Q07: Editorial Process

(This question is part of a larger subseries called Perpetual WIPs: Published Authors. For the remaining questions, see here.)

What’s it like, getting editorial letters and copy edits? About how many times do you revise your books in the time between that first letter and publication, and how drastically?


I love getting notes from my editors. It’s like you’re finally getting down to the nitty-gritty and making your work the best it could possibly be. When I get an email, I can’t wait to get to work. I have no idea how many times I review things, but, it’s a lot of work and revision on every project.


It is both challenging and amazing! I’m a total perfectionist, so I think the key thing for me is learning to look at it as a process and not “here is how you failed” (I’m still working on this). For my first book, we did one major structural edit in which the last fifty pages were completely rewritten, another edit that focused more on character arcs and pacing, a third along those same lines, and then lots of back and forth line edits that finessed character and description and language. For the second book, I rewrote 75% of it in the first revision, which about broke my brain, then handed in revisions in quarter-of-the-book chunks, which we’d edit for pacing and stakes before moving on. Then there were several rounds of back and forth on line edits. I love copyedits, actually! It’s fascinating to me and I feel like I learn a lot about my own writing tics.


For my debut, I went through two major revision passes and then copyedits. The letters themselves felt like gifts. Here was someone with experience with the necessary insight to help me realize my vision. The structure didn’t change all that drastically. Mostly, I added words.  About 25k.


I’m not very good at this part. Edit letters freak me out when I first open them. I feel like I’ll never be able to do everything my editor wants me to. But after I think on it, then dig in and start seeing the improvements, I feel much better. As for how many times I revise, that differs from book to book. My first one went through three huge revisions, and the first one felt incredibly drastic at the time. I did change quite a bit of it. I’ve had one with two fairly easy rounds, and one miracle book that only went through amping up a couple of overall themes and copy edits.


My agent’s editorial letter is always the first I see.  And I have one beta reader, who reads each manuscript before or at the same time as my agent.  The most extensive changes take place before my editors ever see a manuscript.
I know that different writers respond differently to critique letters.  I am usually horrified and embarrassed at what I have missed, and slap my forehead exclaiming “How could I have missed that?”  This happens even though I usually cut and revise before sending a manuscript to anybody.
I’m not sure how drastic a revision has to be before you call it drastic.  I revised one manuscript to turn it from an adult fantasy to a YA fantasy; that was probably the most drastic revision I’ve ever done.  It required a ton of little tiny tweaking changes rather than huge big dramatic changes.  Once, for a different book, I erased two chapters completely before my agent saw the manuscript — and then wound up changing  that whole section again after she saw it.

By the time my editor sees a novel, it’s pretty clean and the pacing and everything is pretty good.  I don’t think I’ve ever made major changes at that point.  I would say that normally I revise a book about three or four times total, but the later revisions are always pretty small.


It really depends on the book. If you have a good editor, your editorial letter is a lovely conversation. I’ve had two editors in my career, and after a few books together, you establish a shorthand on how to get your book where it needs to go. I’m really lucky in that regard. I’ve had amazing copyeditors I want to kiss and copyeditors that make me tear my hair out. Luckily, mostly the former. Sometimes my book just takes one revision and sometimes I’ve rewritten from scratch half a dozen times. Depends on the book.


Reasons I love my editor include the fact that she is completely unwilling to let me get away with a mediocre book. The flip side of this awesomeness, of course, is that her editorial letters are VERY intense, which means a lot of work for me. And I mean a LOT. Cutting entire subplots and characters, revisiting the ending of my first book from a totally different angle, rewriting my entire second book because she suggested (and I agreed) that I was telling the wrong story. But honestly? It’s worth it. More than worth it. And yes, I am a bit of a masochist. Thanks for asking.



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