Don’t Fear the Red Pen: Saundra Mitchell on Editing

Do you fear red-pen wielding editors? Do you think your story is perfect and doesn’t need a single change?  Saundra Mitchell, the editor of Defy the Dark, and the judge of our contest is here to dispel any myths about the editing process. Listen carefully. She know what’s she’s talking about! (Note: You can click on the image to enlarge so it’s readable.)

Dear Figs,

Before I was published, I thought editing meant polishing. Taking a fine brush to each word and sentence, beautifying and tidying. When I got my first real revision letter, all the blood on the page shocked me. Okay, that’s a little overdramatic. It was a lot of red ink, but not much blood.

Still, staring at that first letter, I wondered, “If this is so bad, what did my editor even buy?” It seemed obvious to me that she wanted something else, written by someone else—somebody who knew what they were doing.

As I worked through her notes, I started to realize that my editor wasn’t crazy. I just didn’t understand the revision process. My editor’s notes were there to make my work stronger. She helped me make sure I was saying the things I meant to say, and in the best way possible.

Since it came as a shock to me, Figment asked if I would help demystify editing for you. As the editor of Defy the Dark, I want to offer insight into the process. That way, if you win, you won’t be quite as shocked as I was.

(It’s okay if you complain to your friends about how crazy I am, and tell them I obviously don’t understand your genius. That’s just part of being a writer.)

This is a page from Christine Johnson’s story for the anthology.



Holy cow, look at all that red. It’s terrifying, isn’t it? Look a little closer. Most of those notes are there to make sure the reader understands the action. Now look at Christine’s page after she revised it. Clean and tight, and easy to follow.


Here’s a small section of Jon Skovron’s story.


More blood everywhere! But really, tons of minor suggestions to make sure the character sounds the way Jon intended.


Look at this colorful editorial mess in Tessa Gratton’s story. (The text is blurry on purpose; just look at the great swaths of color!)

In this piece, Tessa covers a long period in time. That means a lot of story elements to keep straight. Even though all that highlighting looks daunting, it’s really two pages for one note. I asked her to rearrange to keep the emotions flowing in the right direction.

But what happens if you think your editor is wrong? Let me share the very first note I gave to Beth Revis.

Up front, I tell Beth that I trust her as an author and she should feel free to ignore my suggestions. This is her story, not mine. It should say what she wants it to say.

However, it’s important to realize that an editor isn’t there to make you cry, or doubt your ability, or to tear your story apart. Your editor is on your side, and she wants your story, your book, to be as amazing as you imagined it could be.

So this is what you’re in for as a professional author. (It’s definitely what you’re in for if you win the Defy the Dark New Author Contest) Once you get over the shock of all that red ink, I think you’ll enjoy discovering just how good your stories can be when you have an editor on your side.



7 thoughts on “Don’t Fear the Red Pen: Saundra Mitchell on Editing

  1. Wow! To me, this is really inspiring. I guess it gives me a lot of hope for my story. I’m pouring my heart and soul into this piece, ’cause winning would be like a dream come true. Thanks for the advice, Saundra!

    (Psst! It’s SAUNDRA, not Sandra, right? :^3)

  2. That scared me at first, too, because I take critizism like they’re physical beatings >_< But I see that you're right. It just makes things cleaner. I sort of can't wait to have a real, proffesional editor now…
    That is, if anyone takes me. But yeah.

  3. Ooh that’s interesting and inspiring. If I ever get my own editor, I think I might look forward to the red ink! Thanks for posting! (:

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