My Edit Letter Process

It’s a heavy editing day, which has me thinking about process. A friend just got an edit letter and wanted advice on how to work with one. My process, whether it comes from my independent editor or my agent is the same:

  1. Read the letter several times and check any defensiveness at the door. I want to make sure I understand everything in the letter. If I don’t, I call or email the editor/agent to get clarity on those items. (I do not call or email to defend the book or say I won’t make changes).
  2. Copy the letter into a new document. Take out the introductory and concluding praise paragraphs (most of us are taught to deliver critique in this way so the author doesn’t think it’s all bad.) Frankly, I do this to isolate the meat of the critique, the stuff that needs changing.
  3. Break each change into a numbered line, creating a task list.
  4. Check all of the changes and make sure I agree with them all. I usually do. My agent and I have great communication and I trust him. The independent editor I use, Sara J. Henry, is also someone I highly trust, so I usually don’t need to defend anything. If I do however find a change I disagree with, I write a few sentences for that task why I reject the change. (Again, I check any defensiveness). I’ll revisit this a few times before I say no to a change. I often find the change isn’t what’s needed: it’s there to solve a particular problem and I can generally find a solution that doesn’t require that specific solution/change.
  5. For the remaining tasks, I sort them into quick changes (character renaming, small tweaks, etc.), and larger tasks. For example, in my last letter, there was an item related to a character’s description. That’s an easy change. There was also a larger change to really intensify the emotional impact of a relationship. That’s a big change. The larger changes usually are going to require a dead tree edit (print and line by line), so if I do the small ones first I can print with the new changes in.
  6. I take out the little stuff first. This is a trick I learned in software development: solving small problems sometimes helps shake loose the larger problems. In my case, it gives my subconscious time to find solutions to the big problems.
  7. Before I do the big stuff, I print the book. Always I do this double space, in a new font.
  8. Then I read. From the beginning. I may not need to make changes until later, but I want to make sure I’m tuned to the book’s tone and voice before I start making alterations to deeper structure. This also helps me find any typos, missing words, punctuation, etc. I’m always surprised how clean a text can be and still I find something. If I’m tracking something like a relationship, I’ll put a post-it on every page that deals with that item, using different colors for different items. I’ll also leave notes for myself post-its.* This process looks like a lot my usual draft editing process.
  9. Then I make the big changes, on paper. If a lot of writing or rewriting is required I switch back to the computer, but I’m mostly still killing trees at this point.
  10. Then I put the changes into the electronic version.**

*I keep a backlog of other issues I spot that I’ll tackle later. I always try to do one task at a time.

**I use Word, yeah, yeah, I know about Scrivener. I just prefer Word for track changes.

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