the editorial letter

Or how to take suggestions.

I know some people dread the editorial letter, but I didn’t. I knew what to expect, because Weronika and I talked about my novel’s strengths and weaknesses before she offered representation. One important factor in the agent/writer relationship is that the agent and the writer both have the same vision for the novel, and through our conversation I found that Weronika and I were on the same page (no pun intended . . . okay, well, maybe a little one).

Weronika’s editorial letter really pointed out the weak spots in my novel, and she also bounced ideas of how I might fix some of the problem areas. I could have immediately started making changes to the novel, but running off and making helter-skelter changes to my manuscripts have often created a lot of unnecessary work for me in the past.   

I wanted to try something different, so I carefully read through her recommendations, then I put her letter aside for two days, not because I disagreed with her, but because I wanted to think about her proposed changes. After two days, I went back to her letter and marked off the things I agreed with:   

  • one character was too one-dimensional
  • the magic was used too efficiently (meaning the characters never failed)
  • the climax needed to be strengthened
  • we needed to consider a different title

There was more, but that’s enough to give you a general idea.   

Then I went through the letter and wrote a detailed justification as to why I wanted to keep other aspects of the novel in place; one was the religion.   

It seems that I, the writer, had failed to accurately convey my world (or in my case, Woerld) to the reader. I bounced some ideas back to Weronika on how I could work these changes into the manuscript and we agreed to give it a try. I may still have to make further changes, but for now, I think I’ve done a better job in conveying the tolerance of Woerld’s religions than I did in the original manuscript.   

My next step was to go through the marked manuscript and correct any grammatical errors that Weronika found. I left all her comments in the side-bar to address later.   

Once I fixed the grammatical issues, I went through the manuscript and addressed the comments that were easiest to fix. What is Lucian feeling here, describe what this means, more information on world-building is needed here, etc.   

Next I tackled the hard parts: I needed a new chapter, Lindsay’s character needed to be strengthened, add more information about the other religions on Woerld and how the bastions interact, and I needed rewrites in the climax. Those were the toughest changes, because they required me to rewrite without changing the overall structure of the novel.   

In the end? I think the novel is much stronger for Weronika’s input. It was hard work, and I put myself on a self-imposed two-week deadline. I’m hoping to be published someday, and if I am, those deadlines will become real. This was excellent practice and forced me to extend myself as a writer.   

I also learned a few things by working through the editorial letter:   

  • Don’t immediately start making changes. Think about things for a few days.
  • Be ready to compromise. If I want to be published, I have to keep the market in mind. That is what my agent is doing when she edits my novel, so I know she’s not trying to rewrite my book, she’s trying to help me make it superior to what is already on the market. I have to be willing to work with her to achieve the same goal–publication.
  • Clear communication is the key. I could have charged off and started changing the entire novel, but instead I communicated my feelings to Weronika and she agreed with my proposed changes.
  • Work within the plotlines already in your novel. I know we all have the major impulse to charge off saying, “Wouldn’t it be cool if . . .?” Resist that urge. Don’t start adding new sub-plots or new material unless you’re specifically asked to do those things.
  • Beware the butterfly effect. Remember if you change one thing in a chapter, then you need to go through the entire novel and make certain that change is not going to conflict with later developments in either plot or characterization. This process will make you insane.
  • Practice working on a deadline. Every writer needs to work on their pre-publication ulcer now so that you’ll be on the proper medication when editors start demanding changes within a week.
  • Expect another round of revisions. I fully expect Weronika to point out more revisions after she reads the newest draft.

Oh, and the title. After much agonizing and several lists of proposed titles, we finally settled on one we both loved: Miserere: An Autumn Tale.  

What has been your experience with editorial letters or critique groups? If you have received an editorial letter from your agent or editor, how did you handle proposed changes? If you haven’t received an editorial letter, how do you handle proposed changes from members of your critique group?

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About T. Frohock

Please visit my web site at: www.tfrohock.com
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23 Responses to the editorial letter

  1. Absolutely. I had a similar experience, except that I made my own comments within her comments on the manuscript whenever she asked a question. But, I did the general order the same as you: grammar then comments parts. 🙂 Great post!

  2. 🙂 Let’s see what kind of turnaround I’ll have on this draft.

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  4. Thanks for sharing. Love the advice to let the comments sit for a few days before making decisions. Sounds like you have a rational approach to the whole process. I have to believe that makes it easier to move forward and to learn. Good luck!

    • Hi Jonathan, I know it’s hard, but I really found letting the thoughts simmer for a day or two kept me from making major edits that would have cost me a lot of time. Thanks!

  5. erikamarks says:

    It’s so great to hear your experiences with this process, Teresa. I would have to agree that one of the most important points is to stay focused in your revisions. I can’t tell you how I struggled with my last round. My editorial letter was wonderfully clear and all the points were ones my editor and I had talked through previously, but I was still so tempted to keep tweaking beyond what we’d discussed. After a while, it can become hard to see the forest for the trees. You figure, hey, I’m already reworking so much anyway, why not just…There is such a danger of letting that thread pull off too much of your sweater.

    Congratulations on meeting your deadline! As you said, that too is so important to the process.

    • Erika, I love your analogy of pulling a thread from a sweater. That is really what it’s like, and the desire to tweak and tweak again never leaves us. At this point, I have to stop looking at individual chapters and look at the work as a whole. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  6. Excellent post, excellent advice, Teresa. Sounds like you have a wonderful working relationship with your agent. May the rest of us be so fortunate! (Now, go have another cupcake!)

    S.

    Every writer needs to work on their pre-publication ulcer now so that you’ll be on the proper medication when editors start demanding changes within a week. Ha! Indeed!

    • Hi, Stephanie, I’m so glad you stopped by. I have an excellent agent too. She’s an absolute joy to work with, and she has an excellent feel for what it takes to make a good novel better. I think that is very important. I’m very lucky to have Weronika in my corner.

  7. What Stephanie said. 😉 You have a clear head, T. I can only imagine what a joy you’d be to an editor or agent.

  8. Thank you for this excellent advice Teresa!

  9. Kelly Bryson says:

    I love the ulcer bit. You had me laughing pretty hard there.

    And thanks for sharing how you and Weronika have worked things out.

    My last edit has felt the same way. How much change is good? How much is just procrastination? Have fun eating cupcakes!

    • Hi, Kelly, thanks for stopping in! I don’t care where the editorial advice is coming from, you’re right, edits are tough — especially trying to figure out where to stop and where to keep going.

      Cupcakes make it all worthwhile! 😉

  10. Great post. Editorial notes can look like an insurmountable task, but I like the way you’ve broken it down into manageable jobs, also allowing time to mull the deeper questions. And I agree with Erika – when you’ve been working on something for too long it’s so tempting to add more and more ingredients because you can’t see what you’ve already got!

    • Hi, Roz, thanks! That’s what made Weronika’s input so valuable to me — she focused dead on the issues that needed to be changed and nothing else. It was like having a second (very well-equipped) pair of eyes on the whole manuscript. She also told what she liked about the novel, and that was extremely helpful to me in making my changes. By knowing what worked, I could fix the parts that didn’t work without interrupting the flow of the story.

  11. I trust my editor, but she trusts me as well, so if I say “this should stay as it is because . . .” she usually agrees with me. However, I also know to think about her comment(s) because sometimes it leads to an AHA moment – that’s happened with my “beta readers,” too – they may just make a comment about something and that spurs off an insight that leads me to something cool.

    I’ve learned to speak up strongly if I feel strongly about something, but I know in the end the editor/publisher has the “last word,” -actually, I could have the last word by saying “never mind then, I’ll take my ms and go home …meh!” but of course I am not going to say that *laugh*

    • Hi, Kat!

      I’m glad you brought up the beta readers. I told my beta readers that Weronika vindicated them. 😉 I want them to trust their comments, and while I thought I had fixed the most of the issues in the novel, there were still a few that needed strengthening.

      Trust and compromise: those are my keywords in this process. I knew everything the first time I was involved in this process and I ended up taking my manuscript and going home (nothing satisfying there). This time around, I’m taking a different approach and so far it seems to be working much better.

  12. It’s so useful to hear about your editing process and get an insight into what it’s like! Thank you so much for posting this, Teresa. And I absolutely love the new title.

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