Why Writing the Revision Letter Can be so Satisfying

I stopped being a full-time editor in 1999 when I switched over to Harlequin’s Internet division. Many people have asked me over the years whether I miss being an editor. While I loved being an editor and I was a good one (no false modesty here), while I still consider the importance of good story to be the central element of my career, while I am again reading for acquisition as part of the Carina Press acquisitions team and single titles for Harlequin, there is only one aspect of being a full-time editor I have missed over the years: writing the revision letter.

Writing a good revision letter is almost as good as writing a good chapter; it’s not as good, but has some of the same joy and satisfaction. A revision letter is a creative exercise and if you’ve written a good one, you, the editor, can feel the same creative high a writer experiences after writing a good scene.

This hit me as I read a series romance manuscript for a friend of mine and crafted the revision letter this afternoon. The writer is good but has  lots of work ahead of her, but she has talent. She has an innate sense of storytelling and drama. She has the potential to be published if she furthers her craft and writes and rewrites.

This is the most fun part of being an editor, for me. The developmental/revision stage. Before I ever knew what an editor did, I always knew I was good at story. Because I have read so much and watched so much television (another form of storytelling) I am good at plot and can predict supposedly unexpected twists. I saw Tom Sawyer’s trick about making the fence painting seem appealing pages before it happened; I figured out the twist to The 6th Sense while standing in the line up for the movie; and I have a much better ending for Cheers that involves a reunion  of sorts between Sam and Dianne — ask me to explain it to you the next time you see me at a writers’ conference.

I like story. I understand characterization, motivation, pacing, structure. I write fiction as well, so I understand how challenging, frustrating and rewarding the experience can be (there is nothing than better than “having written” ie being done).

Which is why I love writing revision letters. I adore seeing the author’s potential and then spending hours of time, imagination, creativity in highlighting what is working, what is not and where/how the story could find itself. It is a part of the creative process.

A good revision letter is a lot more than “fix this.” It explains why the “fix this” is a problem and suggests ways the authors might approach the problem.

The only part of the editor’s job, in my opinion, that is better than writing the revision letter, is receiving back the revised manuscript.

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