Thursday, September 8, 2011

What Makes a Good Editorial Letter?

My first editorial letter arrived last Friday from the fantastic Maggie Lehrman.

I was nervous to open it, but once I did, I found myself nodding my head like a madwoman and feeling a rush of excitement as I realized how much stronger Maggie's changes will make the story, and how well she knows the characters.

What makes the letter so good?

1. Praise goes a long way. Maggie started out by telling me her favorite parts, which immediately set me at ease and reminded me it's all going to be okay; she likes the book! That's why she bought it!

2. It's very organized: the perfect recipe for revisions. It doesn't jump all over the place; it's divided into categories so I can follow along easily and see how everything fits together. I'm confident if I follow instructions, I'll end up with a delicious cake.

3. It's clear and specific. Maggie didn't give me vague suggestions like, "fix the humor/emotion/tension/romance/mystery [insert attribute]"; she clearly laid out exactly what she felt might be improved, and then gave precise examples of how and why. As I read the letter, I could immediately picture what I needed to do. (Now it's just a matter of getting down to it...)

The next morning, I woke up early, ripped open my new package of red pens (see above), and started jotting feverish notes in the margins of scenes I wanted to flesh out or change. It's been exhilarating so far. I've got work ahead of me for sure, but Maggie's notes were so helpful and spot-on to me that I won't feel "right" about my manuscript until I've made these changes.

I feel very lucky to have an editor who believes in my writing and could see things in it that I didn't see, and who's willing to work with me to create the best version of the story possible.

What do you look for in critique notes or edits? 


  1. Eek! Okay, this makes me VERY excited for when it's my turn up to bat. ;) I'm so glad our Maggie is organized, too. That's a relief for me and will tie in well w/how I already revise myself. Congrats on the edits, Sarah! And good luck. I know you'll whip together an amazing cake! :)

  2. Hooray!! Those type of letters are definitely the most exhilarating!

    For me, it's pretty much exactly what you said: knowing that the suggestions are 100% going to make my story better while still keeping it my story. A really tough thing to do as an editor, I think, and something I was in total awe of when I got my letters.

  3. Thanks so much, Anita! You're in EXCELLENT hands with Maggie. Can't wait to hear how things go when you're up to bat :)

    Sarv, I agree, it must be tough for editors to give notes that improve what's there without changing the essence of the story you want to tell. Amazing.

  4. Exciting news, Sarah! So happy for you.

  5. Thanks, Cliff! Hope you guys are all doing well :)

  6. That sounds SO amazing. I want to be in your position so badly my chest hurts.

  7. How exciting!!! Love the way you've broken it down and I found myself nodding along with your points. Finding an editor who shares your vision and passion for making your book the best it can be is priceless.

  8. I agree about the positive commenting. Besides writing, I am also a teacher. In conferencing, I always start out with the positives. Whatever criticisms I have will follow, but they are accompanied by how-to-improve comments. As a writer, when I receive a query response or review, I appreciate anything "good" and always take whatever is "bad" with professional objectivity (or at least I try!). Specific criticisms coupled with suggestions to improve always make me feel like they really care about my writing and took the time to think about it.

    Excellent post. Thanks for sharing :-)

  9. Thanks so much for your comment, teacherwriter. It sounds like you have experience on both sides of the divide and can appreciate how helpful it is to receive positive feedback in conjunction with specific suggestions for improvement.

  10. I love specifics! The more specific the better :D