3 Tips for Dealing with THE EDIT LETTER

Whether you are traditionally or self-published, at some point you will receive an edit letter from either your publisher or your hired freelance editor. If you’ve already received one, you know why I used capital letters. Just the idea of this letter can inspire fear, insecurity, and dread. I saw writers in social media comparing the length of their letters, “Wow, yours was only five pages long? Mine was twenty-six.” After reading some of these disclosures, I actually emailed my editor and told him I just needed to hear that my letter was less than twenty-five pages long. He thought I was kidding. For me, it was mostly a fear of the unknown, e.g. what if they want me to re-write the entire book, replace all my characters with new ones, and change the genre from sci-fi to contemporary romance? So yes, the fear can be irrational, but it’s still there.

Anyway, after getting the letter (which, thankfully, was WAY less than twenty-five pages), and later, after finishing all of the edits and having them accepted, I thought, “Huh, that wasn’t so bad after all.” More importantly, I couldn’t believe how much stronger my book was afterward. So, here are three things you should do after you read your edit letter for the very first time:  

1) Nothing. Seriously. Don’t open your manuscript. Don’t bust out the highlighters and red pens. Don’t think about how you’re going to address the plot issue raised about chapter seventeen. So what should you do? Take a day and let it all sink again. Then, when you’re ready, read the entire letter again before you do anything. The subconscious mind is a powerful thing and I’m a big advocate for “sleeping on it.” By the time I re-read my edit letter, the answer to several issues had magically appeared in my head, and I hadn’t even started on the edits yet. Next, read the comments by your editor within the manuscript itself. Let these sink it as well, even if your fingers are twitching on the keyboard.  

2) Talk to your editor. Schedule a phone call with your editor after you’ve done Step 1, not before. This way, you can ask for clarification on any issues that you are still unclear about. If you’re going the traditional route, you can also discuss the expected time frame for edits. I had one month to do my edits, so I knew I’d have to work quickly. This phone call only lasted about 30 minutes for me, and I hung up feeling very confident about what I needed to do. Excitement had replaced the fear–well, mostly.  

3) Develop a strategy. Some writers I know like to go through the edit letter and address each point in turn, so they can check it off as they go. This works great for some people. For me, after talking to my editor and reading his first few comments within my manuscript, something clicked and I went through the entire manuscript without even looking at the edit letter. When I finally went back to the edit letter at the end, I found that I’d addressed almost everything, and only had to tweak a few more minor things. I tend to be less detail-oriented and more big picture oriented, so this system worked better for me. Everyone is different, so listen to what other people have tried, but do what works best for you.

I’d say you can relax after this hurdle, but I’d be lying. I only had one week of downtime after turning my edits in before I received my copyedits to do. That’s another post, but I’m finished with those now as well…hence, why I have time to do my first blog post in forever. The bottom line is that having a great editor is priceless, and the end product is totally worth all the blood, sweat, tears, and Haagen Daaz ice cream.  NOTE: If you haven’t tried the Caramel Creme de Leche variety, you don’t know what heaven tastes like.

In other fun news, I saw my book cover and can’t wait to share it, because it’s SO FREAKIN’ COOL! Also, I have a shiny, new website coming soon, and I’m posting a book rave today over at the YA Valentines.

Any other editing tips you’d add to the list? Any favorite editing snacks, like ice cream?

8 comments to 3 Tips for Dealing with THE EDIT LETTER

  • Gosh, I can’t imagine why I can relate to this today. 😉

    I’m at the “do nothing” stage right now. But I’m already feeling better about things. I think you’re totally right about not jumping into making changes too quickly. Desperation does not lead to good writing!

  • You’ll do great with your edits, Kristen–it helps that we both have awesome editors! 🙂

  • There’s something joyful about a great edit letter if it can peel back your own brain for a moment and show you a better vision of your own story.

    After, you know, the gut punch of the initial read-through. 🙂

  • Bryan–exactly! I would read comments and think “Of course, why didn’t I see that?” It really helps to have a great objective opinion since we’re so close to our own stories.

  • I feel out of the loop! I never got an edit letter??? I had an email, maybe 500 words long with some thoughts, and the track-changed attached document. I guess, though, maybe because my editor and I talk ALL THE TIME, it wasn’t necessary.
    You’re so right about how those notes really make the story that much stronger. I was so grateful for the additional thoughts/ideas. Subplots to enrich the main plot that I never considered. I’ve heard so many scary stories about editors, but for me it’s been GREAT.

  • That’s great that you never had to open “the letter,” and it sounds like you have great communication with your editor. And I agree about hearing horror stories about editors, which makes me feel that much luckier to have mine!

  • I really don’t find editing too scary. There is definitely the initial shock, which is why I totally agree on number 1. But if you let it sink, it’s not so bad. I did the same when an editor sent back feedback on Daughter of Isis, which totally made it a better novel. Then again, I had some minor changes to go over with my freelance editor. Now my book is schedule to release this October (self-pub). I don’t regret edits. Never will. 🙂

  • Congrats on Daughter of Isis! And yes, I think freelance editors are essential if you go the self-pub route. Now that I’ve gone through it, I don’t find it scary, but before that first time, it felt a little like the top of a roller coaster hill. Once you get down, you realize it was fun and want to do it again, but for a minute, there’s sheer terror. For me anyway-lol.