I have friends (agented and unagented) who sold their first book and then received 10+ page editor revision notes, while others have revised more than once for an editor before they received their contract. How does an editor decide when to offer a contract to a new writer? Why would an editor offer, and sales, marketing, publisher, etc., approve that offer if they know they are going to ask the author to overhaul most of their book?1. Let us first pay tribute to the Truth that there are revision letters, and then there are revision letters.
2. Let us secondly pay tribute to the Truth that the highest compliment an editor can give you is a very thoughtful (and possibly long) editorial letter.
Jackson Pearce (my favorite new video blogger) recently compared writing and revision to making a cake:
So, to put Truth 1 into this analogy:
There's a difference between the food critic saying you should have whisked the eggs and sugar together before putting them in the batter... and the food critic pointing out that you have no eggs or sugar in your cake.
I have sent very short letters to people that said, essentially: I love this flour. I love this sugar. I love these eggs. But I think this cake would be better with milk rather than sour cream, so let me know if you decide to bake it again.
This is a short letter, but A Hell of a Lot of Revision... and revision I can't be sure the author can achieve. This is a letter before a contract.
And I have sent very long letters to people that said, essentially: I love all your ingredients. And your wrist, when you use that whisk! Where did you learn that technique? But there are a few places where you could try something different, and maybe the oven should be a touch cooler. And have you considered the addition of walnuts?
This is a long letter, and it may still be A Hell of a Lot of Revision... but it's revision I am confident is within the author's scope, and (hopefully) within the author's vision of the cake she wants to serve. This is a letter after a contract.
And, to put Truth 2 somewhere near this analogy:
Editors are people who love books. We feel passionately about them, and think good books are worth thinking about hard. A (possibly long) thoughtful editorial letter is an editor's way of saying: This Book Is Worthwhile. It is worth the hours (and perhaps days) that it took us to think carefully about it, and weigh ideas, and try to put ourselves in your shoes, and try to put ourselves in the readers' shoes. It is worth our thinking about each ingredient you know you put into it, and the ingredients you may not have realized you put in. Ideally, a good editorial letter is your chance to see your manuscript through new eyes: eyes that love what your manuscript is, but love what it wants to be even more.