Now I know why they’re called “editors.”

by Cynthia Levinson

The “whole big wad,” as my editor called it, arrived today. It’s wonderful–as in full of wonders. First, I no longer wonder why I hadn’t heard from her in three months: she’s been totally immersed in improving my ms. Soooo much so that I wonder if her family heard from her in that time. And, of course, I wondered if she wondered why on earth she bought the thing in the first place.

So, I emailed my agent. “Should I be mortified? Beg my editor to forgive me?” Here’s what our beloved EMU advised: “Get over yourself! (I say with great kindness.) This is the process.”

Her splash of reality sat me down at my desk, squared my shoulders, and set me to work. Task 1: Download and save all the edits. Task 2: Back up the computer. Tomorrow’s job: Figure out if any three contiguous words, not including “and the,” from the original version remain in the edited one.

Peeps from the Nest

A response from Jeannie Mobley

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I am beginning a revision process of an entirely different nature. Actually, I don’t have a ranch, but I live in Colorado where a lot of people do, and I’ve always wanted to say that.

When the deal finally happened in early November, my editor wanted to know how fast I could revise the manuscript, so we could settle on a planned publication date. This is a bit of a tricky question to answer when one has no idea what revision is going to entail. It is also a question that has a qualified answer. As a college professor, my day job means I have very little writing time and I work slowly while classes are in session, but once winter, summer, Thanksgiving or spring break rolls around, I write “like a demon” as someone recently put it. (As I do not know any demons personally, with the exception of my cat who does not write due to a lack of thumbs, I cannot verify this. Suffice it to say, I write frequently and fast during my breaks.) Since we were six weeks from my winter break, this information was conveyed to the editor, with the hope that the process could start in December.

My editor, however, had other things on her plate, and responded that she could not possibly get me a revision letter by mid December. Instead, I was given two or three sentences of broad direction, with which I am undertaking my first revision. The plan is, revise around this main idea (specifically, making the main character and story a bit younger), resubmit that, and then await further instructions.

I’m not sure if revisions are easier with the “whole big wad” or with a vague point in a certain direction. I imagine we’ll both have the chance to find out.



Filed under Editing and Revising

6 responses to “Now I know why they’re called “editors.”

  1. lbschulman

    I’m scared to check my mailbox. My editor agreed to buy my manuscript if I was willing to revise some more. But aren’t revisions par for the course? This leads me to believe she means Substantial Revisions. The Letter’s coming in December, she said. This month. Do I need a bigger mailbox? How many pages was your revision letter, Cynthia? I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.


    • Cynthia Levinson


      I didn’t exactly get a revision letter, maybe because mine is nonfiction and because we sold a proposal rather than a whole draft.

      I did get a letter from the first house Erin sent it to (where it stayed, on exclusive, for 6-8 months while the editor tried to convince the marketing people to agree to buy it). That letter, which was maybe 4-5 pages, led me to completely revise the approach, which was excellent. She really helped me improve it so we could sell it to Peachtree; however, in between came something like 15-18 rejections in 18 months.

      What the editor has just sent is the second round of edits. With the exception of 2 chapters, which she’s re-structured, not entirely to my liking, she says we’re at the line-edit stage. It seems not only extremely detailed but also replete with edits–dozens/page. Well, maybe not quite that many but it’s been exhausting just to scan her marginal “comments.” Maybe this is what line edits are? I wouldn’t know, being a newbie at this.



  2. Natalie Dias Lorenzi

    I, too, have yet to receive my editor’s revision letter, so I have no idea what to expect. I’ve heard of fiction novels that are sold on proposal much like non-fiction, and I always thought that would be an interesting way to write. Cynthia, do you prefer writing from a proposal or doing it all on your own first?


    • Cynthia Levinson

      I would much prefer to write “simply” a proposal. That way, we can get rejections earlier in the process! If things go well, we can also get editorial direction before I’m determinedly committed to an age group, approach, or tone. Here comes the big but: For understandable reasons, Erin says it’s very hard to sell proposals, especially for newbies.


  3. The whole proposal approach to a novel would scare me. I guess it has to do with the way I write. I’m not much of a stick-to-an-outline kind of writer. I often start with a fairly general concept that may or may not have much to do with plot, and then during the process of writing it, the plot comes. I wonder if I could submit a proposal for an unwritten novel and have the novel really come out to match the proposal very well. I think my starting concepts are often too vague to really be much of a proposal in and of itself.


  4. Fascinating!!
    I’ve sold on pre-written ms. and on proposal. I prefer proposal for the same reasons Cynthia cites.
    But it’s scary — like Jeannie says. At least for me it is.
    Best of luck with this shared blog venture. I think it’s brilliant.


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