How to Tackle your First Pass Edits – Part One: Organization

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Before getting a book deal, I’d heard many author friends complain about the dreaded “editorial letter.” How many pages was it going to be this time? What parts of their precious manuscript were they going to have to cut because the pacing was too slow? …and other nerve-wracking questions.

I had one author friend who had to cut a total of 50 pages from her manuscript, which included all the funny parts of her protagonist. Another one said their voice didn’t sound right for the genre and could it be re-written in a more age-appropriate voice?

Needless to say, I was hella nervous about my own editorial letter. The email sat in my inbox taunting me all day while I was at work. So what did I do? I sent it to one of my CP’s first.

“You tell me. I can’t look.”

“Breathe. It’s okay,” she replied.

Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the details of my editorial letter and the revisions I had to do to my own manuscript, but I will go into my process of the first pass edits (aka developmental edits).

Hopefully it will be helpful to some of you, but every author’s process is different. Try stuff and find out what works!

Before I go into my process, if you need a quick refresh on what first pass edits are (and second and third pass edits), writer and editor Naomi Hughes does an excellent job of explaining the editorial process in a string of tweets here.

1. Read everything—editorial letter and comments.

Don’t just stop at the editorial letter and think you can immediately start your new edits. Go to your manuscript and read all their comments. Not only do these comments go into greater detail that will clarify what they mean when they say something like “we need to change this character’s motivation here,” but one of those comments may give you an idea on how to solve one of the issues.

Reading everything and having a full understanding of what they’re asking for is critical to your editorial process. What if you misinterpret what they want changed and you build up a whole solution without reading the comments then later get to the section in the manuscript and find out that your edits there won’t work? Time wasted.

2. Avoid freaking out – talk to a friend.

After reading everything you’re probably ready to backflip out a window and into traffic, right? That was me at least.

My suggestion to avoid this urge is by talking to a friend about your edits. Let me clarify this by saying a non-writer friend I’m sure will listen to you, and perhaps that’s all you need, but they probably won’t be able to help you much, or even empathize with you. As I’m sure many authors, agents, and industry professionals have told you, critique partners and beta readers are worth their weight in gold. Not only do they become pillars of support, some become really good friends. You can’t expect to not become friends with a person after letting them rip apart your precious book and allowing you to do the same to their’s.

So, if they’re willing, send them your editorial letter, have them read it and schedule a time to chat with them.

“I’ve received my first pass edits and I’m ready to jump off a cliff…can we talk?” usually works.

Talking to a fellow writer, even if they don’t have time to read your letter, may be all you need to get those creative juices flowing. They can empathize, offer suggestions, brainstorm with you, and just offer genuine support.

“It’s okay, babe. YOU GOT THIS.” Works wonders. Trust me.

3. Don’t immediately jump into edits. Plan ahead.

You’ve read everything, you’ve talked to a friend and you have all these ideas bouncing around in that little brain of yours and all you want to do is get cracking.

Hold your horses for just a little while longer and really think about what comes next. Ask yourself questions like these:

  • If I make this plot change, how will it affect my characters and my pacing?
  • Is this change that my editor suggested in line with my characters’ goals?
  • How will I carry this worldbuilding aspect into the rest of my book?

4. Create a crafted response to your editor, a “master plan” if you will.

Once you’ve considered all your revisions from every angle, write it out. I know it sounds tedious but it’ll be helpful! Sometimes you get edits from your editor that require more feedback from them. To cut out the need for another pass dealing with big-picture edits, send them a document that sums up in sections (ie. protagonist motivations, worldbuilding issue, pacing at the end, etc.) what you plan to do. Part of this plan should answer questions that they asked in their comments, and the other part should address what you plan to do to solve these issues.

A good relationship with anyone comes down to communication. Communicate to your editor what you plan to do and see if they agree with your solution—this will prevent time wasted and heartache in the long run.

Additionally, if your editor suggests doing something you don’t agree with, chances are they are trying to solve something that feels off. Find out what that issue is then talk about alternative ways to address that issue—they’ll be open to hearing them!

I could go on and on about accepting criticisms, but that’s for another blog post.

5. Based off your editor’s comments, create a “master list.”

Like everything else in this post, it’s just a suggestion of what you could do, but here’s where you can flex your organization skills. At this point, you have at least three different documents with thoughts about your revisions: the main manuscript with comments, the editorial letter, and the master plan you sent to your editor. That’s a lot of switching back and forth between documents on your computer. How annoying is that?

Take time to create an actual list, starting from chapter one all the way to the end, to detail the changes you plan to implement. This can save some time and confusion in the end. You won’t have to switch back and forth between documents or worry about keeping all these changes in your head.

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Believe it or not, now you’re ready to start editing. You’ve got your edits organized, and well thought out. You now know how one change will affect other things in your manuscript and you can account for it. You won’t have to constantly jump back and forth between sections to check on what you’ve changed.

Stay tuned for another blog post about actually completing your first pass edits!



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