One was a letter from an editor who had looked at a chapter book I had written. (All my published books have been for teens or adults.) She spent a single-spaced page evaluating the book, pointing out its flaws. In her closing sentence, she did not request to see it once those flaws had been dealt with.
What I wanted was an acceptance letter. What I got was a rejection. But it was still a valuable gift.
First of all, she took the time to tell me where and why I had gone wrong. Better yet, she pointed out patterns. She could have sent my agent one of those “not strong enough for the market” or “not right for our list” notes that are meaningless. Instead, she generously shared her opinion.
This letter is also a gift because I now have enough distance from the manuscript to be able to see it with new eyes.
Some of what she said echoed what my editor at Putnam has been working on with me. I tend to summarize action or otherwise move it back one step from happening right in front of the readers’ eyes. After seven books, I still make “show, not tell” mistakes, but they are subtle ones. For example, instead of showing the reader Olivia trying to trade her lunch with someone, I made the mistake of simply telling the reader that Olivia has boring healthy lunches and no one wants to trade with her.
Another gift from this letter - and this may simply be a matter of me pulling the wool over my own eyes - is that it leaves me free to concentrate on the things that need to be changed, rather than worrying that everything about the book is suspect. Now I can look at it with a laser-beam gaze.
What about you? Have you received an unexpected gift recently?