Monday, November 28, 2011

What to expect from an editorial letter - LINKED

I sold LINKED, my YA science fiction, to Simon & Schuster on June 17th.  After the celebrations, the incoherent emails to friends, and the utter shell-shockedness of "OMG they want my book", I felt quite ready for the next stage.  No, not the sale of the film rights (although, you know, I wouldn't mind if that happened too!): the editorial letter.

Although I've had edits - ranging from sketchy to substantial - for books before, I was a novice when it came to edits with a major New York publishing house.  I'd heard stories of eight-page editorial letters, and editors who totally rewrote your sentences for you.  I'd also heard - in a "friend of a friend" way that I tried not to take seriously - of bestselling authors who refused to let themselves use the word "was" more than once a page, or who never used dialogue tags, or who avoided all adverbs.

I knew my editor, Navah Wolfe, loved the book.  We'd already talked over some revisions she wanted and I was absolutely in agreement with them. I was very willing to do whatever she asked to turn the book into a product Simon & Schuster could sell, but I was a little nervous that the process might clean my voice out of the book or make it feel less "mine".

The editorial letter arrived, in an attachment to an email from my editor, on September 22nd.  It wasn't eight pages.  It was eleven.  Thank goodness, my kind editor (who may possibly have dealt with authors before) opened both the email and the letter by saying how much she (still -  phew) loved LINKED, and how much she'd enjoyed working on it.

But I still had to skim through the letter then put it away and hyperventilate for a bit.  My editor was really kind, and really complimentary, but all the same, seeing all the changes she wanted did leave me having to remind myself that she'd bought the book, so she must like it despite all its flaws.

The next day I took the letter back out and read through it properly.

It was very thorough: a mix of line-edits for grammar, punctuation, typos and other small things ("this reads awkwardly - can you recast?"), plus bigger content issues.  A small thing that I somehow hadn't expected was the change from my natural British English to American English.  I'd always intended the book for an American market, and it's set in a future universe that definitely isn't meant to "feel" British, so I'd excised anything I felt was too obviously British.  I'd also put the whole thing into American English spelling before it went out on submission.

But, still, there were several points in the manuscript where my editor picked up on a particularly British turn of phrase that I hadn't even known was British.  There were also places where I'd used a phrase that I'm sure most British people would understand, but which simply didn't communicate to my editor (and presumably wouldn't communicate well to American readers), so those too needed changing.

Although the prospect of so much work was daunting, it was reassuring to see that nothing my editor was suggesting would affect the voice of the manuscript.  And I could see how all the content edits would deepen the book, or give certain aspects more impact, or fix inconsistencies and gaps in the world building.  And there were quite a few points at which I thought, "Yeah, I should have done that for myself." And at no point did my editor do anything like rewriting sentences.  Even when the sentences were kind of horrible, she just asked me to reword.  She didn't ask me to cut out my "was"es or "said"s or adverbs either.

Two of the biggest content issues were that my editor wanted the romance to have a more organic trajectory, and she wanted some of the secondary characters to be better developed.  There were quite a few other content issues, but those were the two that I found most challenging.

As well as the editorial letter, my editor had sent me a fully marked-up copy of the manuscript through the post.  I wasn't used to the mix of email and post (I've done edits entirely electronically before), and wasn't sure where she wanted me to make the changes, but she let me know I should make all the changes to my electronic copy of the manuscript - I didn't need to track them in Word or anything like that - and send it back to her via email.

I had just over a month to get the edits back.  I went through the letter, numbering all the issues I had to work on, then I devised a schedule for myself, allocating a certain number of issues per week - making sure to mix the most challenging stuff with the not-so-challenging.

First, I fixed the small stuff, the line edits.  They took less than a week, and it was a useful process, because I had to work through the manuscript and in doing so I re-familiarized myself with it.  And, with the editorial suggestions in mind, I ended up noticing all the places where I could work on the romance or add a bit of characterisation for a secondary character.  I made notes and moved on through the line edits.

Then I started work on the content issues, which took me two to three weeks.  Some were relatively easy, some were just as challenging as I'd feared (when I sent them back to my editor I also emailed to say (several times) that I was really happy to work further on them if I hadn't got something right).

After I'd completed all my edits, I printed the whole thing out and read through it, partly to see how it read, partly to try to pick out any inconsistencies in choreography or chronology or worldbuilding I'd introduced during the revision process.

I sent it back to my editor (with the aforementioned slightly anxious email) in mid-October.  And then I tried to forget about it, and got on with writing the sequel.

On November 23rd, I got a mention on Twitter.  My editor had tweeted: "Dear @imogenhowson, thanks for making me cry on the train this morning. Love, your editor."

And shortly afterwards, I got my second editorial letter.  This one was four pages, all really easy stuff to fix, and my editor said she loved the book and was really happy with the work I'd done on the first edits.  I'm working through the second edits now, with a deadline of December 5th.

After that, I guess, will come copy edits.  Now, what scary rumours have I heard about copy editors...?

Imogen Howson works from her home near Sherwood Forest in England, as an editorial assistant and occasional editor at Samhain Publishing.  She drinks a lot of coffee, she reads a lot of books, and she hangs out with her partner, two teenage daughters, two black cats and one fluffy tortoiseshell demon-in-disguise.

LINKED, her young adult science fiction, in which a girl finds out the source of her terrifying visions comes from her telepathic link with the twin sister she didn't know existed, releases from Simon & Schuster in spring 2013.

You can catch up with Imogen at and


  1. Such a great post! I love seeing how other writers revise. Your novel sounds awesome, btw--can't wait to read it. :)

  2. Thank you, Pam!

    I'm going through second edits now, and I've just found a couple of nice little notes my editor's written in the margin. It makes the process much happier!


  3. Thank you for this - a genuinely helpful post so we know what to expect!

  4. My edit letter was 25 pages. It discussed everything from the likeability of my main character, to world building clarification, to chapter by chapter line edits. I absolutely loved the process and it made my novel so much better. So thankful for amazing editors!

  5. Twenty-five pages? Wow, you win! I was kind of freaked by eleven pages. I'm glad you loved the process, though. :-)

  6. I love, love, LOVE this glimpse into the process. Thank you for frankly sharing the journey thus far!

  7. Thank you so much for an extremely detailed look at what's involved with an editorial letter, Imogen! I'm going to come back and reread your tips about how to approach the revisions when my letter arrives.

  8. Fantastic post, Imogen! I'm glad your editor was happy with your work and I hope the copy edits aren't too scary.

  9. THanks for being so detailed about the process. You took some of the mystery out of it, which is good for me, at least!

  10. I don't know, Imogen, these editors, they're all very scary... I happen to have a nice one though :)

    I have the same trouble as you, however, being from the UK originally. Whereas you obviously understand a lot of my references, my US editor picked me up on things like "Met office" (does she mean the weather service?) and "Boffin" (What the *&@%'s that?) Unfortunately we can't always pick up these cultural references because we don't always knows what the Americans don't know, if you see what I mean. Edits always make me feel like such a crap writer. But I know they've improved my writing so much.

    Best of luck with Linked. I know you're going to be famous :)

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