We all know the importance of editing when it comes to getting published. But what that editing looks like will vary depending on the publisher you choose. You may get back a manuscript that doesn’t at all resemble what you submitted in the first place. Even worse, you may feel like the publishing house completely edited out your voice and message altogether. Here’s how and why publishing house editors censor your work, and what questions you should ask as you interview potential publishers.
Why Publishing House Editors Change Your Content
In order to understand why publishing house editors change your content, let’s take a look at the traditional publishing house process. Traditional publishers invest heavily in you at the beginning of the publishing process, giving you an advance, hiring all the necessary editors (plural!), and handling some of the marketing and promotion of your book (although more often than not, you will have to use money from your advance towards PR efforts).
With all these up-front costs, traditional publishers have a vested financial interest in making sure your book sells enough copies to cover both the costs of publishing and turn a profit for themselves. Meeting those goals means editing and making changes to your book so they can best appeal to their audience base.
Regardless of the target audience you had in mind while you were writing your book, your publisher and their marketing team may alter your work to better market it to their audience.
How Publishing House Editors Censor Your Work
What do these changes and edits look like? All non-fiction editing involves small incremental changes like swapping out words, removing redundancies, and adding content here and there. That’s standard procedure to make sure your work is the best it can possibly be.
Censoring comes into play when publishing house editors deliberately remove or change the content in order to cater to the audience they are selling to. Censoring can come in many forms. The important thing is recognizing when censorship is happening and knowing what rights you have in place that would allow you to do something about it.
Case Study #1 From PYP Archives
A Black female author tried to submit an article to an online journal. When she got back her revised work, the editor had removed any cultural references directly related to the Black community. This was done intentionally to neutralize the article for the journal’s target audience.
Case Study #2 From PYP Archives
An author pitched his memoir to a traditional publishing house. The publishing house editors came back with a proposal: the main character should be gay. It didn’t matter that the author of the memoir wasn’t gay; the publisher was tailoring the story to meet its audience and attempting to appropriate LGBTQIA+ experiences for a more “salacious” narrative.
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Why Owning The Rights To Your Work Is Important
Hopefully, you are starting to see why it’s so important to know exactly who you are publishing with. Equally important is knowing exactly what rights you retain to your work after you sign with the publisher.
With a traditional publisher, you typically forfeit the rights to your book as the publishing house takes on the publishing and distribution process. While perhaps more convenient for you, this also means the publishing house makes the final decision about what goes into your book (and what gets cut).
Even after your book is published, the publishing house still retains the rights to your book. This means they are free to do whatever they want with your book, including promoting it to whatever audience they choose.
Knowing what rights you have before you sign with a publisher will inform what say you have, if any, in the editing process.
Which Types of Publishers Might Censor Your Work?
The type of editorial control you have will depend on the type of publisher you go with. There are three main types of publishing: traditional, self-publishing, and hybrid.
Traditional Publishing Houses
Traditional publishers handle all of the publishing and some of the marketing for you. Because they pay so much upfront, they are also most likely to censor and alter your work to ensure it is well-received by their target audience. Traditional publishing houses do not pay for indirect marketing expenses, such as websites, website updates, or social media marketing.
Self-publishing is, well, self-explanatory. You are the one who is making all the decisions about your book. As such, you retain full control over who edits and designs your book. You are also the one making the marketing decisions and are able to market specifically to your target audience. The downside to self-publishing is that you have to front the cost for every part of the publishing process and project manage yourself (and all the moving pieces), usually without industry connections and experience.
Hybrid PublishingHybrid publishing is the middle ground between traditional and self-publishing. Hybrid publishers will work with you through the publishing process, giving you the resources and team that you need in order to have your book published. They handle many of the publishing logistics, like creating sales pages for online retailers and obtaining an ISBN. Most importantly, they will be there to support you and guide you through the process.
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With hybrid publishers, you also typically keep all of the rights to your book and make all final decisions about your book. However, each hybrid publisher is different and it’s important to ask your publisher what rights you have—both during and after publishing.
Four Questions To Ask a Potential Publisher
Here are four questions to ask potential publishers as you decide which publisher to entrust with your manuscript:
1. Who Is Your Target Audience?
Asking a publisher who their target audience is will give you an idea of what audience base they are marketing to and what types of books they publish. You want to make sure that anyone you are working with is transparent about their process and who they work with.
If your publisher isn’t willing to tell you who their target audience is, that’s a red flag.
2. What Types of Books and Authors Do You Work With?
Different publishers are also experts in publishing certain types of books. Certain publishers only publish fiction books, while others concentrate their focus on health and wellness books. Knowing which types of books a publisher focuses on will help you predict whether your book is likely to be taken on by a given publisher and whether that publisher should make it on your list of potential candidates.
3. Who Retains the Rights to My Book During and After Publishing?
Before you sign any contract or deal with a publisher, you should know what rights you will have to your book, both during and after the publishing process. If you don’t have the rights during the publishing process, you will have little say in what changes are made to your manuscript.
Conversely, you may have the rights to your book during the publishing process but not legally own it once it’s published. In this case, you wouldn’t be able to make any changes to the published work. You also wouldn’t be able to market the book without getting your publisher’s permission, including putting your own book on your website, giving copies to a friend, or making your book available anywhere else.
4. How Does Your Editing Process Work?
This is a more pointed question for a potential publisher about how their publishing house editors will work with you. After you submit your manuscript, will you have any further input on what gets changed? Will you be able to review the edits and choose which ones to keep? Will the edits be big-picture or line-by-line? These questions will give you a sense of how much control you’ll have over how your words are presented—and to ensure you’re not being censored.
Download “9 Questions You Should Ask Your Prospective Publisher” PDF for more tips on finding the right publisher.
Work With PYP
As a hybrid publisher, Publish Your Purpose (PYP) works with writers who have a story to tell and a drive to make an impact on their communities. We make sure that you take the lead with your story, and that your story gets told the way you want. Explore if PYP is the right fit for you and your book, or publish with us.