Anticipation, or why a heavily scribbled-up manuscript might be a GOOD thing

I am NOT a robot. Not even a cool, spiky, Japanese robot like this one.

So I can now say with complete certainty that I enjoy the experience of getting a book deal. Big shock, huh? It’s hard to imagine any of us scrapping and clawing for a contract and then, after the brass ring is safely in hand, saying “ehh, kind of disappointing.” I’m aware there’s some danger that I’ll become a strutting, preening sack of overinflated self-regard – I’m a weak man, sorry to say – so I hope the people around me (in both the corporeal and virtual worlds) will help me stay centered. My kids are better at doing that than anyone. There are few things that keep a guy humble like a four year old girl’s wrath over being ordered to wear pants, for example.

There have been many fun moments with this whole book deal thing – signing the contract! Announcing the news on Twitter and Facebook! Photographing my obsessively gathered set of Arthur A. Levine Books publications! Eating a doughnut! The next really big one, of course, is receiving the editorial letter. There’s an ongoing discussion about this kind of stuff over at Verla Kay’s Blueboards, and a number of people have mentioned how gratifying it was to get their first-ever editorial letter, no matter how long it was. One person said their first editorial letter was 13 pages long. Mercy. That’s long, right? I mean, I don’t know, I have no basis for comparison, but thirteen pages sounds pretty substantial. And great. It sounds great!

Seriously, doesn’t it? I understand that getting a heavily marked-up manuscript can be a real shock to the system, eliciting the whole “why did you even bother to buy this manuscript” reaction, etc. I get it. But I do think there’s another very real emotional dimension to seeing your manuscript bathing in a sea of red ink. It’s love, and as you know, Mike Jung’s Little Bloggy Wog is all about the love.

Maybe love’s too squishy and uncomfortable a term for you – fine, whatever, I accept your detachment. Let’s be more transactional about it: how about we call it investment? I have a hard time believing any editor would invest their time, energy and skill in minutely dissecting a manuscript if they didn’t have some version of the following paragraph in  mind:

  • I am investing my editorial resources in this manuscript because I believe the odds are high that I will see a worthwhile return on my investment.

Is that rational and calculating enough for you love-shunning positronic brain types? While I shudder a bit at the accountant-esque tone of that statement, it IS valid, right? However, I am not so robotic – I am, in fact, a weepy and emotional girlyman. So I’m going to hypothesize a few more empathic possibilities of what Editor X is thinking while madly slashing away with that red pen:

  • I am committed to this manuscript. I will do whatever it takes to ensure its success.
  • I believe this author is capable of greatness, and I believe I can help this author realize that greatness.
  • I love this book. I love even more what this book can and will be.

Isn’t that nicer? And honestly, I think it’s probably a more complete way to look at it, because this is a psychologically complex endeavor we’re involved in here. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that this is a business – we are concerned with how many books are bought and sold, how well our indie stores are doing, and how much we’re being compensated for our efforts. But I’m a reader as well as a writer, so I know all the way down to my bones that the core activity which this industry stands on is the act of opening a book and reading it. And what’s the most true and meaningful measure of a  book’s success during that activity? It’s love, isn’t it? When a boy or girl cracks the spine of a book, starts reading, and keeps reading because they’ve fallen in love with the story…well, that’s what it’s all about.

I think that love the reader has for a story is mirrored in the earlier stages of the process. There’s the love an author has for his or her characters/plot/concept/setting/etc.; the love for the story that spurs an agent to offer representation; and the love an editor feels for the story, a love that’s strong enough to make him or her pore over every word, consider every nuance, weigh every possible creative choice, and make every suggestion they can.

I can’t wait for my editorial letter to arrive. I’ve probably slipped into broken record mode already, what with my fevered declarations of “this is one of those moments I’ve been waiting for, yo!” Ehh, so be it – the editorial letter IS one of those moments I’ve been waiting for! Maybe it’ll be a short letter, which would be peachy, although I feel unenthusiastic about equating the length of the editorial letter to the degree of passion or commitment the editor feels for the story, simply because I don’t think this process is enough of a bean-counting exercise to make such calculations. I don’t believe there’s an inverse relationship between the volume of an editor’s notes and their perception of either the manuscript’s quality or the writer’s abilities.

The fact that I’m going to receive an editorial letter at all seems the most relevant point, maybe even the only relevant point. I have no idea how long it’ll be, although I suspect it won’t be short – in the past my editor has openly described himself as having “ridiculously high” standards. And how great is that? He thinks my work has a chance to meet those ridiculously high standards!

Will I also get a 13 page letter? I dunno. Maybe. If I do, awesome, babies, I think I’d like it. In fact, I think I’d love it.

Breathless with anticipation,


17 thoughts on “Anticipation, or why a heavily scribbled-up manuscript might be a GOOD thing

  1. Mike, your voice in your blog posts is just like your voice in your songs, and I’m sure it’s just like your voice in your book. Can I buy a signed copy from you when it’s out? Can I say I know you? Thanks. 🙂

    1. Signed copy – done. And dude, what are you talking about, “say you know me?” What kind of crazy talk is that? I have these dim thoughts about getting the BAND back together for a future book event…

  2. Really enjoyed reading this, Thanks, Mike!
    I’m still on submissions so haven’t quite got to the editorial letter stage (fingers crossed on that one).
    I remember reading somewhere that long letters were good, as they tended to be about specific points and the short letters were more general and sweeping requiring ‘the big change’ stuff.

    So yeah, longer the better!

    You have to let us know the page count on that letter now.


  3. An editorial letter from Arthur Levine? Oh, that could be 100 pages long (NOT that I wish that on you), and you’d have reason to be doing the pure-happy dance!

  4. Mike, I feel like we’re part of an extended family because I’ve got a book coming out with Cheryl Klein in August. Let me say this about expectations: be ready for more than 13 pages. Now, I don’t know if Arthur’s process is different than Cheryl’s (though she did train with him), but my first ed letter from her was 22 pages. Thank god I had read Francisco X. Stork’s blog where he mentioned something similar or I would have fallen on my sharpie. Twenty-two pages???? Later, I asked Cheryl about it and she told me that was about average for her, that she had once written an editorial letter 40+ pages long.

    I know.

    But you’re exactly right–their “investment” in the work is both impressive and inspiring. And there’s no doubt my book is countless times better for her careful attention to it. So, if you ready yourself for a long ed letter and only get one a couple of pages long, all’s the better, right? So excited for you!

  5. I love editorial feedback. That vote of confidence from an agent and editor is such a shot in the arm. But the best part is, like Vicky says, when the book gets so much better because of that attention – and then when you look back at the end of the process (totally exhausted, of course) and say to yourself, “Wow. I did that?”

    Mike, I can’t wait to read your book!

  6. Hey Mike. Not too much pressure on ME eh? LOL.
    Let me say that you will NOT get a letter that is thirteen pages long. Cheryl (who is a wonderful editor and who has a style that works very well for her and for her authors) and I are very different in that regard.

    I write the kind of editorial letters I’d like to receive, and personally, I find long letters overwhelming. I shut down reading them.

    I tend to go for broad strokes in letters — especially in the early stages — and to save line editing for notes on the manuscript itself.

    So be prepared for a short letter: probably 2-5 pages.

    Editor X (i.e. Arthur)

  7. And you’re right. It is about love. Love of the written word, which if we didn’t have, we wouldn’t be here. Looking forward to hearing about your revision journey.

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