Tessa Elwood is a Midwestern web-designer obsessed with coffee, gadgets, and Dragon Age. She writes YA sci-fi and is particularly fascinated by messy lives and complicated loyalties. Her debut, INHERIT THE STARS, was an Indie Next Pick for December 2015.
I’ve navigated edit letters from both editors and agents. Written a book on deadline, rewrote a story from a blank page, and pulled characters from a defunct story into a whole new (better) world. I’ve had smooth editorial revisions, and been smited by the editorial gods.
I’ve been on the critique circuit for years, everything from in-person groups to online betas. Was even a mentee myself in the NV SCBWI program with Holly Black (who is all things amazing). I’m usually the one my CPs (current or old) hit up when they have an agent edit letter they need help translating, or when they consistently get the same feedback and can’t figure out why.
I enjoy a broad range of genres, but my heart lies with stories of a fantastical bent. Scifi hard or soft, fantasy high or low, speculative, urban fantasy, ghosts—I’m there. Contemporaries are never my first choice, but some have blindsided me with love. It all comes down to characters and voice. A good character will carry me through a boring world, but even the most amazing world and incredible plot will not make up for a boring character. This is a human journey (or an alien’s journey, I’m not picky :), and I’m most interested in the humanity of it.
My ideal mentee is a worker, willing to view their work from different angles. Just because this is how a scene is written, doesn’t mean that’s how it has to go down. You are the god of your written universe. Sometimes you just have to smite.
A lot of good feedback really boils down to good translation. Everyone assimilate information differently, and I do my best to make my edits accessible. If someone isn’t grasping a concept, I’ll approach the idea from a different angle—walking them through their own logical process so the concept will make sense.
Encouragement is half the battle. Dumping a laundry list of faults on a person isn’t going to make the story better—which is the whole point of critique. So I look for the 2-3 big things that will best improve the story. I can nitpick if you like, but have never found it helpful for myself or fellow CPs.
I write edit letters organized by sub-sections, which could be anything from characters to plot points. I’ll start with things I liked, but won’t restrict the good notes to one section—be prepared for praise throughout!
Once sent, I like to do video chats via google hangout or Skype. This gives you a chance to ask questions, and lets me know what you love best about the story—which will sometimes reframe/alter my feedback.
If you’ve had a lot of similar feedback (for this story or others) or feel like you’ve hit a wall, I’ll piece out the potential issues to dig up the practical reasons behind it. I work with big picture edits, the plot and character arcs and themes. I’ll sometimes comment in the MS to point out specifics that relate to the big picture. I won’t line-edit the full book, but can do a small section (or break down a specific scene) on request.
Someone who is motivated and ready to work, and open to new ideas. There are a thousand roads to get from point A to point B in a story. The ideal mentee will take a deep breath, seek out and explore those roads, even when it’s terrifying. I was terrified. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Dark Triumph by LaFevers, Old Man’s War by Scalzi, Terry Pratchett, The Abhorsen series by Nix, Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, Georgette Heyer, Holly Black, Sara Zarr, and about a dozen others
Dragon Age, the Uncharted series, Fantasy Life, Fifth Element, Persuasion (with Amanda Root), Dominion, Pokemon, Infamous, Leverage, Gosford Park, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Roxanne
Yellowstone, crochet, art fairs, taco tuesdays, frozen yogurt, and learning how to draw
All things genre! Good people in sticky situations, less-than-stellar people who make me laugh, nearly broken people who refuse to give up. Silly, fun, dark, romantic, a little crazy, a little tortured. I like thoughtful work and stories with heart. I love heart. Give me Dark Triumph or Persuasion or a dance number to defeat the ultimate bad. And if the world is only blackness, I’d prefer a slice of hope but I’ll take that, too.