A Fan Letter to my Freelance Editor

I remember the day when I pulled my car off I-95 and sat crying in a parking lot outside of a McDonald’s.

And the day I went to bed at 1:00 in the afternoon and stayed there. Until 1:00 the next afternoon.

And then there was the morning that I called my sister, yelling, “Fu*k it! I quit!”

What prompted my outbursts, foul moods, and misery? Phone calls with my amazing, brilliant, wonderful editor. The McDonald’s cry-a-thon was when she told me a dead character in my novel simply had to go. The “taking to my bed” episode was after she gently explained that I needed to re-write the last chapter of SMALL ADMISSIONS for the 57th time. And the time I pitched a fit and called my sister threatening to give up writing for good was after I learned that the first book I wrote was, in fact, unpublishable.

My editor has a very tough job: she delivers the news I do NOT want to hear. But she delivers it clearly, calmly, kindly, and always with encouragement. I often find I need to take a day or two to adjust to the changes I will be making to the manuscript we’re discussing, but then I mull over what she has told me, and I get to work. I trust her completely. We work together in a constructive, fun, collaborative manner, and I’m so grateful for her instincts, careful eye, and her knowledge of what makes fiction work. I have never revised according to her advice and then felt she led me astray; to the contrary, I am always impressed by her sensibilities and her ability to pinpoint problems that I can’t even see. I would not have a book on the shelves or a book deal in the works if it weren’t for her. That is a fact.

So what is the kind of feedback she gives me?

  1. I’ve taken the story to places it doesn’t need to go.

I have a tendency to wander off into backstories where the diversion isn’t warranted. My editor will remind me that the backstory is maybe important for me (as homework) but not something the reader needs or – more importantly –wants to know about.

  1. My writing uses up too much “real estate” on something that only needs a quick mention.

This one is tough because it involves cutting, cutting, cutting. And cutting can be painful. But after I cut, I always have that awesome feeling that I’ve lost unwanted pounds. (If only I could do that literally.)

  1. My characters are being whiney little bitches.

I probably whine too much to my friends in real life and way too much in my own head, but the truth is no one likes a whiner. My editor will encourage me to give my characters some backbone and oomph, get them to move forwards rather than wallow in place.

  1. My characters cuss and drink too much.

Yeah, well, those are real life habits that seem to find their way onto the page. My bad.

  1. I don’t carry plot threads all the way through the novel.

This is a BIG problem. When I get this feedback, I have to go back and figure out where I’ve lost site of the story’s arc and get back on track. This particular problem is part of “big picture” development and can often involve a massive amount of rewriting. (These are the moments I wish I were more of a planner.)

The good news is that rewrites are never as scary or onerous as I think they’re going to be. Taking a book apart and putting it back together is a huge amount of work, absolutely. But it’s fun and challenging, and knowing I’ll end up with a better book is always worth the work.

So THANK YOU to my smart, talented, experienced editor! I’m going to retype the sentences I wrote above because they are worth repeating: I would not have a book on the shelves or a book deal in the works if it weren’t for her. That is a fact.

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Amy Poeppel grew up in Dallas, Texas and left the south to attend Wellesley College. Since then, she has worked as an actor, a high school English teacher, and most recently as the Assistant Director of Admissions at a school in New York City. Her three fabulous boys are all off in Boston attending school, and she and her husband now split their time between New York and Frankfurt, Germany. A theatrical version of SMALL ADMISSIONS was workshopped at the Actors Studio Playwrights/Directors Unit. She later expanded it into her first novel.

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This article has 4 Comments

  1. I’m currently burning the candle at both ends trying to get my WIP fixed before sending it to an editor…so that he can tear it apart again. (I decided last month to axe my love interest and combine him with another character and it turns out that has plot ramifications!) But I’m glad you give me hope that it will be worthwhile! 🙂

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