What to Expect When You’re Expecting… an Edit Letter

When a book gets acquired, it goes through several rounds of editing. This process goes beyond proofreading and copyediting—an acquisitions editor will go through the entire manuscript and look at plot, character development, pacing, and all kinds of other big-picture elements. This is called a developmental edit or a macro edit, depending on the publisher. And when the acquisitions editor is done, the author gets an edit(orial) letter.

Edit letters can be scary! Authors get a document telling them all things they need to do make their book better after spending months—maybe even years—writing and editing and polishing a manuscript. Yikes!

Now, I can’t speak to how each individual editor creates their edit letter since everyone edits differently and every book needs a different kind of attention. Some edit letters are three pages long, some are twenty-three. Some letters focus on a particular subject (like voice or plot line), some talk about lots of different issues. But for me, there are five key pieces to this kind of letter:

1. Defining ownership. I think almost all of my edit letters start of end with some version of the phrase “this is your book—not mine.” While I generally consider myself to be an expert editor, I want the author to know that they are also an expert author. When editors make suggestions, those suggestions are intended to improve the book and make it the best possible experience for a reader. But—and this is an important butthis is not my book, and my opinion may not resonate with an author. At the end of the day, I want an author to be proud of, comfortable with, and happy about their work. So if an author feels like a change isn’t true to the story or to a character, I am always willing to have that discussion and see where it leads. Debates do happen, but in the end we can reach a good place that appeases both parties and strengthens the book.

2. What’s working. Strange as it seems, sometimes listing the positive attributes of a novel is more difficult than listing the negative attributes. I mean, I loved the book enough to acquire it, right? Of course I think it’s awesome! But if I don’t tell the author that—with specific examples—they are basically getting a “honey-do” list from me. No one wants that! Plus, by pointing out the good, the author can see what’s working well and can apply that success to scenes or characters that need tweaks.

3. What’s not working. Yes, well, this is the crux of the edit letter, I suppose. My job is literally to bust out the metaphorical red pen and talk about the strengths and weaknesses of a manuscript. Here’s how I generally structure my letters:

  • Plot: From big to small, I list out the elements of the plot that need development, changes, or to be cut entirely.
  • Characters: Our heroines and heroes and villainesses and villains are just as important as the sequence of events that moves the story along. When it comes to characters, I talk both about individuals and relationships between key people.
  • Voice/Style: Talking about voice and style can be tricky—an editor can’t make an author write in a way that doesn’t feel natural or genuine. But sometimes there are small changes that can make a big difference, like combining choppy sentences to give more variation in structure or removing writing ticks like overusing the word “just” (guilty!) or trimming the number of times two characters stare longingly into each other’s eyes.
  • Random details: Every book has a few inconsistencies that just don’t add up. A character can have blue eyes on one page and hazel eyes on another. Someone goes outside in one scene, but we find out the door was locked in the next, raising major questions like: Can this character walk through walls?! Is this character a ghost?! These little details can get overlooked when you’re writing a 50, 60, 70, 80, 90,000 word manuscript, so that’s what your editor is for!

4. How we’re going to tackle the changes. It would be super unhelpful if I wrote a letter that said, “Your main character is boring. You should make her less boring.” Whenever I request a change, I give an option or two of how to make that change happen. Authors can interpret and adjust those suggestions as they see fit, but I always try to give some direction rather than providing pure criticism. Nobody wants that!

5. A markup. In addition to my edit letter, I send along a marked-up manuscript (the MS Word document with Track Changes). For the most part, this markup includes structural and grammatical changes or highlights passages that are addressed in the edit letter. This helps me work through some of the quick and easy tweaks and gives the author context for upcoming changes.

Like I said, everyone edits differently, so your edit letter may end up looking different from what I’ve just described. If you want to learn more about edit letters (and authors’ experiences with them), check out the links below!

The Infamous Edit Letter

The Editorial Letter

After the Editorial Letter


Beyond the Manuscript: What ELSE an Editor Looks for in a Submission

Let’s pretend (only for one horrifying second) that the content of your manuscript didn’t matter.

Yes, I know. It’s awful. But bear with me.

Let’s pretend that it didn’t matter how good or bad your actual writing was, and that an editor only focused on the other pieces of your submission—your platform, your hook, etc.

Okay, now you can stop pretending. That was pretty scary, right? Don’t worry—content is always going to be the #1 concern for an editor. However, it isn’t the only concern. So let’s dive into the other elements of a submission an editor considers when thinking about acquiring a book. Continue reading

Not Just a No: The Decision Behind a Rejection

Let’s face it—getting rejected sucks. You poured your heart and soul into a book and were brave enough to ask other people to read it…only to get shot down.

Quite frankly, doing the rejecting isn’t all that fun either. We editors and agents know the hard work that goes into writing a manuscript, and it’s never a good feeling to know you’re crushing someone’s dream. We’re not sitting behind our desks, holding red pens and grinning evilly as we write a giant “NO” on someone’s submission. We want to fall in love with books. We want to publish them. But not every submission will be a fit, and here’s why. Continue reading

Reblog: What an aspiring writer needs to know about editing, marketing, and publishing: An interview with editor Jillian Manning!

Reblogged from GoTeenWriters.com

Monday, May 22, 2017

Stephanie here! I’m really excited that Jillian Manning, the acquisitions editor at Blink YA Books, is here with us today! Jillian was my editor for my 1920s mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, and is a rock star of an editor. Not only is she great at the red pen stuff, but she’s super encouraging, and will even dress up for her authors:

Jillian and me at the ALA Midwinter Meeting. Wouldn’t we have been great flappers?

Jillian was gracious enough to take time out of her schedule to answer a few questions for me about the unique struggles of trying to get your first book published. I wish I could have read her detailed answers back when I was a flailing and confused aspiring author!

Continue reading

Preorders: What They Are and Why They Matter

verb: order (an item of merchandise) before it is available, with the understanding that it will be shipped later.
noun: an order for an item that has not yet been made commercially available.

If you’re an avid reader, odds are you’ve preordered a book. When you purchase a book before it’s on sale to the public, that’s a preorder. (Remember the good old days of Harry Potter midnight release parties? *nostalgia*) So what’s the big deal? Why are preorders so important? I’ll give you three reasons. Continue reading

Editor Talk with BLINK YA’s Jillian Manning

Thank you to The Spinning Pen team for this awesome interview! An inside look at life as an editor.

The Spinning Pen

Pen Friends ~ We are elated to have Blink YA Book’s Editor Jillian Manning with us today. Hope you enjoy her insights, tips, and recommendations!

wpvdcemmSP: Welcome Jillian! Let’s start personal ~Who are you and how long have you worked as an editor? Which books made you fall in love with the publishing industry?

I’m Jillian Manning, one of the editors at Blink YA Books. I’m a Michigan girl, cat lover, list maker, and avid YA reader. (Grown-up books? Yikes.) I’ve worked in publishing since my early college days, and have been an editor here at Blink for over two years. According to my mother, I started reading when I was two years old (though that may be a parental exaggeration), and I haven’t stopped since. I grew up reading Tamora Pierce, J.K. Rowling, and Caroline B. Cooney, and I decided I either wanted to be them or work with people…

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5 Reasons I Say No to a Good Book

I hate writing rejections. I hate writing rejections even more when I have to say no to an amazing book. But, because the world of publishing isn’t all kittens and rainbows (alas!), sometimes I do have to say no to an awesome story. Here are 5 reasons why:

1. I already have a book like it. I will read retellings all day, but I can’t have three Beauty and the Beast stories on my list at one time, even if they are all top notch. Having competition within your list is tough on marketing and on sales—marketing can’t keep pitching the same kind of book, and buyers won’t take repetitive stories from a publisher. Continue reading

The Subjective Editor: Why taste matters (and why that’s okay)

When I first started as an editor, I hated sending rejections to authors or agents with a note saying, “sorry, but it just wasn’t my thing.” I always wanted to give concrete, constructive feedback about why I didn’t feel I could acquire the book. I still want to do that, if only because that’s my job.

But sometimes, there are no typos to blame. Sometimes the characters are interesting and well developed. Sometimes the book may be the most marketable thing since sliced bread (or, you know, since the latest novel by John Green). But I still may not have completely connected to the story or the writing. And taste isn’t something an author can fix by running spell check or making a few tweaks.

In those instances, I dreaded writing rejections. What good was I doing anyone if I said the book just wasn’t a fit for my taste?

Well, it turns out, I was doing everyone involved a lot of good. Continue reading

I Want to Be an Editor. Where Do I Start?

At the past two writers conferences I’ve attended, I’ve been asked a different kind of question. Not, “Will you publish my book?” but “How do I become an editor?” Well, here’s my answer, as told in someecards memes. Because what better way is there to do so?

(P.S. You can also check out these articles about working as an editor: What Do You Do All Day? A Look at the Life of an Editor / The Freelancer Cheat Sheet: Everything You Need to Know About Freelance Writers and Editors)

Complete a degree in a field like English or Creative Writing.

im-an-english-major-my-parents-have-serious-concerns-34b6a Continue reading