Editorial Letters

There’s an interesting thread over at Verla Kay’s discussion boards for children’s writers and illustrators right now.  It’s about the editorial letter — the letter that shows up from your editor a few weeks or months after your book has been sold.  Editorial letters can be anywhere from a few lines to many pages, and they talk about what your editor would like to see in revisions before your book goes to copy editing.

I’m in the middle of two revisions with two different editors right now, and I completely understand the feeling of being overwhelmed (especially when someone is, you know, expecting to see a new draft by a certain date – yikes!).  With both, I found that I read the editorial letter and then left it on a corner of my desk for a few days, stealing glances at it like it was some wild animal that had gotten into the house that I wasn’t sure how to deal with.  Kind of like the time I opened our garage door and found a raccoon up on the shelf next to the sidewalk chalk, gnawing on a corn cob from the garbage and staring at me with red alien eyes. I crept away quietly and went inside to think about it for a while. 

The raccoon wandered away on its own.  My editorial letters don’t do that, though, so it helps me a lot to take a letter and turn it into a very simple, bulleted, to-do list on a single sheet of paper.  That allows me to sit down and pick ONE JOB each night, crossing it off when I’m done. It makes the whole thing feel much more manageable.  Right now, my to-do list looks like this:

New beginning – add classroom scene
Make time frame clear
VG – change so she’s not new at school
KB – add character trait
Annie- develop idea of 2 worlds
Add conversation w/ teacher
Add scene w/ James
More scenes w/ Sparky
New ending

Does anyone else have tips/tricks/words of wisdom for digging into a revision after the editorial letter arrives?

8 Replies on “Editorial Letters

  1. Yay for lists – I’m a huge fan. I might be a little obsessive-compulsive that way, truth be told. But hey, if it works…

    I definitely am all for giving things time to rest. Sometimes when I’m stuck in one area of the revisions, leaving it and going out of order to work on another portion frees up the subconscious side of my brain and all kinds of things I never thought of come a-knocking when I’m least expecting it.

    Brainstorming helps sometimes when I’m really stuck. Just typing random lists (there we go again) of ideas and seeing what flies out – sometimes it surprises me! Or talking out the plot bugs with a writer friend (hint, hint 😉 – I’m a big one for talking things out and I almost always come away with some new angle or idea I never thought of.

    Good luck revising!!

  2. Wow! New ending and New Beginning! That would scare me. I like the list idea. I would definitely need to look at something short and to the point to help me focus. I’ll remember this in case I ever get so lucky as to receive one of these letters. 🙂 Have fun revising. 🙂

  3. Well, I’m no expert on this, having gotten only two of the things. I found that doing the little fixes helped me feel like I was making progress through the list of changes and also drew me into the manuscript in a way that proofreading doesn’t. Sketching new scenes helped, too, even though I can’t draw.

  4. Thanks for posting this (and the link to Verla Kay’s). It was especially helpful to read the editorial letter for Miss Spitfire. Makes me wonder: How do any books get acquired? Editors have to be visionaries, I guess, to see a manuscript’s hidden potential — and be able share the possibilities with other people on the acquisition team(s).

  5. The numbered list is what I do, too.

    I also print the ms and go through it with highlighters and sticky notes and a red pen.

    Good luck with your revisions!

  6. Then, I go through the manuscript and simply, in brackets, incorporate all the notes into it. The really really easy changes I just make–but only those. Everything else, no matter how small, I just note in the manuscript. (I also note more global things at the beginning of the manuscript, or the end.)

    Somehow, once all my notes are in that one document–things feel more under control.

    I also let it sit a bit, like you, both before and after entering those notes. That helps me feel more in control, too, to get perspective, to realize that some of the things I instinctively go “no way” to actually make a startling amount of sense, and are things I both can and want to do.

  7. Dude. You have totally helped me to sort out what it is I must do in order to revise my gnomes. I’ve gotten feedback from my first readers, but apart from the nitpicky precise comments, I was entirely unsure what to do next. “Make a list” is the answer. You so rock.

  8. I have to confess that after the first fritzing out that occurs the second I get the letter (ack! so much to do! ack! deadline! ack! ack!), I am very linear. I sit down with it, set myself a certain amount of pages to revise, and just start chugging through from beginning to end. Now all my linearness goes to piece once that first pass goes back to my editors, but I still just feel better and feel more context if I’m reading it again front to back as I work.

    I also like what my latest editorial letter did, which was include a list of all current scenes and what happened in them. It’s making jotting down where to include new scenes really easy.