Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lisa: I heart the editorial letter

In honor of Valentine’s Day coming up in a couple of days, I wanted to do a lovey-dovey post. Oh, editorial letters, let me count the ways…

When I get the envelope in the mail, I fear the editorial letter. Oops, not quite love, is it? After I’ve opened the envelope and read my editor’s comments, I dislike the editorial letter just a teeny tiny bit. Really not love then. After I’ve had a few days to let all the suggestions sink in, I tolerate the editorial letter. Okay, we’re getting there. After I’ve opened the manuscript and started the work and realize I really CAN do it, I like the editorial letter. And at some point, it varies with each manuscript, I figure out that what my editor wants is making the book so much better and I really do adore that once feared editorial letter. Yes, here we are, hearts and chocolate and red roses all the way.

I’ve heard unpublished writers talk about doing revisions for an editor, and some of them find it surprising how many changes an editor might ask for and wonder if an author ever feels resentful about it.

Obviously I can’t speak for all authors, but I can share my thoughts on this topic. Do I wish I wrote books that were perfect from the words “Chapter 1?” Well, that would certainly be nice. But I don’t. And that is the first step to loving editorial letters – accepting that we all have strengths and weaknesses. A good editor will allow us to write to our strengths, but will make us stretch and grow in regards to our weaknesses. And a really good editor will do it in such a way that we don’t feel bad the book was flawed when we turned it over, but instead happy we now have an opportunity to make a good book great.

For me, the hardest part of doing the revisions at first is just opening the document and starting. It can be overwhelming, because you have this letter of all the things you’re supposed to work on. I’ve talked to authors about how they approach making the changes and many, including myself, start by going through and making some of the changes that are marked on the manuscript itself. These are usually quick and easy fixes, and doing this is like dipping your toes into the revision pool instead of diving in from a high cliff.

When I worked through my editorial letter for my novel I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME (which was a GREAT letter by the way), I used it like a checklist. I went through, item by item (not necessarily in order) and as I accomplished that which my editor wanted to do, I made a checkmark.

If there was a suggestion I wasn’t sure about or needed to think about more or maybe even discuss with my editor, I would circle the item and come back to it later. I think editors are very open to working through issues with authors, and if we don’t agree with something that’s being suggested, the editor knows we can probably find a compromise of some kind.

Ultimately, I guess I view the editorial letter as a gift. I want my book to be the best it can be. An editor’s suggestions are going to help me get there. And I should add here that although Sara (the agent here at the Crowe’s Nest) doesn’t do a formal letter, when we submit something to her, she offers editorial advice as well so we can make the manuscript strong before submission. Her suggestions have always been spot-on and I appreciate her critical eye as well.

I’ve just about finished up my revisions for a mid-grade novel coming out in Spring 2010. In a couple of months, I’ll be getting the editorial letter for my next young adult novel. And you know what? I can’t wait!!!


  1. But why didn't you talk about the day you spend hitting the revision letter with a stick and calling it Satan? Or is that just me?

  2. I haven't yet had the pleasure of any editorial feedback, but I had a love-hate relationship with my agents' feedback on my first manuscript.

    She was so *right* about things (in four pages of single space comments), and I wondered why I hadn't realized them before which made me wonder what else I had missed about my work which sent me straight into the arms of a critique group. Here's hoping I can get that revision letter down to three pages next time.

  3. Thanks for the glimpse at the process Lisa.

  4. Enlightening post! My feelings about editorial letters lies in the halfway point between your opinion and Saundra's. =;

  5. I've heard it put similarly before, and I'm glad I have. I'll have a measure of hope that my editorial letter and I will get on eventually after the initial panic phase. Well, providing I ever get an editorial letter of course.

    Thanks Lisa!

  6. This is timely. I've one coming to me, my first, and like the punch to the gut I'm about to receive, this post will act the pillow. thanks,

  7. You are being featured on Five Star Friday!

  8. My feelings about editorial letters lies in the halfway point between your opinion and Saundra's
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