I think I have three reactions…
(1) Re this, “I read one account in Poets & Writers magazine where an author sat down to lunch with his agent, outlined a couple of different ideas for a novel and let his rep pick the one he would work on next.” Without having read the account, I don’t have the context, but I know that more than once I’ve been equally passionate about two very different projects and haven’t really cared which I do first. In such cases, I think the tie-breaker probably would come from my agent or my editor. I don’t think that’s a big deal.
(2) People keep saying that true editors don’t exist anymore–which speaks to Burns’ assertion that “Editors should remain unseen and unheard. They are non-entities. Spell-checkers and proof-readers and if they try to raise themselves above that lowly status, slap them down. Hard. Writing is not, repeat not a collaborative exercise. Anyone who credits an editor for saving a manuscript didnâ€™t work hard enough on it, chickened out when the going got tough.”–but I haven’t found this to be true. I’ve always benefitted from a good editor who shares my vision for a book and, through his or her suggestions–either developmental or on the chapter/paragraph level–has made sure the vision on my head is actually on the page. Because, eventually, the text becomes white noise. Your gaze cannot get a grip on the page. Sometimes this is true even after you’ve had time to reflect. A good editor, even just with questions about the narrative or characters, can allow you to re-imagine and revisit the text in useful ways. I can’t ever remember getting an editorial suggestion I thought was given in a spirit of making something more commercial. Maybe I’ve just been lucky.
(3) Although there are famous stories of eccentric geniuses like Orson Welles wanting final cut, as Burns suggests, this doesn’t examine whether or not in such cases Welles, for example, consulted with his cameramen, or his cinematographer, or friends he trusted, or whatever. In other words, I think it’s very rare that a work goes from conception to completion to being publicly presented without someone else having had some kind of influence.
On the other hand, Burns has a very cool post about his reading habits, including a long recommended reading list.