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  • Writer's pictureAmy Guan

The Editorial Letter: What Is It?

What to Expect When You’re Expecting an Editorial Letter


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Photo Credit: Andrea Piacquadio | Pexels

As a writer, receiving feedback on your manuscript is a crucial step in the journey toward publication. Whether you’re a seasoned author or just starting out, understanding and effectively applying editorial feedback can significantly improve the quality of your work. One common way developmental editors communicate their suggestions and critiques to authors is through the editorial letter. 


Editorial letters can vary significantly from editor to editor, reflecting individual styles, preferences, and areas of expertise. However, this blog post aims to provide a broad overview of the general features and purposes of editorial letters. While specific details and approaches may differ, the fundamental goal remains consistent: to provide writers with constructive feedback and guidance to strengthen their manuscripts and elevate their storytelling.


 

What Is an Editorial Letter?


An editorial letter is a comprehensive critique of a manuscript provided by an editor to an author. It typically contains detailed feedback, suggestions, and recommendations for improving various aspects of the work, including plot, character development, pacing, dialogue, and overall structure. Think of it as a map for addressing roadblocks in your manuscript to make it the best it can be. 


Editorial letters may be written in a Word or Google document or simply in an email. Editorial letters may sometimes fit in a couple of pages, but more often, they reach lengths of five to ten pages—or longer. 


Editorial letters can be offered alone or in combination with other attached documents as well as with comments made directly on the manuscript. Comments generally offer immediate, granular feedback within the text itself. They allow for pinpointed remarks, suggestions, and queries. Conversely, editorial letters offer a broader view of the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses, encompassing overarching themes, structural insights, and storyline recommendations. Editorial letters often contain the editor’s primary concerns or firmest recommendations. 


Let’s dive into what is generally contained in an editorial letter. Remember that not all editorial letters will cover each of the following areas; editors will provide feedback on the areas they feel your manuscript needs most. 


Introduction and Initial Impressions. Your editorial letter starts by providing an overview of the editor’s initial impressions of your manuscript. They will likely highlight what’s working well and acknowledge elements of your story that resonate strongly. Conversely, they’ll address major problems in the manuscript and offer broad feedback to guide your revision process, which likely includes multiple ways an issue can be resolved. This section offers valuable insights into the overall strengths and weaknesses of your manuscript from the outset.


Plot. Delving into the heart of your story, your editorial letter will explore its plot and structure. Your editor will offer insights into narrative flow and assess the coherence of your manuscript. They’ll aim to ensure that your story has a clear arc and compelling structure that captivates readers.


Character Depth and Development. Characters are central to your story, and your editorial letter will evaluate their depth and development. The editor will assess the complexity of your characters’ arcs, examining their motivations, relationships, and growth throughout the narrative. They’ll suggest ways to deepen characterization and enhance the authenticity of your characters. 


Dialogue. Dialogue plays a crucial role in driving the narrative forward and revealing your characters’ personalities. Since editorial letters are typically broad in scope, specific lines of dialogue typically won’t be addressed. However, your editor may mention trends or problematic elements of your dialogue that severely affect your novel and storytelling. 


World-Building. For stories set in unique or made-up worlds, your editorial letter will evaluate the effectiveness of your world-building and setting descriptions. The editor will assess the clarity and richness of your world, offering feedback on how well it’s integrated into the narrative. They’ll provide suggestions for enhancing your setting and world-building to create a more immersive reading experience for your audience.


Theme. Themes add depth and complexity to your story, enriching the reader’s experience on a deeper level. Your editorial letter will explore the effectiveness of your thematic elements and how well they’re integrated into the narrative as a whole. Your editor will offer suggestions on how to deepen your themes and weave them more seamlessly into your manuscript.


Pacing. Maintaining reader engagement requires skillful management of pacing and tension throughout your story. Your editorial letter will provide feedback on the overall rhythm of your narrative. They’ll offer suggestions to ensure your story maintains momentum and keeps readers hooked from start to finish.


Problematic Patterns. Your editorial letter will point out patterns and tendencies in your writing that are problematic or bring the quality of your work down. These patterns could manifest in various forms, such as repetitive phrases, passive voice, inconsistent characterization, or structural issues that greatly hinder the flow of the narrative. 


Timeline and Chapter-by-Chapter Events. Consistency in timelines and the unfolding of events across chapters is crucial for maintaining narrative coherence. Your editorial letter may address any discrepancies related to the story’s timeline, helping you ensure that the sequence of events is logical and engaging. Editors might suggest reordering chapters, condensing or expanding certain sections, or even adding new scenes to strengthen the overall flow and impact of your story.


 

Receiving an editorial letter can feel both terrifying and exhilarating. Your manuscript, a piece of your creative soul, has been held up to the light of scrutiny and feedback. What will be revealed?


Editing is a natural element of the editing process, but knowing that doesn’t make receiving pages of critiques on the manuscript you’ve spent three years writing any easier. Yet, it’s this very process of vulnerability (and a lot of hard work) that transforms a draft into a polished, compelling story.


So, embrace having another person in your corner who cares about your story. The insights and suggestions offered by your editor function as opportunities for growth and improvement. And the editorial letter she writes is not a critique of your abilities but a tool for assisting you through the revision process. Remember that even the most accomplished authors rely on editorial feedback to fine-tune their work. 



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