First round edits, part 2: The editorial letter

For those of you who don't know, I'm in the middle of first-round edits for The House of a Thousand Dolls, and I'm blogging about the process. Feel free to chime in with questions, suggestions or general awesomeness.

So there I sat, with my manuscript all sorted out and organized, waiting for my edits.

And waiting.

And waiting some more.

It always takes longer than you think. But Awesome Agent Jenn had warned me about that, so I tried not to worry too much. (I actually spent the first couple months after the sale writing a NEW book, so that helped.)

And Sarah is fast. She would have been faster, but she was getting more editorial input from the awesome team at Harper's and then there was that little thing called Hurricane Irene. But finally, FINALLY. There it was. In my inbox.


Step Two: The Editorial Letter

As I said before, I was expecting a lot of what Sarah said. I was even expecting the editorial letter to be long.

And it was. So long. Eleven single spaced pages.

What I was not expecting, and what still blows me away, is how dense it was, how deep the edit suggestions were and just how much was addressed.

The way Sarah put it, my primary problem was too many good ideas and not quite enough exploration of them. Which meant I had to cut some things and deepen others, and THAT meant combining characters, refining and explaining the world better, exploring my main character's relationships in a deeper way and upping the suspense.

I was kind of expecting a normal manuscript critique, like you get from beta readers. What I got was an invitation to reimagine the story entirely. 

Faced with all this new information, my brain exploded. I had to put the document away for the weekend and not look at it, because every time I did, ideas started swarming like locusts on crack.

(It didn't help that Sarah had sent me a genius suggestion that I knew I could use to punch up the ending in a huge way. Of course it would require rewriting the entire last third of the book, but who worries about that?)

After a couple of days--when I had stopped vibrating--I sat down and went through the letter. I knew I had to pare it down, or I was never going to be able to get started.  So I made my own redux version, pulling out specific suggestions as a list, and filing them into different groups.  The idea was to streamline the information so that I could work on one chunk at a time.

Then I started chipping away at the list, fixing easy things first and gathering ideas for the big stuff, and here's what I learned.

A lot of people lately have been asking me if it was hard to be asked to change so much of the story. There's an idea out there that a book is your baby, and that you should guard its creative integrity. For me though, that question misses the point.

What the editorial letter did was push me to figure out what really mattered in my story, and how I could best communicate it.  When you're a writer, you have this story in your head and it's big and sparkling and wonderful. And then you write it down and it doesn't come out quite like you want.

By reimagining my story, I began to find it. By paring so much out, I started to see the story I was trying to write in the first place.  It wasn't about me doing things wrong, it was about figuring out how to do them better. Which, to be honest, was kind of awesome.

Then came actually doing it...but that's another post.

How about you? Do you find it hard to reimagine a story once it's written?

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Fabric art in the header by Carol Riggs.