Thursday, September 18, 2008

Kristen: My First Editorial Letter

My first editorial letter was for my young adult novel Lost It. I’d talked to my editor (Michelle Nagler) on the phone about the book weeks before the letter arrived, so I knew what was coming. There wasn’t anything weird or random, like, Hey Kristen, can you change all your bear safety advice and replace it with alligator safety advice. Though, to be honest, I easily could have done that, because, for some reason, I know a lot about how to avoid animal attacks. Michelle’s letter started off talking about how much she liked the book and how much she believed in the project the novel had undertaken. (I wanted to write a book where the character had a positive, first-time sexual experience.) And when the letter began suggesting possible changes, I really appreciated the feedback. I took every single one of her suggestions. She’d connected with the book and her vision and my vision meshed. Sara (my agent) did such a good job finding the book its perfect home that I didn’t have to wrestle with somebody who saw a different direction for the book. I feel very lucky. I’ve had three very different and very fantastic editors: Michelle Nagler, Jennifer Klonsky, and Wendy Loggia. It’s not just their feedback that’s incredibly nourishing and addicting, but their enthusiasm as well.

But I don’t want to make things sound too easy. My editorial letter for my first middle-grade novel was a little more intense. The novel, Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus, actually began as a collection of short stories, and to turn it into a novel required a great deal of work. I’d accomplished that by the time Wendy (my editor at Random House) bought it. But she saw so many ways to improve the story. She wanted the mother to be more involved. She wanted more scenes with Camille at school. She wanted the disastrous school play to take a different tack. She wanted the story to make it clear that Camille was merely quirky and that she didn’t suffer from some sort of serious cognitive impairment. (Since Camille is largely based upon myself in elementary school that suggestion stung a little. Of course she’s just quirky! It’s not that hard to fall underneath your school bus.)

After I read Wendy’s letter, I needed to lie down right away. I could see the work before me and I felt a little overwhelmed. At first, I didn’t touch the book. I kept (obsessively) rereading her letter. Around day three, I devoured the marked-up manuscript. I did this over and over. Then I went back to the letter. Finally, on the seventh day, I got to work. And I worked. And I worked. And I worked. It was five or six weeks of cookie-fueled, computer-focused, antisocial, pajama-clad, over-caffeinated, under-showered productivity. I ended up going through one more small round of revisions with Wendy, and I’m thrilled with the results. Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus is the first book I wrote and it also happens to be filled with so many things that I find interesting: dingos, blood sugar disorders, fourth graders, Idaho, cats, Clint Eastwood. It will be out in summer 2009. I’m very lucky. And happy. And, at the moment, moderately caffeinated and freshly showered.


  1. Ahaha, I am so glad I'm not the only one who had to lie down after a revision letter. It's that whole getting-over-it-and-getting-back-to-work thing that's the trick! Anybody can lie down; it takes an author to get back up.

    I hope.


  2. I too, was overwhelmed, although the feedback was worded in a positive way and so very thoughtful and intelligent. What was hard for me was finding a way back into the book. Finally, I sat down with the line edits and the letter, and drew up a rough outline of what needed to happen and where. So far, I'm a little more than fifty pages into the rewrite and it's all new stuff!!! I keep looking around, wondering--when is it that I'm actually going to use that old draft of mine--the one that took three-plus years to write. But when I'm not freaking out that I'm about to screw it all up and ruin my life (because I'm so a slow writer, mostly) I am super-excited about how the changes are shaping up. Emily, my editor--she knows her stuff!

  3. Btw Kristen--I read LOST IT, loved it, and just reading your blog piece, I have to say you have a very distinctive (in a good way) voice!

  4. It's interesting the two very different experiences and so glad you got a shower in. =D