June 29th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
Notes From an Editor Call

Since I know a lot of the readers here are aspiring authors who want to know what the process is like from the contracted side of the fence, I thought I’d share a little bit of process with you.

A week ago, I got at revision letter from my editor for my latest manuscript. Yesterday, I had a phone call with her to discuss the revision letter and my plan of action.

This is what I do when I get a revision letter (your mileage may vary).

  1. I open a bottle of wine and pour myself a glass.
  2. I read the revision letter, start to finish.
  3. I take a walk, mop the floors, fold the laundry, otherwise do some sort of busy work while I ruminate. Sometimes I have another glass of wine.
  4. I go back to the revision letter with a couple of highlighters and start in, highlighting bits that I need to concentrate on and leaving notes in the margins about possible solutions.
  5. I brainstorm with my husband and critique partners about ways to solve things.
  6. Once I have a plan of action in place, I call my editor to discuss it, as well as ask her advice about any sticky places or articles of disagreement.
  7. I do not drink wine before calling my editor.

So yesterday, I set up a phone call with my editor. This is my fourth book with her, so we know each other pretty well by this time. We talked for a few minutes about summer vacation plans, the deliciousness of heirloom tomatoes, what my toddler is up to, and my upcoming events for my latest book release (which is also one of hers). Then we segued into the letter. The Letter.

Just kidding. Editorial letters are actually pretty pleasant. Editors usually start out telling you how much they love the book, before they tell you about all the stuff they want you to change.

And here’s the thing I’ve learned — usually, editors stick to pointing out problems. They may offer solutions, and if they feel right to you, then you should use them, but you can also come up with something different that will solve the problem the editor’s having.

To give you an example, a few of the problems my editor pointed out in my latest manuscript (she was actually much more detailed and eloquent in pointing this out, but in the interest of simplicity and spoilers, I’ll be brief and generic):

  1. too many secondary characters with too little depth
  2. not enough focus on the heroine falling for the hero (the opposite was apparently fine)
  3. the hero’s little sister, who is an important part of the plot, is forgotten for big swaths.

I realized, during my planning sessions, that I might be able to solve all of these problems by combining the sister character with another secondary character, an associate of the heroine’s, who was in the story a lot more, but wasn’t intimately connected to the hero. This would help reduce the number of secondary characters that were crowding the story while deepening the role of the (combined) character that remained. Also, it would bring the sister to the forefront. Finally, because it would give the heroine more opportunities to interact with the hero’s sister, it would give me an opportunity to show how the heroine’s feelings toward the hero were evolving. (You can’t help but think of the guy you’re falling for when you’re hanging out with his beloved little sister).

So during the call, I laid out my plan to my editor, talking about the points in her letter hat I think this change would solve, and explaining how it would alter the story. She gave me some suggestions for scenes I hadn’t even thought of yet, and we decided to move forward with it.

We had similar discussions about other elements of the story. One of the problems I’m having with this story is landing on the perfect opening. (I’ve tried five.) We brainstormed yet another opening, and I offered to send it to her, prior to turning in the rest of the revision, to see if we were on the right track.

Since we’re both really well read in what’s going on in teen literature these days, we have a shared vocabulary of solutions. “Well what if I did something kind of like what Cassandra Clare did in this one scene in City of Ashes?” or “There’s that scene in Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy that accomplishes something like that.” And of course, “I think we want to stay away from anything like in [REDACTED].”

After we went through the letter, we chatted a little bit about cover ideas. And then I had to go make dinner for my family. But now I’m diving into the revisions, happy that my editor and I are on the same page about where to go from here.

So that’s how it works for me. I know other writers who don’t get revisions letters at all, or have gotten manuscripts back with the equivalent of big red Xs on them, but I’ve been lucky so far in my career to have editors that are very involved and willing to work with me to make my manuscript the book we both know it can be.

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