I’ve regaled you before with my advice for tackling edit letters when revising a novel, which was based on my experience editing for agents and CPs. For the most part, this is still my process. But now that I’ve survived my first round of edits of The Last Hour (my debut novel!) for my editor at HarperTeen, I thought it might be fun to talk about what it’s like to edit your book for a traditional publisher.
Keep in mind, of course, that as with all things in publishing, everyone’s experience is completely different. 😂
First, you get your book deal.
Yay you! At some point you get to announce your good news, and there is much rejoicing. You’re on top of the world. Your book is going to find its way into the hands of
billions some readers, you’re going to hit all of the bestseller lists a major milestone on your bucket list, and everything is wonderful.
Then the waiting begins.
You know at some point you’re going to get an editorial letter from your editor, and you’ll need to revise — but you’re not sure exactly when, or how extensive the revision will need to be. People in your debut group start talking about their edit letters. Some have to do minor edits. Some need to rewrite their whole book. You start to worry you’ll fall into the latter bucket.
And then you wait.
You’ll Google what editorial letters from publishers are like, and you’ll find articles like this one. They may or may not help you feel better.
And then you wait some more.
Then you decide to start working on your next book. If you have a one-book deal (like me), there’s no guarantee of a follow-up, so the pressure’s on to sell your option book to your publisher. If you have a multi-book deal, the pressure’s still on, because you might need to submit proposal after proposal to your publisher until something finally clicks. Being under pressure is inevitable.
You get into a groove. Heck yeah, this book’s starting to look like an actual story. You finish your outline and create word count goals to finish the first draft by the end of—
The editorial letter pops into your inbox.
You have a heart attack and die.
Then you realize you’re not actually dead, and need to read this thing at some point, so it might as well be now.
You open the email and see the edit letter consists of several single-spaced pages in 12-pt font (in my case, eight pages). You read. And your first reaction is:
This reaction, by the way, is completely normal, so if this just happened to you, know that you’re not alone.
You then email/IM/DM exactly all of your author friends and whine profusely. They all give you the same advice: Put the letter away and read it again in a day or two.
As you distance yourself from the letter, your brain starts piecing together solutions, almost like your characters are doing the work themselves, and you have various epiphanies that lead you to realize your editor is a genius.
(Hopefully. I know some authors disagree with their edit letters, but I’m lucky enough to have an editor who’s a genius of character development and probably all things.)
You wrap your brain around it.
This next part varies from person to person. You might dive right into edits. You might have a phone call with your editor first.
But here’s how it went for me.
I re-read the editorial letter about fifteen times over the next couple of days, then marked it up with ideas and suggestions for how to tackle each item (and a few questions). I prefaced the letter with four “big ideas,” each of which tackled several points of feedback at once. Then I added bullet points below each of my editor’s paragraphs either pointing to one of the “big ideas” or detailing how I planned to address that particular point.
It was important for me to make sure we were on the same page because I only had five weeks to complete the edits, almost two of which I’d be traveling abroad (timing never really works out, does it?). My editor replied quickly with comments and answers, and then I was ready to dive in.
You dive into edits.
No matter your circumstances — day job or not, children (or other dependents) or not, etc. — you realize the luxury of writing whenever you wanted has disappeared. Pre-debut, if you had an overwhelming day at work, or you (or the kiddos) got sick, or you had to attend an event, or whatever, you could set the writing aside that day, or squeeze in 15 minutes here or there.
When you’re on deadline, you don’t have the luxury of setting anything aside.
I essentially had four weekends to complete these edits. During each weekend day, I’d wake up at 6am, make coffee and toast, and revise until around 12 or 1pm, quick break for lunch, and then revise until dinner time. We’re talking 11-12 hour days.
You’ll likely have less time to complete these revisions than you ever expected. It will be overwhelming at first — like you’re trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle while designing the pieces and also someone’s hovering over you with a timer and there’s construction outside your apartment and why does the universe hate you? — and then will become less so as you check things off your list. In fact, you’ll probably have a blast. (I did!)
You’ll get interrupted by various things. You might find out about foreign rights sales or film/TV option offers. You might be editing during a holiday, or, in my case, election day, and get distracted by the news. Your CPs might ask you to read their work before their own pressing deadlines. Also, life happens. But you stay focused and protect your revising time, because… well, because you are contractually obligated to get this done.
And no matter how impossible your revision seemed, you will get through it. You’ll do one final read-through and be amazed at how far the story has come since you first went on submission. And you’ll be so grateful to your editor for being able to see things nobody else did along the way.
Here’s what my round #1 edits looked like for The Last Hour.
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Yeah. There’s a lot of red.
You freak out one last time.
Now it’s time to send the revision back to your editor. This will involve hovering your cursor over the “Send” button for an extended length of time while making strange whining noises and/or giggling like a hyena.
Finally, you’ll force your finger to press “Send”. Gmail’s “Undo” feature might be a fierce adversary at this point, so you must stay strong.
Then it’s time to wait for your next editorial letter, and do it all over again. 😂😂😂
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