Things changed, the quality sort of shifted, the plot moved on differently. And it was oh so obvious that he was just pumping out the novels, that he didn't care about the characters or the plots anymore.

I stopped reading.

Last I saw, he was still putting out the Xanth novels. I'm not interested anymore.

On a completely other note, there is another lengthy series that went on and on - and every single novel in that series was the brilliant Discworld. Terry Pratchett always had new materials, new societal foibles to exploit, new interesting characters that you CARED about. And that he obviously cared about. I have every novel from this series (except the last two or three, one of which I don't think is published yet - but I'll be buying them soon), and I will go back and read every single one. The first couple might have been a bit meh, but after that he hit stride and went terrifically wild.

I'm going to miss him.

Gerald Porter said...

Janet
You really hit me hard with your April 30 blog comments. I’ve written two novels and many short stories. I suspect, despite my best efforts they are bland. I don’t have the ability to “break the rules with either elegance or style”. Fortunately I have written only for my own personal ego, so I don’t have to worry about getting your interest.
By the way, all my stuff has happy endings.
Gerry

DLM said...

Hello, Gerry! I don't think breaking the rules is a requirement, only a bracing innovation when done really well. I probably write very much within the lines (historical; I don't really push boundaries, myself), and I'm not the only one. Some test and push the envelope. Others smash conventions, and still others play tricks with them.

The beautiful thing is: the rules are different for each story, and the same, all at once. Language is a limber animal, not easily domesticated by the timid.

Ginger Mollymarilyn said...

@ Stephen - You already have the answer to your indirect, secondary, but more important, question - changing the ending, the genesis of your story (because of the opinion of beta readers): The integrity of the ending is more important to you than if the ms is published. And, now from Janet, you have the answer (and so do we) to your prime question, and you will be prepared in case the editor does request changes. Two beta readers is a small number; it's not twenty-two. I wouldn't worry about it, and suspect you're not! (I'm not a robot, but I kind of sound like one today!)P.S. - That's an interesting "!'m"