Publishing 101: Enter the Editor …

Today, the Publishing 101 series continues with a look at the editorial letter.

An “editorial letter,” sometimes also called “developmental edits” is a letter (now, often in email form) which the acquiring editor sends to the author after the contract is signed. Editors wait to send (and often, to prepare) the editorial letter until after the contract to ensure that the editor’s work isn’t wasted if the deal goes sideways at the contract stage. In very rare cases, and editor might send the editorial letter before the contract is signed, but this is definitely the exception to the rule.

The editorial letter contains the editor’s requests for changes to the novel. Often, the letter is accompanied by a line-edited version of the manuscript. However, where the requested changes are extensive, the editor may split the process into two separate rounds: the editorial letter first, and line edits following once the major edits are complete.

Sometimes, the editor and the author go through several rounds of edits. Other times, only one set of edits is necessary. In very rare cases, the editor may have no developmental edits at all, in which case the manuscript passes directly to the copy editor.

Many authors approach the developmental edit (the edit letter) with a mixture of fear and surprise – wasn’t the manuscript “finished” when they bought it? In reality, most manuscripts benefit from an editor’s comments — a good editor makes your work even better.

Some examples of things a good editorial letter will catch or correct:

– Continuity errors (eyes that change color, objects that vanish or suddenly appear from nowhere)

– Timeline errors (eleven-month pregnancies, sports teams playing out of season, too many bullets fired without reloading)

-Typographical and grammatical errors; misspellings (tricksy homonyms…)

– Inconsistencies in character, echo words, and other awkwardness the author missed.

Editors catch other things too, but those are among the most common.

The key, as an author, is not to view the editor as an adversary. (S)he isn’t your enemy – in many ways, (s)he’s your greatest ally. Editors don’t acquire books unless they love the story and the writing. They don’t acquire books in order to rewrite them. If an editor wanted a different story than the one you wrote, he or she would buy that story instead of yours.

Most editors see far more stories they’d like to buy than they can acquire; if yours made the cut, the editor knows it’s special – meaning the editor chose your book from thousands of submissions and hundreds the editor reviewed for possible acquisition. 

The best way to handle your editorial letter is to read it once and put it away overnight before reacting. 24 hours’ worth of distance and contemplation will help you realize that in many cases, your editor is right.

You don’t have to make all the changes your editor suggests, but the publisher does have the right (it’s in every contract) to refuse to publish the work if you refuse requested edits.

Fortunately, most of the time, the editor’s comments are reasonable, & the editor & author can work together to find solutions. At the end of the day, the author and editor work together to make the author’s work the best it can possibly be.

And then, when the developmental edits are finished and the manuscript is accepted for publication … it’s the copy editor’s turn.

I hope you’ll join me for next week’s post, when we look at copy editors–and copy edits–in the publishing process.

Have questions about this or other parts of the publishing industry? Please feel free to ask in the comments. I love to hear from you!

2 thoughts on “Publishing 101: Enter the Editor …

  • December 11, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    What a great description! I’d wondered about the difference between developmental and other sorts of edits.

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