The Infamous Edit Letter

Since I got my 3-book deal with Simon & Schuster back in January, after self-publishing my paranormal action book, Life’s a Witch, online and then in paperback through CreateSpace, I’ve been having a lot of fun learning the differences between the two forms of publishing. From 6-week long writing deadlines, to working with an editor, to creating outlines, it’s been a serious trip so far (If you haven’t been following my journey, you can catch up here.

My latest experience has to do with the Infamous Edit Letter. You may have heard of it before, but for those who haven’t, the Edit Letter is what an author gets after turning in the first draft of her manuscript. It’s basically a run-down of all the re-writes/edits/changes the editor thinks the author needs to make in order to create a stronger book.

Now, I’d heard of the term before, but being that this is my first time working with a mainstream publisher—and therefore, an editor—I had no idea what to expect. What I ended up getting was 21 pages of notes, as well as my original manuscript with line-edit changes marked and ready for me to go through.

Now, from what I understand, every editor works differently with his/her authors. My agent has told me that some may be less detailed in their edit letters, while others really dig in with specifics. So, this is by no means reflective of EVERY edit letter. It’s just my personal experience.

First, I have to say that receiving a 21-page letter full of comments on the book that you’ve put your heart and soul into, can be a bit…daunting? Nerve-wracking? Stressful? Overwhelming? Scary? However, when I actually sat down to read my edit letter, what I felt was excitement. Even though my editor, Alexandra, had approved of my outline before I’d begun writing the book, once I’d turned in the first draft, I was so anxious to hear what she thought that I was just happy to get some feedback. Good or bad.

What struck me first about letter, was how happy Alex was with the draft. She made sure to tell me all the things she liked about it, pointing out specific parts, plot points and scenes that she was crazy about; to be clear, this wasn’t a 21-page letter complaining about the book. At least half of it was spent pointing out all the things that were great about the story—which is so encouraging to someone who’s facing re-writes. The other half was full of instances where things could be tightened up, improved upon, made better, more believable and stronger overall.

You may think this would be intimidating, but it was just the opposite for me. By this time, I was eager to jump back in and make the story better. And Alex made this easy for me by starting with a general overview of things that needed to be cleared up about individual characters and overall arc-stuff. Then, things were broken down chapter by chapter with specific points that needed to be worked on in each. This was especially helpful because it made everything much more manageable.

What I really appreciated was that there were no vague requests. The worst thing for a writer to get is the note, “This chapter/part just isn’t working” and then no suggestions on how to make it work for them. It’s the kiss of death. If we don’t know what’s wrong with it, how are we supposed to fix it? Luckily, Alex gave me specifics, along with suggestions that I could take and craft to make it work for the story.

This process was made even better by the fact that I’d been given back my manuscript with line edits throughout, that way it would be easier to see exactly where things needed to be worked on. This saved me the time of having to go through the manuscript to find individual instances that needed to be fixed. It also allowed me to see which lines my editor liked, and which parts made her laugh, dread or swoon. I think it’s important for an author to be reminded when she’s done something well. Rewrites aren’t easy, so hearing that you’ve done things right, is a great motivator to do even better. I really believe that an editor’s delivery can mean the difference between a great revision and a mediocre one.

Though I’m still in the middle of this revision process, I can honestly say I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Nearly all of the suggestions that were given to me made total sense and I can see how they’re going to make for a much stronger story in the end. And as a writer, why wouldn’t I want to deliver the best book possible? I fully believe that this edit letter will help bring me that much closer to reaching my goal of best seller.

*****************************************************************************

Brittany Geragotelis is a former magazine editor and author of the upcoming series Life’s a Witch, being published by Simon & Schuster. Her first book, What the Spell? will be published in hardback on January, 15, 2013. To learn more about her and her writing, visit http://www.thebookslayer.com, follow her on Twitter or Facebook. She also has videos on Youtube and boards on Pinterest .

  • Chuck D.

    What an interesting topic. First, Brittany, congrats! You have to be excited and I’m excited for you. I think I understand the excitement of the daunting edit letter. It means someone truly cares.

    I had an agent–a good one–but he was unable to sell any of my manuscripts. One thing that probably didn’t help was his insistence in only pitching my stuff to large houses. What always struck me as odd, however, were the differing opinions of respected senior editors. When he would forward me the rejection emails, of the ones that weren’t obvious boilerplate, I always angrily marveled at the differing opinions. One editor might say my novel took too long to get to the action, while another would compliment me on the quick beginning. One would say I didn’t maintain tension. Another would say the best thing the novel has going for it is the constant tension. You get the picture.

    Even though I’d often see inconsistencies in their viewpoints, in the end I found their comments largely accurate and helpful. Yes, I do think mainstream publishing has some big warts–they also have talent.

    Enjoy your journey, Brittany. Your editor cares about your work and I’m happy for you! 🙂