The 5 Stages of an Author's Reaction to Editorial Notes

I just completed what might be the final edits to my next novel, The Other Mother. After turning in the manuscript to my editor, she returned it to me with editorial suggestions.

I considered the suggestions carefully, agreed with more than 90% of them, and made the changes. After reviewing my revisions, my editor returned it to me with another round of suggestions, and I repeated the process.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

I think we might finally be done. 

The revision process is a good one. It always makes a book better. Typically, the suggestions made by my editor cut away the chaff, help to strengthen themes, and bring greater clarity to character and scenes.

But it's also a process fraught with emotion. I don't always agree with my editor's suggestions. Occasionally I am baffled by her ideas. Confused by her thoughts. Annoyed by her comments Every now and then, I am appalled at what she has recommended. 

I've broken this emotional response down into 5 stages.   

Gratitude: My editor has saved me from a lifetime of embarrassment. I am so stupid. A truly terrible writer. An imposter. I can't believe that she still wants to publish this book. I can't believe that she's still willing to talk to me. I have the best editor on the planet. 

Contentment: A good suggestion. A solid choice on my editor's part. So happy to have her on my side. 

Ambivalence: Fine. I mean, it could go either way, but fine. I can make that change. I'm a fairly agreeable soul. 

Acquiescence: No way. It ain't happening. I mean... if she really feels strongly about this one, I might be able to find a way to agree. Or at least meet her somewhere in the middle. I don't love the idea, but it's not like she's asking me to cut off my hand. Still, I think my way is better.

 Refusal: Does she have any idea how long I spent crafting that sentence? That paragraph? What chapter? There is no way in hell I am changing a single word of that section. She must've been drunk when she was editing this page.

Happily, about 95% of all of my editors suggestions fall into one of the first three stages.  

But that final 5% can really hurt. 

Taylor Swift teaches a valuable lesson to all content creators.

If you haven’t seen Taylor Swift’s Christmas video, you should.

It’s a lovely thing, but it’s also an exceptionally valuable lesson for anyone who creates content. Actors. Writers. Artists. Musicians. Designers. Anyone.

Treat the people who make your work possible very, very well.

My agent, Taryn, once told me that although she thinks I’m a talented writer and a great storyteller, one of my greatest attributes is that I treat people with kindness and respect.

Basically, I’m not a jackass.

This may come as a surprise some of my friends, but it’s true. 

I’m polite and respectful to my editors and the professionals at my publishing house. I respond to every email and tweet from my readers. I bend over backwards for bookstores and libraries. I’m accommodating to the organizers of literary festivals and speaking tours.

Taryn said that it’s much easier to sell my books when the people who buy them know that I’m not a jerk. That I am a decent person to work with.

I think this was probably Taryn’s way of warning me not to become a jerk, which can apparently happen after someone sells their first book.

I didn’t understand her concern at the time, but since publishing my first novel in 2009, I’ve had the honor of meeting many, many authors. Most of them are kind, humble, generous souls. The salt of the Earth. The best of the best. Truly some of the finest people who I have ever known.

But there is a very specific segment of authors and unpublished writers who are not nice. They are entitled, arrogant, rude, angry, demanding jerk faces.

They are also almost all men. This may simply be a reflection of my personal experience, but probably not.

I suspect that the same is probably true for musicians and celebrities like Taylor Swift. Most are kind, generous, and polite. Some are probably not.

I was not a Taylor Swift fan prior to watching her Christmas video. Her music was fine, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. I would occasionally play her songs her songs at weddings, but I didn’t have any Taylor Swift songs in my musical rotation. Other than a handful of her hits, I didn’t know any of her work.


After seeing this video, I’m an enormous Taylor Swift fan. I’m not sure if I like her music any more than before, but I like Taylor Swift as a person a whole lot. I’m much more likely to give her music a chance now. More inclined to watch a video on YouTube. 

This was a very smart thing for Taylor Swift to do, but most important, it strikes me as exceptionally genuine. I felt like I was watching a real person doing real things for real fans. I felt like I was seeing the real Taylor Swift. 

Perhaps I’m naive. Maybe the video was a carefully orchestrated, cleverly choreographed production by a team of promoters and marketers, but I don’t think so.

I think that Taylor Swift is probably an exceptionally kind person. Someone who knows how to treat her fans. Someone who values them and understands what they have meant to her career.

Taylor Swift has a new fan today thanks to that video, and she’s reminded me about the importance of treating my substantially fewer fans well. To go above and beyond whenever possible.  To thank them for making it possible to do what I do.

I might not be sending Christmas presents next December, but I’ll be watching for ways to let my readers know how much I appreciate them.

The career of an author is not all angst and loneliness. Some of the time.

I am not a starry eyed author. I expect little from my publishing career. When I published my first novel, Something Missing, in 2009, I was not under the illusion that I would be quitting my day job anytime soon. I saw that book as a small, uncertain, precarious step into a new career that came with no guarantees.


With each successive book, my attitude has changed very little. My most recent novel, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, has sold well and has been translated into more than 20 languages worldwide, and I still view every book as possibly my last.


There are no guarantees. If I don’t write an excellent book every time, this career could end tomorrow. 

This pessimistic attitude means that I am rarely disappointed by my writing career and occasionally surprised and elated about truly unexpected surprises that my writing career brings. This week has been just such a week.

On Monday I made arrangements to Skype with a book club in Saudi Arabia about Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. Saudi Arabia! The fact that people around the globe are reading my stories never fails to excite me. 

On that same day, one of my former students told me that her college roommate was discussing my most recent novel in her English class.

That same night I drove to New York City to compete in a Moth StorySLAM, and I won. My fifth won in  a row! I wouldn’t be nearly the storyteller that I am today without my writing career. 

On Tuesday I scheduled meetings with two local book clubs to talk about my my books and my writing career.

Yesterday I received updates on the film options on two of my novels. While there are absolutely positively no guarantees when it comes to Hollywood and movie deals, the fact that talented people are working hard to adapt and  develop my material is thrilling.

Last night a college student sent me a book trailer for Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend that he created for class.

This has been an unusual week in terms of happy publishing moments. Most of the time, I am sitting at a table, fighting with words, struggling to find a few more minutes in my busy day to write. It’s hard, it’s lonely, it’s frightening and it’s always uncertain.

That said, weeks like this help a lot.

A peek into the inbox of an author

One of the goals of my future podcast, at least until my theoretical listeners redefine my goal through their input, will be to offer unpublished writers, readers, and even fellow authors a glimpse into the daily life of an author.

It’s the kind of thing I would like to hear:

Successful authors talking about their careers, their daily routines, the nuts and bolts of the industry and the choices and challenges that they face on a daily and weekly basis.

Occasionally we will get a glimpse of an author’s life through an interview on radio or in print, but never have I been granted access to an author’s life over an extended period of time, probably (and thankfully) because they are too busy writing. I’m simply stupid enough to be willing to waste a few precious hours a week producing a podcast in hopes that someone wants the same thing I want and will care.

Oh, the title of the future podcast will be Author Out Loud, suggested by blogger Heather Clow.   

The first segment of the podcast will focus on the things that have happened in my writing career during the previous week. It will be that ongoing peek into an author’s life that I would like to hear someday. This could include a discussion of the manuscript that I am working on, the promotion for my latest book, a description of a recent author appearance, a lamentation about my latest second place finish at a Moth StorySLAM, the editing and revising that I am doing with my agent or editor, the progress of film and television deals related to my books, the machinations surrounding the rock opera that my friend and I are producing, my recent forays into children's literature, and many, many more topics. A week does not go by that would not be filled with material to discuss.

The collection of email that I received today is a good example of something I might talk about for a minute or two in order to offer a peek into the day-to-day life of an author.

First, an email from a reader in Greece who read the Greek translation of MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND and wrote to me in perfect English.

Next, an email from the publisher of the audio version of MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND informing me that the book is going to be on the Audible homepage for a second week in a row.

Next, an email reader in Singapore writing to tell me that every copy of MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND is reserved for the next seven months in his local library. In addition, the library has 17 copies of UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO, and at the moment, all are checked out.

I should probably move to Singapore. 

Next, three emails requesting author appearances at their various establishments. Two are from booksellers and one is from a charitable organization.

Next, an email from a clever and enterprising PhD student who wants to sit down and chat with me for an hour about writing and opened her email by informing me of a typo in the bio on my blog as a means of getting my attention.

It worked.

Next, an email from a book blogger with a list of ten questions for me to answer as part of an author Q&A that will appear on her blog.

Next, an email containing feedback from one of the readers of my current manuscript.

Finally, an email from a reader in the United States discussing how much the character of Max in MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND reminds her of her son.

All that arrived today, and it doesn’t include any of the communication I received on Twitter.

As you can imagine, I am forced to dedicate a significant chunk of time to responding to email each evening, and while this admittedly takes away from some of the time I have to write, today’s batch of emails were neutral or positive in nature, making it much more enjoyable to respond, and they did not require a great deal from me in terms of time or effort. I also responded to almost every email while my three month old son slept in my lap, so it’s debatable how much actual writing I would have managed in that time anyway. 

The never-ending flurry of communication from readers and others related to my writing has been one of the most surprising aspects of my authorial  career. I never expected readers to reach out to me as often as they do, and the seemingly unusual emails like the ones from the Singapore reader or the PhD student are unusual only in their specificity. Tomorrow I will receive an entirely different but equally unusual set of emails from people I can’t begin to imagine.

I never know what to expect when an email arrives pertaining to my career as an author, and it makes the job persistently interesting, occasionally unwieldy and always surprising.