What is an editorial letter? It’s the letter your editor sends you after she’s read your manuscript. Anywhere from a week to a couple of months after you send in your manuscript, your editor will send it back. Minor corrections or questions will be noted on the manuscript, but more detailed or involved suggestions will be spelled out in what is called an “editorial letter.” I just received my editorial letter for WHERE SERPENTS SLEEP. It’s six pages long. Single spaced. Gasp.
My first reaction, whenever I receive an editorial letter, is consternation. Chagrin. Dismay. Despair. And, always, always, Tears. I think, “I can’t do that! There’s no way I can make these changes!” It’s not that I think my editor’s suggestions are wrong—she’s always spot-on. In fact, many of her suggestions are things that niggled at me when I read through the final draft, but my thoughts ran along the lines of... I don’t know how to fix it. Or, I don’t have time to fix it. Or, Maybe no one will notice.
Editors always notice. They always start out telling you how much they loved your manuscript, how they think it’ll be a great addition to your series. BUT… Don’t you hate the Buts?
So, what kinds of things do editors put in their editorial letters? Here’s some samples from my latest:
“TOO MANY DEAD BODIES. By the end, there’s an incredibly high body count. I understand that there are many reasons why that can’t be avoided in this novel, but at one point it seems that in every new chapter we hear of another death. I wonder if some of these people might be allowed to live…”
“MORE FULLY EXPLAIN REFERENCES TO PREVIOUS BOOKS: In the few places where you mention or refer to characters and events from previous books, I generally feel that more explanation is needed. For example…”
Sigh. At this point, I am sick to death of WHERE SERPENTS SLEEP. The last thing I want to do is pick it up again, but tackle it I must. Some of these suggestions are not going to be easy to implement, but I know I’ll figure out a way in the end (although there’ll be a few tense moments when I think, “This is never going to work!”) I also know I’ll have a better book when I’m done. My editor is brilliant—one of the best in the business—and I know I am lucky to have her.
But editorial letters ain’t pleasant.