Atkins Editing: Thick Meat, No Bread

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Lately I’ve been thinking about revisions, but more on that shortly. First I’d like to thank the Stiletto ladies for inviting me back. I feel like a lucky freshman invited to sit with the cool seniors in the school cafeteria. Our lunch conversation today has to do with how editorial comments are like food. Slide up your tray and have a seat.

Not long ago I found a post about critiques in which the sandwich technique was explained. The suggestion was to structure a critique the way you’d build a sandwich—in this case, with constructive criticism sandwiched between two positives.

For example: “I like the story idea, but your characters could be fleshed out more. Nice use of dialogue, though.”

Or maybe: “Nice hook. You might consider condensing the restaurant scene . . . it ran on a bit long. But I liked that paranoid waiter.”

You get the idea.

I favor this approach and promise everyone reading this that I will remember and apply it forever, now that I have experienced Atkins Editing.

Earlier this month, my editor looked over the early pages of Book 2 and served up an enormous, Dagwood style, meaty sandwich. Turkey! Ham! Pastrami! Salami! (For purposes of my story, let’s pretend these are bad things.) Only problem with the sandwich? No bread.

My first reaction was to eat cookies but finding none in my house, I self-medicated on pretzels instead. Calorically speaking, this was lucky. Where editorial feedback is concerned, I later decided, cookies should be treated like handguns. Let’s put a 24-hour waiting period between revision comments and cookies. At least in my house.

Enter irony.

The same day I got the pages back, an interview I’d done for Novel Journey ran. Upon learning of my writerly depression, my friend Cathy was quick to send back a quote from my own interview. She’s sassy that way:

NJ: What is your best advice on maintaining a good editor-author relationship?

Me: Trust your editor. Accept that writing and editing are different skills. A talented editor can make your work shine if you’re willing to step back and seriously consider her suggestions. You both want the same thing: the best story possible.

I read the words and wondered who in her right mind would say something thing like that. But that was the problem. I wasn’t in my right mind again yet. The high protein, zero carb non-sandwich was still too deli fresh for me to think straight.

There is a happy ending.

The next day I received an e-mail from my editor explaining that she’d jotted her notes on the manuscript hastily before leaving town, intending to use them as reminders to herself later when she wrote my revision letter. The marked manuscript went into the office mail before she elaborated on her notes. This misfortune resulted in my unwrapping all that ham.

Her letter was very reassuring, altogether kind, and gave me the same warm feeling as joining Maggie, the Evelyns, Marilyn, and Susan at the cool table. There was a sandwich afterall. It started with, “While there is much to like I am uneasy on several counts.” Bread.

It helped to understand her intentions: “This second novel is always the hardest to write, and by far the hardest to sell. Everyone cuts the author a break with a first novel and comes out with knives sharpened for the second. You don’t want to give anyone grounds for disappointment or carving up the book.”

My favorite was, “I hope you don’t think I’m negative about your work, I like it. I’m trying to help you dodge the critical traps that beset most authors.” Bread with mayo—technical advice coupled with mentorship and foresight.

There are lessons here.

Trust your editor. Embrace carbs. Bon appétit.

Rachel Brady

2 replies
  1. Susan McBride
    Susan McBride says:

    Great post, Rachel! Oh, boy, I think we've all been there (and my cookie of choice when I need a balm is oatmeal raisin from Whole Foods). Welcome to the fold, chica! You will not find a nicer gang to hang with than Maggie, the Evelyn Davids, and Marilyn.


  2. Rachel Brady
    Rachel Brady says:

    Thanks, Susan. I lean toward chocolate chips myself but your version sounds healthier. So happy to be here with you ladies. 🙂

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