Long before I had a publishing contract or an agent, I’d heard whispers about “the first editorial letter”. I’d heard about writers curling in a ball, shedding tears and binging on chocolate before they could settle down and make the required edits. So waiting for my first letter was understandably nerve-wracking.
I tried to calm my fears – my editor, Karen Grove, had chosen my MS, so she must like it. How bad could she possibly rip it apart? Right?
Every day, I nervously checked my inbox, and when I finally saw Karen’s e-mail, just waiting there, I debated cracking open the wine right away!
There were two parts to Karen’s message. In the body of the e-mail, she listed several big-picture, over-arching issues. I quickly perused these as I’d already seen them when she first offered the contract. An attached Word document contained her additional comments. I tore through the manuscript looking for the ones that would send me running for my emergency chocolate supply.
But a funny thing happened. I couldn’t find any. Really. Her comments were all spot-on and relatively easy to address. Hmmm…was I a writing anomaly? Had I managed to snag the one editor that didn’t strike fear in her writers?
As Karen and I worked through three more rounds of edits on the manuscript and all went smoothly, I kept thinking about my initial reaction. Why was my experience seemingly so different?
Here is what I realized:
The big picture edits suggested by Karen in her e-mail were not small items: the ending needed to be rewritten; I needed to work on my MC’s character arc; and the romance needed to be strengthened. But I already knew about these and was prepared. In the three months between the contract offer and the first editorial letter, I’d had time to mull them over, and importantly, I completely agreed with the need for these changes.
Looking back, if these big picture items had been mentioned for the first time in the editorial letter, I probably would have curled into a ball, nursing the bellyache I’d have had from eating so much chocolate. After all, they represented huge changes and a lot of work on my part. Instead I was happy to finally get started on my revisions, knowing they’d make my novel stronger.
So, what did I learn? First, if I can determine the broader story issues that need to be addressed at the contract stage, I’ll be ahead when the ‘dreaded’ editorial letter hits my inbox.
Second, I hope I’m always lucky enough to work with an editor like Karen. I trusted her vision from the beginning. I could see how her suggested changes would improve and strengthen my book. I also liked that she pointed out the weaknesses and let me come up with solutions that stayed true to my voice and the story I'd created.
So, what’s up next? Copy edits, cover design and all the other little pre-publication steps…