Process Post: on edit letters

There was a discussion going on over on Bluesky about dealing with edit letters, and this truth came up: “Editors aren’t always right about the solutions, but they’re nearly always right about the problems.”

That thread went on to discuss how the person quoting it, who happens to be KJ Charles whose books I read all of last year and who is also an editor, approaches edit letters; her approach involves suggesting ideas to fix the problems, because it opens the writer’s mind to the possiblity that the book could have something different happen in that moment, and also it gives them something to reject/bounce off/spitefully correct. Which, like: that seems very valid.

That said, I have recently watched friends get SUPER LONG, to my mind, edit letters, 70%+ of which are ideas & suggestions as how to tackle problems, and I honestly think my brain would explode. My editors have VERY MUCH been of the “this is a problem, pls fix” approach, rather than the “let us brainstorm!” approach, and I think that works for me.

Like, I’ve talked about my two worst revision requests: the short letter that said “these 6 things are wrong, pls fix,” which required forcibly inserting a plot into the book (HOUSE OF CARDS), which had previously lacked one, & the phone call which said “can you cut the hero’s POV (40% of the book!) & revise the book to make that work” (TRUTHSEEKER & subsequently WAYFINDER bc hoo boy were there knock-on effects on that one).

Neither editor had any particular suggestions on how to do either of those things; the second one literally told me it was her job to see the problems and mine to figure out how to fix them.

For HOUSE OF CARDS, tbh, I’m not sure the editor saw the “this book has no plot” problem per se, but the 6 things that didn’t work for her were things that didn’t work BECAUSE there was no plot. It was really well written and drew the reader along, but it didn’t feel quite right, and the elements she picked up on were what should have been plot points but didn’t really support anything.

The “cut the hero’s POV” was bc the book, in the editor’s opinion, fell too perfectly between romance & fantasy & would satisfy neither audience (so it would have been PERFECT for the red-hot “romantasy” subgenre right now ahahah go me 15 years ahead of the curve for once instead of 5 years behind 😵‍💫)

That book, tbh, she was like, “I will send this to the romance line if you don’t want to do this bc this is a HUGE ask, so go think about that” & I thought about it & decided to do it (one of my friends got so upset on my behalf I had to talk HER off the ledge about MY revisions 😅), BUT!

In neither case did they really offer much solution, which is my preference, BUT ALSO: they weren’t wrong.

Editors are rarely wrong, or are wrong about the thing they’ve pointed out but not about SOMETHING in that thing’s support system, so fixing THAT will fix what they actually pointed out.

If I REALLY STRONGLY with them on a point I either discuss it with them or don’t do it, but…personally I prefer the freedom of “this doesn’t work, pls fix” with minimal other editorial input. Mind you, if I need the brainstorming, then my experience has been they’ll do that, which is great!

Which is all very much “ymmv” and “this is me” and not to say that the “here’s an idea so you can reject it” isn’t a totally valid approach that clearly must work for a lot of writers. :)

(The “cut the POV” editor once also asked, about SEAMASTER, which she wasn’t editing but I was having a hard time selling, if I could age up the characters to around 16 & I said, “NO!” indignantly, because I felt that their cusp-of-teenhood ages were very important to the story. Then, as the conversation progressed and I thought about it, I sullenly said, “i GUESS i could and it’d probably be FINE, but i don’t WANT to.”

She laughed at me for about ten minutes. :))

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