Dear Author, the edit letter reads. You suck.
Wait, no, that’s not how it goes, not even slightly. Yet we all seem to expect those words, or a variation thereof, the first time we receive an edit letter. It’s counter-intuitive to believe the editor who got excited for your book, who championed it before the acquisitions board, who read it more than once and will continue to have to champion your book for months (years?) to come, that this very same human being would want to tear your book to pieces and set those pieces on fire.
And yet – and yet – anxiety ain’t exactly logical. And it sure does seem like there’s a plague of anxiety among the creative set.
I was lucky. I had a pretty good idea about what to expect in my edit letter(s). I’d had a decent chat with my editor about Book Two when it was initially acquired and I had a gut feeling about some of the issues in Book One. And – most importantly – I was looking forward to the input.
Wouldn’t you? I mean, think about it: a real editor with real experience is going to give you real advice on how to make your soon-to-be-real book better! Think of all the things you can learn!
And yet somehow the terror persists.
Then I got my first & second edit letters and both were nineteen (19) pages long and, well. *insert gif of someone hyperventilating*
Thankfully I didn’t smash my netbook, fake my death, and disappear to Wyoming. That time. Thank goodness because my editor had some great points and ideas and she helped me turn a so-so book into something I can actually be proud of. It did take some time, and some sweat, and some swearing. But I came out the other side with a plan to survive the next one(s):
Step One (1). Remember that your editor loves your book and wants it to be the best book it can be. Write this down somewhere if you have to, or re-read that initial correspondence with your editor where they effused their love for your book, so you have those words fresh in your mind to help combat all the lies your anxiety will tell you. You did not con anyone to get here and your editor won’t suddenly decide they hate you and they truly believe you can do whatever edits they ask you to do.
Step Two (2). Take a deep breath and read the edit letter. Yes, all the way through. No, stop re-reading the first paragraph. No, don’t skip to the end. Make a cup of tea, sit somewhere comfy, and read.
Step Three (3). Now, was that so bad?
Step Three point Two Five (3.25). If yes, close your laptop and go for a walk. Go to your dayjob. Do the dishes. Pick up the clothes off your floor. Turn on some music, real loud, loud enough to feel in your bones, and dance in your living room like only your one creepy neighbor is watching. Make dinner. Add an extra serving of vegetables. Talk to your wife about her day. Go to sleep. Wake up. Have some coffee. Re-read your edit letter.
Step Three point Five (3.5). If no, close your laptop and go for a walk. Go to your dayjob. Do the dishes. Pick up the clothes off your floor. Turn on some music, real loud, loud enough to feel in your bones, and dance in your living room like only your one creepy neighbor is watching. Make dinner. Add an extra serving of vegetables. Talk to your wife about her day. Go to sleep. Wake up. Have some coffee. Re-read your edit letter.
Step Three point Eight (3.8). Make an edit sheet.
No really, stick with me on this one. Make four columns and a bunch of rows (don’t worry how many yet, you’ll probably add more). Label Column One chapter or section or page or however you best order your projects. Label Column Two “edits.” Make this column widest. Label Column Three “notes.” Label Column Four “complete.” This one is smallest.
Now go through your edit letter line by line and note by note and copy and paste your editor’s comments into the column “edits.” Don’t paraphrase them because that’ll only drive you back to the edit letter when you’re uncertain. Re-arrange them in order of chapters and label the chapters (or sections, or pages, or however) column accordingly.
Once that’s done, go into the notes column and explain to yourself how you’re going to make these changes. I.E. if your editor thought chapter one didn’t have enough tension, you can write “add a knife fight” in the notes. Spend the most time on this section and try to be as concrete and tangible as possible with what you’re changing. If a change happens across several chapters (like a motivation shift), make sure you have a row for each affected chapter.
Then begin your edits. Go through and make the changes you laid out. When you’ve completed a change, be it as little as fixing a character’s eye color or as big as adding a knife fight, put a little “x” in the completion column. Watch those x’s add up. Use that momentum to keep going.
Once that last column is full of x’s, put the manuscript aside for at least a day, preferably a week, and then come back, re-read your edit letter in its entirety, and then read your manuscript. Make a new edit sheet if needed. Go through it again.
Step Four (4). Oh hey look you not only survived your edit letter, you completed your edits! Wow, go you!
See, that wasn’t so bad was it?
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