When an author works with a publisher to put out a book, there are a number of steps that happen between that first version of the book that the author hands in and the version that ends up in print.
Most often, the first feedback an author gets on his or her novel comes in the form of an editorial letter. This is a document that lists all the BIG PROBLEMS with the plot and characters. Editorial letters often make authors tremble in fear and anticipation, and, once read, have been known to make authors weep. Why? Because this letter lists problems with the story that the editor is asking the author to rewrite.
But editorial letters are good. They really are. They help make the story better.
Last week when I was in the Navajo Nation of Arizona, I received my editorial letter on King's Folly. I had to go hide in the church bus to read it ASAP. It had been about eight weeks since I'd turned in my book, and I was dying to know what they thought of it.
The editorial letter I received for King's Folly was four pages long. It was broken down by plot threads, characters, and story sections (Part I, Part II, Part III), and gave comments on what my editor felt worked well and what didn't.
As is often the case, especially on the first book in a new series, I have a lot of work to do.
Since King's Folly isn't out yet, I can't share that letter here. But I wanted to give you guys an idea of what a real editorial letter looks like. So I'm going to share my entire letter for By Darkness Hid and the first two pages of the editorial letter for To Darkness Fled. My editor, Jeff Gerke, did not give me an editorial letter for From Darkness Won, nor did I receive one for the book Replication. Every book is different. And the editor's schedule is always a factor. But it's nice when the editor has the time to add this extra step into the editing process. I think it's important.
Please note, By Darkness Hid, which I had originally called Bloodvoices, was in pretty good shape when Jeff Gerke requested the full manuscript. It was the sixth book I'd written. And I had gone through and edited it as well. I felt good about that book when I sent it off. I think that's why my editorial letter was only two pages long.
To Darkness Fled was not in that good of shape when I turned it in. It was my first draft. We were running out of time. And the editorial letter Jeff sent me was thirty-three pages long.
Book one editorial letter: two pages long.
Book two editorial letter: thirty-three pages long.
There are so many things I love about Jeff Gerke's editing style. One of the things he is so great about is starting with positive feedback. He makes you feel good about your book before he rips it to shreds. It's a lovely trait in an editor. Jeff also tends to list things by page number. This saves him time on the line edit. At many publishing houses, different editors might do those two jobs. At Marcher Lord Press back then, Jeff did it all.
Here is page one of the editorial letter for what became By Darkness Hid:
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|Click here to see a larger version. Also, I blacked out the only |
spoiler for those who haven't read the books.
Here is page one of the thirty-three- page editorial letter for To Darkness Fled:
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And page two of the thirty-three- page editorial letter for To Darkness Fled:
|Click here to see a larger version. And remember... this is only page two of thirty-three!|
These pages should give you an idea of what an editorial letter looks like. As I said, each editor does things a little differently. But the point is that they list items that need to be fixed.
How do you, the author, start fixing all this?
I like to read the letter through once or twice, then set it aside and think about it for a few days because there are always a few things that really overwhelm me. And I need to think them over. Depending on the deadline, there may be tears involved. When you've spent 500+ hours writing and rewriting a book, doing a major rewrite in a few weeks can be really stressful. So I think. And I plan. And after a day or three, I sit down and look at the letter again.
I start with the easy things. I print out the editorial letter and treat it like a To Do list. I grab a highlighter and highlight everything that I disagree with, say, pink. Then I open the manuscript, save as "name of my book-rewrite" and get started on the things I'm going to fix—the "Duh!" types of things like:
· Why did Jax and the other guy take Vrell on foot instead of horseback on their first journey? That makes no sense.
Um, yeah. The noble knights should be on horses. Duh.
When I complete an item, I highlight it a different color, say, orange. Then I move on to the next item. And I work my way through the list. Once I've done all the easy things, I move on to the more difficult ones. And when I've fixed all the things I agree with, I then need to address the other items. How that works depends on how your editor works. With Jeff, since we were working really fast, I might sent him an email about these items, and we'd talk them out. Or, if it's a smaller item, I might put a comment in the rewritten manuscript that says, "I want to leave this as is because..." And then I'd explain. Jeff never fought me on anything. We worked pretty well together. I trusted his skill as an editor. And I only fought him on things that really mattered to me.
It can be scary to disagree with your editor if you don't know him or her very well, but remember, you and your editor are on the same team. You both want to put out a great product. So try to see things from your editor's perspective. I probably agreed with 85-90% of Jeff's suggestions. And Jeff is always a little funny, too, in his edits. I think he knows that laughter makes this process easier.
How about you? Have you ever received an editorial letter? If so, how did you tackle it? If not, what do you think of the pages above? Do you think it would be helpful to get such feedback on your story? Why or why not?