Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Dreaded Editor Letter: Confessions From Entangled Publishing Authors Rachel Harris, Lisa Burstein, Cindi Madsen, and Amy Spalding

Some of the authors at Entangled wanted to give other aspiring writers, or anyone who's curious, an insight into the editing process. We sort of interviewed each other and talked about how each of us handled our edit letters (spoiler alert: we all freaked out a little) Hope you enjoy!

AMY SPALDING, author of The Reece Malcolm List:

When I was a writer dreaming of having a book published, I had a pretty good idea for what the editorial process was like. But once I actually got my book deal and then…my editorial letter…well, it’s one thing to know what something is. It’s quite another to actually go through it. I got together with some of my editor Stacy Cantor Abram’s other writers, so we could share what we actually went through!

Ladies, the moment I got my edit letter and marked-up manuscript, I had what felt like twenty-seven anxiety attacks. I began reading the letter, and it was so overwhelming I could only skim it. I paged through the document but it made me so nervous I just had to print it and then pretend it didn’t exist. That night, I kept sneaking peeks at the letter, just a liiiiiiittle more at a time, trying desperately to get comfortable with it. THAT NEVER HAPPENED. A few days later, I knew that even if I wasn’t ready, my deadline said I had to be. I want to stress here that it wasn’t that I couldn’t take hearing what was wrong with my book. I was actually freaked out by the potential Stacy saw in my book. I was so worried I’d never get there!

Lisa, did you go through a meltdown too or was I particularly, uh, dramatic?

LISA BURSTEIN, author of Pretty Amy:

I’ve been fortunate enough to get two editorial letters from Stacy, one for PRETTY AMY and one for the upcoming DEAR CASSIE and just like you Amy, when I first got them I skimmed them. They were each 6 pages long- single spaced- far too much to read and absorb in one sitting. The thing is in both cases is that Stacy has been right on. What she notes as issues in my Mss are usually the things I *think* I can get away with, that when she brings them up, I know I cannot. She also pushes me to go deeper, which is what any good editor should do. Here is how the edit went for PRETTY AMY: I skimmed the letter, once, twice and slept on it. Then I printed it and highlighted the areas I knew I needed to attack in my first edit. Character issues mostly. Then I completed another edit for the smaller issues before I sent it back to Stacy. At that point she did a line edit and it came back to me. I did another edit and it went back to her. To tie up loose ends there was one more edit before it went to copy edits. Once I approved copy edits, it went to Liz Pelletier, Publisher of Entangled for a final read through. She had even MORE edits. It was not a short process, but I know both Stacy and Liz helped me make PRETTY AMY the most amazing book it could be.

Rachel, did you have a similar amount of edits and anxiety?

RACHEL HARRIS author of My Super Sweet 16th Century:

Anxiety over edit letters and revision? Of course not! And if you believe THAT, well, insert incredibly clich├ęd, sarcastic phrase here (*grin*). Yes, I think every author has a healthy fear of the dreaded editorial letter. I should be getting my second one from Stacy any day now for my sequel, and even after going through this whole process before, I’m still anxious over it. I remember we were driving home from the salon where my girls got their haircut, and my husband was in the driver’s seat. My phone did that spastic lighting up/vibrating thing, letting me know I had an incoming email, and when I saw it was my edit letter from Stacy, I about had a heart attack right then and there.
Obviously, because I’m a neurotic author, I opened my inbox immediately….and was promptly informed by my lovely phone that the email was too big to open. Imagine my jaw hitting the floor of the car here. There’s no way that could be good, right?? Well, it turns out that Stacy just rocks and gives tons of great info for you to use to make your book better. The reason it wouldn’t open was that in addition to the edit letter, she had printed out my entire manuscript, made notes old school style in pen on the pages, and then scanned them back in. Hence, an email that was too big for my then pathetic excuse for a phone.

But once I got home and dove into all the info Stacy gave me, all the previous fear and anxiety vanished, leaving me strangely…excited. You should know that I’m a bit obsessive, so I was able to turn my edits back in to Stacy about a week later, after first making all the changes from the scanned pages, and then tackling the bulleted list in her letter (all points I agreed with). Then about a month later, Liz Pelletier gave me her thoughts, along with two main issues to address, which I completed that day because, again, I’m a tad obsessive.

Fast forward to the end of April when I got copy edits. These were super fun because they made me sound smarter than I really am. I turned these in two days later. At the end of July, Stacy and I both did a mega two-day final read through of the manuscript to make sure it was how we wanted it before going to the printer, and then it was out of my hands. And into yours at home. Scary, exciting, crazy, and—weirdly enough—fun.

What about you, Cindi? Am I odd to think the editing process, at least with a super star like Stacy, is actually fun?

Cindi Madsen, author of All the Broken Pieces:

Why, yes, Rachel, you are extremely odd ;) I’m a tad on the obsessive side, too, where once I get feedback, my brain won’t let me think about anything but my WIP, revisions, or whatever process I’m in. Honestly, when I first opened the editing letter, I was overwhelmed. I’d done a couple different revisions with a couple different agents, who I ended up not signing with. Then I set my book aside for a few months and wrote a different book. But my manuscript kept calling to me, telling me it wanted to be a book people read someday. (At this point, you realize I’m also slightly crazy, in addition to being obsessive).

So I got it out and did a major revision again, heard about Entangled, and queried. So fast forward the yay, they want it! to the edit letter. I had to do ANOTHER revision. I worried that the book would no longer be mine. I worried I wouldn’t be able to do everything Stacy wanted. But after thinking and obsessing for the weekend, I dug in. Stacy’s suggestions led me to add things about my book I really love. She had me take out some things I’d added to make other people happy—I was actually glad to lose some of that. She challenged me and pushed me. I turned it in a couple weeks later, happy with how things had turned out.

But when I got the second revision back, there were still some things that needed work. I got super overwhelmed and thought that maybe Stacy didn’t want the story I’d written. As an author, I’d been waiting for an editor for so long, I was under the impression you just do everything they say, no questions asked. I was reaching extreme levels of anxiety. So I finally just wrote Stacy an email, addressing my concerns and where I wanted the story arcs to be, and how I felt conflicted on a couple of points. She emailed me back in record time, assuring me she loved the story, and that we could talk about any and all points.

The stress that had been building melted. It was such a relief to know that we were on the same team, that I could still be true to my story, and that I could talk to her whenever I needed to. So I worked really hard to get to a point that she and I would both be happy. Later came the read through by Liz and copy edits. By that point, it’d been a few months, so it was easier to read my book again and do some final touch-ups. I changed a couple more things, and when I finally got to read through the galley and see the entire transformation, I was giddy and so, so happy and grateful to Stacy for sticking with me through the entire process.

I feel like my book is now the book it was always meant to be. I’m not sure I’d say I’m excited to do it again—I’m just not great at the revision process—but I’m definitely excited to know that in the end, I’ll have a pretty book I love and can be proud of.

(Reposted with permission from Amy Spalding, Lisa Burstein, Rachel Harris, and Cindi Madsen)

You can find more information on the Entangled ladies on their websites:

Amy Spalding
Lisa Burstein
Rachel Harris
Cindi Madsen


My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century by Rachel Harris - Amazon; B&N; Books a Million
On the precipice of her sixteenth birthday, the last thing lone wolf Cat Crawford wants is an extravagant gala thrown by her bubbly soon-to-be stepmother and well-meaning father. So even though Cat knows the family's trip to Florence, Italy, is a peace offering, she embraces the magical city and all it offers. But when her curiosity leads her to an unusual gypsy tent, she exits . . . right into Renaissance Firenze.

Thrust into the sixteenth century armed with only a backpack full of contraband future items, Cat joins up with her ancestors, the sweet Alessandra and protective Cipriano, and soon falls for the gorgeous aspiring artist Lorenzo. But when the much-older Niccolo starts sniffing around, Cat realizes that an unwanted birthday party is nothing compared to an unwanted suitor full of creeptastic amore. Can she find her way back to modern times before her Italian adventure turns into an Italian forever?

All the Broken Pieces by Cindi Madsen - Amazon; B&N; Books a Million
What if your life wasn’t your own?

Liv comes out of a coma with no memory of her past and two distinct, warring voices inside her head. Nothing, not even her reflection, seems familiar. As she stumbles through her junior year, the voices get louder, insisting she please the popular group while simultaneously despising them. But when Liv starts hanging around with Spencer, whose own mysterious past also has him on the fringe, life feels complete for the first time in, well, as long as she can remember.

Liv knows the details of the car accident that put her in the coma, but as the voices invade her dreams, and her dreams start feeling like memories, she and Spencer seek out answers. Yet the deeper they dig, the less things make sense. Can Liv rebuild the pieces of her broken past, when it means questioning not just who she is, but what she is?

Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein - Amazon; B&N; Books a Million

Amy is fine living in the shadows of beautiful Lila and uber-cool Cassie, because at least she's somewhat beautiful and uber-cool by association. But when their dates stand them up for prom, and the girls take matters into their own hands--earning them a night in jail outfitted in satin, stilettos, and Spanx--Amy discovers even a prom spent in handcuffs might be better than the humiliating"rehabilitation techniques" now filling up her summer. Worse, with Lila and Cassie parentally banned, Amy feels like she has nothing--like she is nothing.
Navigating unlikely alliances with her new coworker, two very different boys, and possibly even her parents, Amy struggles to decide if it's worth being a best friend when it makes you a public enemy. Bringing readers along on an often hilarious and heartwarming journey, Amy finds that maybe getting a life only happens once you think your life is over.

The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding (available for pre-order) - Amazon; B&N; Books a Million

Things I know about Reece Malcolm: 
 1. She graduated from New York University. 
2. She lives in or near Los Angeles. 
3. Since her first novel was released, she’s been on the New York Times bestseller list every week. 
4. She likes strong coffee and bourbon. 
5. She’s my mother. 

 Devan knows very little about Reece Malcolm, until the day her father dies and she’s shipped off to live with the mother she’s never met. All she has is a list of notebook entries that doesn’t add up to much. L.A. offers a whole new world to Devan—a performing arts school allows her to pursue her passion for show choir and musicals, a new circle of friends helps to draw her out of her shell, and an intriguing boy opens up possibilities for her first love. But then the Reece Malcolm list gets a surprising new entry. Now that Devan is so close to having it all, can she handle the possibility of losing everything?


Huntress said...

I can't WAIT to receive my edit letter! I so want to get started and now, since signing with my publisher, this waiting part is killing me.

Maybe I'll feel different when it arrives. Maybe I'll mumble WTH and eat chocolate after reading it. Maybe it's a case of 'be careful what you wish for' that I'll regret.

But right now? Bring it on.

Rena said...

Thanks for that glimpse into the editing side, ladies. I know it's not always easy talking about the anxiety we have about our writing, so thank you, thank you, thank you.

Theresa Milstein said...

Glad to know that when I'm in that position someday, I won't be alone.

My friend, Aubrie Dionne, has also published through Entangled Publishing. I know she's been thrilled with the changes made. Since I read her novel, Paradise 21, before and after it was published, I know how much stronger it came out.

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Hmm, in my early idealistic writing days I hoped the crazy obsessiveness goes away at some point, but now I know it's just par for the course! And perhaps an essential survival trait as a writer. ;)

Toni Kerr said...

Excellent inside info! I'm waiting for my editor's letter and can't wait to get back to work. :-)

Aubrie said...

Thanks for the mention!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the insider view! Also nice to know that editing points are up for discussion, to make sure we're all on board.

Jeannie Ruesch said...

Great insight. I'll be getting my edit letter (not from Entangled though) sometime in the near future... can't wait to see what goodies my editor has for me.. and how many times I have to reread it before I can breathe again. LOL

And I definitely agree with the person who said that not EVERYTHING needs to be something you just change if you aren't sure. My first book editor made some suggestions on story arcs and when we delved into why, we found other things needed to change instead. Honesty matters, I think.