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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Dreaded Editorial Letter

It contained good news.

Bad news.

And a bit more good at the end to wash it all down.

At the end of last month we chatted about my trying to write at the speed of light to get my manuscript into my publisher on time. Which I did.

Which meant ye ol editorial letter would be appear soon in an e-mail near me.

I was supposed to be worry about that, right? I mean, c'mon. What I turned in was essentially a first draft. I knew it needed work. A lot of work. Wasn’t I supposed to stress over getting hammered in the letter?

But no cloud of trepidation hung over my head. I slept fine awaiting the letter’s arrival. When I got it, I was excited to see what I’d done right, what didn’t work and consider the ideas for improvement.

The good part of the letter? They say the foundation and essentials of the story are strong.

The bad: The story does need work. We’ll add new scenes. Cut a good chunk of the manuscript. I need to be a writing machine for the next four weeks.

The good: My editors believe in me and my story. Some of their suggestions are brilliant. Incorporating them will make the novel far better than I could have made it on my own.

I had the same experience with my first three novels as well. Is that why I don’t dread getting the editorial letter?

So talk to me. Am I strange? (No, I’m not talking about that, I’m asking if I’m unusual to not be nervous about the editorial letter.)

If you worry about your editorial letters tell us why. Bad experience? Not sure if the editor is on your side? Fear they’ll discover you can’t write? (Which we all believe from time to time.)

Love to get your thoughts. Heck, for some if you it might be a good excuse to put off opening the attachment in a certain e-mail for a few more minutes.

James L. Rubart is the best-selling, and award winning author of ROOMS, BOOK OF DAYS, and THE CHAIR. During the day he runs Barefoot Marketing, helping authors make more coin of the realm. In his free time he dirt bikes, hikes, water skis, and take photos. No, he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and teenage sons in the Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at


  1. James, thank you for the interesting & helpful insight to the world of editors' requests. I appreciate your perspective & plan on using it in what I hope will be the near future.

  2. Since I'm still waiting for a contract, I don't have that problem, however, I think I'll be more like you. Maybe a little nervous, but I love the editing process. I actually look forward to my crit partners' critiques, knowing they make me better. So while I'm sure I'll have a little nervousness, if they liked my writing enough to contract me, surely we'll turn my work into a wonderful reading experience. Right?

  3. "The story needs work". Ha. Some of my least favorite words, along with "we'll cut out a big chunk of the manuscript" in close second. Dry as Rain was like that with me. If I wrote a book as fast as you did I'd be hearing laughter I'm fairly certain. I can write fast but I definitely shouldn't. Love reading about your process, Jim. You're obviously doing something right!

  4. I'm learning to love crits, but it's still painful. Hopefully I'll be tough enough once I pursue publication to take the editorial letter on the chin.

  5. This is a great post. There's definitely a point in your writerly development where you realize that criticism can be very helpful thing, and that not everybody is out to tear your beloved novel limb from limb. The most important thing is to have a crew of great people who believe in the book around you, then you know they want the best for it, just like you, so you're willing to listen to and incorporate their suggestions.

  6. My first ghostwritten projects were a nonfiction book and its companion workbook for what we would call a major house. I submitted them two months apart and awaited both editorial letters with fear, trembling, and many prayers. At stake: not only my reputation but the author's message of thirty-plus years. I think the possibility of disappointing him bothered me more than anything else.

    We had our happy ending, because the publisher approved of both projects. There were some cuts but few rewrites and no major changes. And the workbook editor (now in a different position/different house) has become a fast friend.

    I still await those letters with fear, trembling, and prayers, though. Still, requests for changes beat rejection every time. I know you'll persevere and produce another great product. Congratulations, my friend (and Merry Christmas!).

  7. You’re welcome, Elaine. Hoping it happens soon for you.

    Ane, great point. When they contract you it’s because they want to team up to make the book wonderful. And yes, there will be some nerves, but hopefully your editor will convey how much they believe in you—or they wouldn’t have bought your book!

    Gina, that is one of the classic lines, isn’t it! Wouldn’t it be fun for authors to put together the best of the editorial lines they’ve received?

    Kessie, there’s a key in what you said. “I’m learning to love crits …” Good for you. With that attitude you’ll be fine.

    Well said, Heather. Thanks!

    You’re so right, Marti. An editorial letter beats a rejection letter by a few light years at least. Merry Christmas to you too. Been too long since we’ve talked.

  8. Thanks for the honesty and humility, Jim. I've had 6 of these letters with Revell now. The first 2 were basically, "Love it, as is." A few tweeks, finished them in 1 sitting.

    Gotta say, that was nice. Didn't prepare me for The Deepest Waters. Much longer letter, at least a month of rewrites, (had to work them in while writing the next book). I dreaded it at first. Part of it was feeling like I was no longer the "teacher's pet." Part of it was my laziness (not wanting all the extra work...we don't get paid by the hour). But after I realized how much better the book was, I became a fan.

    With book 4 (Remembering Christmas) just 2 paragraphs of changes. Book 5, (the one coming out in April), finished the edits in a few days. Just when I thought I was the teacher's pet again, a few weeks ago, the Book 6 letter came. It was pretty beefy. It's taking me 3 weeks to get all the changes done. But there's no pain now. I know my editor wants this book to be all it can be. That's all that's going on. editor's Andrea Doering. She won ACFW's Editor-of-the-year in Sept. I better do what she says.

  9. Having "grown up" as a reporter in a newsroom, I learned early on to accept (and eventually value) editorial critique. It happened on a daily basis, so it was adapt or flee!

    But I still open files with editorial corrections in them with trepidation. Because my goal is to write something that needs no revision. That's the "holy grail" of my writing life--the unattainable, but still worth striving for, goal.

    I'm always glad for the improvements, but disappointed that I didn't think of them before sending. :)

    And I try so hard to remember that feeling when I'm editing someone else's work, too.

    Good thoughts Jim!


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