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?