This month on the blog, we are still talking about editing, so we asked a few agency clients to share their favorite editorial notes:
My agent, Gemma, always writes the best comments on my manuscripts. Some are insightful, some helpful, some just a row of question marks that let me know that something is wrong but we might need to talk it out to figure out what it is. Some of my favourite comments are the ones when she gets distracted and accidentally tells me hilarious anecdotes about her own life in the margins, but it probably wouldn’t be appropriate to share those here…
When I was writing Love, Lies and Lemon Pies, more than any other book I’ve ever worked on, Gemma and I sent drafts back and forth between us all the time. There would be hundreds of comments on every document. A lot of them had to do with her very inappropriate crush on my 16 year old bad boy love interest, Mac. Such as:
God I LOVE angry Mac. Can he have the remnants of a black eye somewhere in this also. Love a beat-up hot guy….sorry!
Or, in a scene where he was kneading bread:
Still, as I was looking back through the drafts to pull out those comments, I realised that my all time favourite editorial comment had to be this one:
(Haven’t been writing comments because I’ve been enjoying it so much)
When even my own agent (who had read this book a hundred times by this point) could get lost enough in my world, with my characters and my story, to forget to make comments—even inappropriate ones—I knew I finally had a book that worked. And that felt incredible.
When I first decided to pursue writing, I enrolled in a class at Gotham Writer’s Workshop in New York City. I was terrified to “put myself out there” and share my work with the class, but my teacher, middle grade author Matthew Cody (The Supers of Noble’s Green Trilogy, Will in Scarlet) was so encouraging.
After reading and critiquing several of my stories over the course of the class, Matthew wrote a comment that has never left me.
“This is filled with your trademark wit and sense of absurd joy!”
To this day I tear up when I read it. It meant so much to me to have someone “get” my work and perfectly describe my own personal style.
That manuscript with Matthew’s comment is filed safely away, tucked just behind my Scholastic check stub for that same story which went on to be my first sale, The Adventure of the Penguinaut.
My first book, Murder Most Unladylike, was filled with bunbreaks, teas and puddings. When it came to the sequel, Arsenic for Tea, of course I forgot to mention eating at all. My editor, though, saved the day with a typically brilliant editorial note: ‘Put more food in this book’. I was delighted to oblige, and now Arsenic for Tea comes complete with macaroons, treacle tarts, buns, biscuits and chocolate creams. Thank goodness for that.
I love being edited. It is a wondrous thing to see my words through someone else’s practiced eye. I enjoy comments such as, “Without these additions, makes it sound like her eyes are ticking,” “Three em-dashes in one sentence is too many,” and the ever wonderful, “LOVE THIS.” However, I think my all time favorite comments came near the end of THE PIRATE CODE: “Totally emotional here,” and, after another round of edits, “Emotional this time through too.” I had cried every time I worked on that chapter. It was a sweet feeling knowing the emotion transferred—and that the scene was made all the better by eliminating one of those em-dashes.
Back in college, I fancied myself a screenwriter. Over one winter break, I wrote a script (that will never see the light of day). It was an updated retelling of Twelfth Night, because of course it was. 10 Things I Hate About You had just come out. I sent the script to my boyfriend, who was mostly complimentary, though he kept harping on one stupid line —“Hey, Toby. ¿Qué pasa?”
Fast forward a million years, and I’m married to that boyfriend, who is still my first reader. And “Hey, Toby” is now our very effective shorthand for “Change immediately. This is LAME.”
One of my favorite editorial notes came well into the process with (my agent) Susan Hawk. My main character’s father is in prison during the span of the book. And throughout, Avalon James (said main character) talked about him, thought about him but there was no actual interaction between the two of them.
Then Susan made the suggestion: “What if the dad writes her a letter?” And that’s what we did. I loved writing that letter. It made me cry. It gave me insight into their relationship and was a tool to deepen the experience between the characters, writer (me!) and hopefully, the reader.
It was a great note with a great result and until Susan made that little suggestion, I had no idea it was missing.
I had my hero, Reed, dressed in casual resort wear from the designer Tommy Bahama. Having been on a bunch of cruises, I really liked the look and feel of these shirts. My editorial note was: “Change this. Only old men wear Tommy Bahama.” This made my day. My husband wears Tommy Bahama. So I took great pleasure in letting him know he was an old man. And then I made my doddering Yale professor character wear Tommy Bahama instead as a private joke to him.
In 2016, Charlesbridge will publish the first two books in my science series for the very youngest audience, Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering! and Baby Loves Quarks! My goal in writing these books was to craft a simple, entertaining story that makes these complex concepts accessible by relating them to a toddler’s everyday environment. On a spread that presents the concept of “lift” using the example of a bird in flight, I read this editorial note from my editor, Alyssa Pusey, which literally made me laugh out loud:
“If this discrepancy is intentional due to the relative difficulty of aerospace engineering, that’s fine; such an explanation is, in that case, beyond the scope of the book. But if there’s a very simple way to convey just a little about how lift works – that might be really cool…”
I guess I’m amused by the irony—the full text of the picture book is 124 words! Still, the attention to each and every one of those 124 words is astounding. We’ve even engaged a physicist as an expert reviewer, both for the text and the illustrations. Mem Fox said, “Writing a picture book is like writing War and Peace in haiku.” And writing a picture book about aerospace engineering for babies? As Alyssa Pusey said, “… that might be really cool!”
A few years ago, I modeled a hero after my husband—handsome, a snappy dresser, with a sharp wit. I showed the first few chapters to an author friend. Her comment? “The hero is too effeminate, he needs to be much more manly.” My husband was quite chagrined when I shared her feedback with him.
“Quite possibly the hottest YA scene I’ve ever read. JESUS.”
Some wonderful answers here, I think you’ll agree. Feel free you share your favorite editorial note in the comments!