Friday, May 17, 2013

The Five Stages of Editorial Letters

Happy Friday, Operation Awesome! Today I want to talk to you a little about editorial letters. Whether you're working with an agent, an editor, or someone else in the business, it's a huge step to receive a professional editorial letter for your manuscript, and I hope you're really proud of yourself.

I'm here today, though, to tell you you're not ready. Oh, you're totally ready for the revisions. But you're so not ready for the amazing emotional gymnastics the process will put you through.

Stage 1: Adrenaline

You're doing revisions! THIS IS SO EXCITING! You have all these amazing visions of how perfect your book is going to be once you're done, and you can't wait to get started. You've got your document open, and you're all ready to dive into revising the heck out of it.

However, you don't have your editorial letter yet. You're not actually going to have your editorial letter for a couple weeks. Take a deep breath, lower your blood pressure, and try to work on something else, or take a mini-vacation in preparation for all the hard work ahead. Don't burn yourself out too early.

Then you check your mailbox, and you see an e-mail from the agent/editor/etc with an attachment. It's here. Which brings you to...

Stage 2: Paralyzing dread

You don't even want to open it now. You have convinced yourself that this agent or editor is going to hate your book, because apparently, according to the voice in the back of your head,  agents and editors use their free time to work with books they hate. (Yes, logic has no place in the Five Stages. You're going to be ignoring that little voice quite a bit.)

Then you tell yourself, "Get it together, Mahoney. You're a professional." (Or that's what you would say if we shared the same last name.) And you open the letter, which brings you to...

Stage 3: All the feelings

Get ready for some dramatic ups and downs as you read your letter. Happyflail as you read about the things your publishing pro liked and cringe in mortification at some of the silly mistakes you made - sometimes both, in very quick succession.

And if you can, try to read your letter in a private place, just so you don't get anyone overly concerned. Although watching all these emotions play out on someone else's face would probably be pretty hilarious.

You finish reading the letter, and you let it percolate for a moment. And then you arrive at...

Stage 4: TERROR


If you're working with an agent, you might read their client books, and if you're working with an editor, you might read other projects they've worked on. But either way, those books are amazing. No way you could even get close to that kind of quality. And how are you even supposed to approach their suggestions, anyway? You don't know how to tighten the pacing in the beginning, or develop that certain side character, or make the romance more... well, romantic. The letter is probably right about all those things, but they're beyond your level of skill.

Except once you calm down a bit, you do finally pick up your manuscript again. Maybe you start with something I call "triage" - reading through your book and pinpointing the places where you could implement the changes your letter talked about. The more you think about it, the more everything starts coming together in your head. And you finally come to...

Stage 5: Determination

You've got this. You've got this 100%. Your original excitement comes trickling back, and you are motivated and ready to get down to business.

So set your cap at a rakish angle and go riding off into battle. You know exactly what you're doing, and your story is going to be so much better for it.

Best of luck, OAers, and have a great weekend!


  1. Ha! I've never had an editorial letter (yet?) but it sounds like a bit of a roller coaster!

  2. Ha ha, I think we go through miniature versions of these steps when we go to critique groups--which is why we fool ourselves into thinking we know what to expect!

  3. Yes Yes and more Yes! This is exactly what it feels like.
    Thank you, I needed the reminder that I can do this.


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