It’s the good news and bad news, all wrapped up in one email attachment. It’s the thing you hoped for, and the thing you dread. And the thing that will change your life. Getting the notes on your manuscript from your editor is always a challenge. You worked on your manuscript for however long, had the courage to hit send, and now–here’s the response. The reaction. And then–your editorial marching orders.
Reading your editorial letter is not a moment for the faint of heart. This is a moment for the bold and brave. And the career authors who are determined to make their work the best it can be.
But how do you handle 14 single-spaced pages of what someone else thinks about your work? It may be intimidating–but it can be life-changing.
First, remember: there is nothing your editor wants more in the universe than for this book to be a glorious rousing success. They are not trying to hurt your feelings, or manipulate you, or make questionable decisions. Your editor is your best friend. Of course, you can always have disagreements with your best friend. But you always work it out in the end.
Second, remember it is YOUR book. And in the end, you can do whatever you want.
So keep that in mind as you proceed.
Promise yourself you’re not going to do anything. You are just going to read this letter, and then you are going to put it away. So first, just read it. Then promise me that after you read it, you will close the document, get up, and take a walk. (Wear a mask.)
Read the praise
As you walk, remember the opening words of the letter. I have not read yours, but I am willing to wager that it started out with praise. Think about what your editor said in their opening remarks. What a terrific story, you are a sensationally great writer, I cannot wait to make this book wonderful, there is so much good stuff here. Things like that. Right? That was all there. Keep that in mind.
Vent (to yourself)
Go ahead. Without saying anything to anyone else, disagree with it like crazy. Here is when you can say to yourself: this is ridiculous. I can never do this. This will be way too hard. This editor is so ridiculously wrong! The editor does not understand what I’m trying to do. I’m not going to do this. I’m going to leave it just the way it is. I’m not going to change one single thing.
Get that out of your system.
Read it again–the next day
The next day, open that letter again, and if you can, print it. Or copy it, at least, to a new document. Then, with a highlighter of some kind, mark the specific suggestions that are made. Not the opinions, but the very specific ideas: your character is not nice enough. Your character is too angry. There’s too much about the (fill in the blank). There’s not enough tension. Too many names sound the same. Too much setting or not enough. And yes, there’ll be one thing, at least, that’s INSANE and you’re never going to to that. Fine, you don’t have to do it. But put it on the list anyway.
(As you highlight, note the praise. I always put little hearts by those parts, but you do you.)
Create a plan
Make a separate document with the suggestion list you have just created.
Pick something easy from your list. For instance, “your character is not nice enough.” Okay, you can do that, right? Go through the manuscript and look for places you can make the character nicer. That’s easy. That’s doable. Try following one suggestion.
The big thing!
I know, in the back of your mind is that thing that you’re never going to do. That’s okay. You don’t have to do it.
Pick another thing from your list that seems doable. Go through, only focusing on that, and do make the changes. Hmmm. When you make those little changes, other things begin to take shape, don’t they? Keep going.
Keep on going
Pick another thing. Now, as you’ve looked through your manuscript in a very focused way for the third time, are you possibly seeing how to change the bigger elements? Are the ways of making more profound changes becoming more possible? More doable?
The big thing!
Yes, yes, the big thing. The horrible impossible big thing. You still don’t have to do it. Do everything else, though. One item on your list at a time. (Cross them off as you complete them. That’s really rewarding.) And then, as you keep working, you’ll see other places to incorporate the editor’s other suggestions. Hurray. Do that.
Read the whole letter again
Now, check your list–oh! Look at all you’ve accomplished!–and then open the original document again. Read it through your new eyes. Oh, you’ll be thinking. This isn’t so intimidating. Now you’ve already done many of the things that were suggested. Now you’re seeing your manuscript in a different way. Oh, you realize—my editor is only trying to help, and what I have done so far has been so successful!
Maybe, you think, those suggestions were not as horrific and impossible as I thought. (And look at all those little hearts!)
Read the letter again.
Let all this simmer in your brain.
Consider the thing
The thing that you absolutely will never do. Maybe that could…work? Here’s a suggestion: make a copy of your manuscript so your original is just the way you want it. Now take that copy, and make the big change. Maybe it’s a change from first person to third, or the other way around. Maybe it is making someone else the bad guy. It will be something that you never thought about, and it will seem alien and wrong. But just… think about it. You’re simply testing a hypothesis. You can always discard it. (My editor actually suggested I change a male character into a female. No! I said. No way. Then…I said yes. And it was such a brilliant idea.)
Did it work? Is it amazing? Is so often is. (Editors are smart.) Decide whether you like it the new way. But if you do: Terrific. If you don’t: Okay. It’s your book. And now you know.
Listen to your writer brain
Did your book evolve, open up, blossom? That’s what is supposed to happen. And when it does, that means you’re a writer.
Read the letter again
Well, in retrospect, it wasn’t so bad at all, right? In fact, easy peasy. Your editor–your teammate and cheerleader and teacher!– loves the book, loves you, loves working with such a professional, and and now the book is farther along the road to being fabulous. And maybe you grew as a writer.
How do you deal with editorial letters? Tell us your secrets on the Career Author’s Facebook page.