Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Responding to a Revision Letter

Remember when you used to get a school essay returned with the teacher's red writing and correction marks all over it, pointing out all the spelling, grammar, punctuation, and even larger mistakes you made? What really hurt and brought your grade down were those larger mistakes, such as misunderstanding what the content of the essay was supposed to be or what structure the report format was to follow.

In the fiction publishing world, the editor is the one who wields the figurative red pencil. Usually there are two--the acquisition editor, who looks for those big content and structural errors, and the copy editor, who looks for smaller errors in formatting and fact-checking. When you have a contract with a publishing house, the acquisition editor must be happy with the manuscript before he or she "accepts" it and the book is put on a publication schedule. Without acceptance, there won't be a book and the author doesn't get paid.

As a result, we authors tend to bite our nails after turning in a manuscript, waiting nervously to see what the acquisition editor will say in his or her "revision letter." The revision letter lists changes that must be made before a manuscript will be accepted. I recently received my revision letter from my acquisition editor at Midnight Ink for book two of the RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series, that I'm calling Wicked Eddies. I was greatly relieved to see that it didn't include any huge changes, like "get rid of this chapter/scene," "fix this plot hole," or "I hate this character's personality."


Instead, I needed to whittle down the narrative in one chapter, define the distance from point A to point B in a scene setting, make it clear that one character is not asking another character the same question in two places but is asking different questions, and make a plot timeline issue clearer in the reader's mind. These were all eminently doable fixes that required work, but not a huge amount of work. So, I set my fingers to typing.

A few days ago, I sent the revised manuscript off to my acquisition editor. I'm now waiting to hear if my changes are acceptable or not. If not, I'll revise some more. If so, we have a GO! on this book, and the publication countdown begins.

Do I ever quibble with my editor about revisions? No. Not with any of my three publishers. They all have good editors on staff who work hard to meet their goal--to make your book the best it can be. If the acquisition editor says there's a problem, there's a problem. I may propose a different solution to the problem than the solution the editor suggests, but I never argue to ignore it and leave it be. This is all part of the process of being a professional author, working as a team member to produce the best possible product.


Beth Groundwater said...

And here's the good news to share with those who read the comments:
My acquisition editor accepted the manuscript for Wicked Eddies yesterday and it's been put into the production queue! Whoo hoo!

Anonymous said...

Congrats on getting to Go! I love your approach to editing with editors. Very professional and mature. You must have great working relationships with them. :)

I try to apply a similar method to feedback from critique groups. I may not like what they say or how they say to fix it, but I always take a look at what the issue is and try to fix it.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks, Kourtney, and your attitude with critique groups is great practice for dealing with editors. I feel the same way about my critique group's comments. If they resonate with my gut, I make the suggested changes or find some other way to fix the problem.

Alan Orloff said...

Congrats, Beth!

I turned my ms in about five hours ago. Now I get to wait. Good times, good times.

Beth Groundwater said...

Hey Alan, sounds like we're on the same track!